Tonight or Never (1931)

Gloria Swanson, Melvyn Douglas, Alison Skipworth, Ferdinand Gottschalk,
A young opera singer finds her career stalled because of her cold and passionless performances, until she finds romance with a handsome admirer.
  • 6.6 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Fanny Hatton, Frederic Hatton, Lily Hatvany, Ernest Vajda, Writer:
  • Mervyn LeRoy, Director:
  • Samuel Goldwyn, Producer:
7 / 10

Elegant early talkie, suffers from stage origins.

Gloria Swanson proves easily here what a good talkie actress she could have been. She is funny and charming, and dressed superbly by Coco Chanel. Melvyn Douglas works well with her, but there is way too much chatter in this adaptation from a hit stage play. The screen-writers didn't seem to realise the kind of expansion they needed to give the piece to make it cinema rather than a filmed stage play. Still, in the lovingly restored print from UCLA that is on the DVD, the film looks great - as does glorious Gloria!

6 / 10


This film is truly a classic, directed by Mervyn LeRoy. Nella Vago(Gloria Swanson), a young singer, performs an operatic debut in Venice but discovers her reception disappointing. She is critized by her instructor (Ferdinand Gottschalk) claiming her voice lacks warmth and feeling. A mysterious young man stalks her everywhere, (Melvyn Douglas) who is really a talent scout for the Met. The cast with Gloria Swanson("Sunset Blvd." with Wm. Holden) and Melvyn Douglas and Boris Karloff who had gained famed as being the Frankenstein Monster made this film a great success during the early 1930's. Karloff gave a very good performance as a high classed waiter with no horror expressions on his face. It was a great picture during that period of time and is worth viewing.

7 / 10

From 1931...and with no subtitles or captions....what a pity.

While not all early sound pictures have poor sound quality, "Tonight or Never" does. This is a problem because Image Entertainment does not have closed captions or DVD captions on the disk--meaning you'll need to really crank up the volume to hear this one well, as the sound range is a bit poor. This is a serious problems with many American films from 1927-1931 and this is because Hollywood still hadn't perfected all the intricacies of sound. Normally this isn't a huge problem--many films from this era do have decent sound, but seeing "Tonight or Never" or "Coquette" is just tough without captioning.

This film finds Gloria Swanson playing a diva--literally and figuratively. She is a very successful opera star, but her singing, while very good, lacks something that would take her to the next level. It turns out that what it needs is passion--and a new man in her life (Melvyn Douglas) turns out to be this key to greater success. And until she discovers love, she is a diva in every sense of the word--quick-tempered, demanding and impossible to those around her. But, once she discovers Douglas, her troubles are not over, as she mistakenly thinks he's a gigolo!

While I enjoyed this cute film, I found Melvyn Douglas' performance to be amazing. Considering this was his first film, he came off very well--and better than the veteran actress, Swanson. He seemed relaxed and suave. As for her, Ms. Swanson's acting, at times, seemed a bit mannered--as if she WAS acting and not real. Now this might have been due to the type character she played, but I found her performance less approachable and impressive.

7 / 10

In that case:never

Being a sucker for classic comedies, i really wanted to like this. But it's never a good sign when you start watching the clock instead of the movie. Isn't a comedy supposed to have jokes in it? Do we really need that much time to set up the plot? Ah yes the plot: opera diva can only become truly great after she has found Love. So thinking a night with a handsome gigolo will do the trick and get her booked at the Met, she gives in to her passions. And by golly it works! But then guilt creeps in... I'l stop here so as not to spoil the plot for those who are not discouraged by my review. (It's your own time to waste) Being mercifully short at 82 minutes, it really felt like it lasted quite a bit longer. It has period charm, Swanson and Douglas make a nice enough couple, but the material is too slight to make this into an enjoyable movie.

5 / 10

Melvyn Douglas in his screen debut

1931's "Tonight or Never" is a typical romantic comedy adapted from a Broadway hit that starred Melvyn Douglas, here recreating that role in his film debut. The top billed star is silent screen siren Gloria Swanson (only three more talkies before her comeback in Billy Wilder's "Sunset Blvd."), as singing sensation Nella Vago, a hit in Venice and Budapest but not yet ready for the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Her music teacher (Ferdinand Gottschalk) ascribes her reticence to put body and soul into each performance as due to a lifestyle without love, only a nowhere relationship with a titled fiancée (Warburton Gamble) who has no qualms about spending time with other women. The near constant presence of a handsome stranger (Douglas) incessantly smoking below her window arouses Nella's curiosity, but rumors abound that he's a cad subsidized by a wealthy marquesa (Alison Skipworth). When she can stand being alone no longer, Nella imposes on a savvy waiter (Boris Karloff) to make certain that her intended is alone for the evening, and it's the longest and most controversial scene for the censors, as he plays along with her excuses and alternately woos and manhandles her, it's a tossup as to what she truly wants. Once the clock strikes 10 there's no backing out for an indulgent Nella, who spends the entire night in his bed, returns to her hotel room to sleep until her evening performance, taking 17 curtain calls for her finest performance ever, straight from the heart. Accepting a contract from American impresario Fletcher to sing at the Met, she tries to break things off with her lover, only he has other ideas. It takes half the picture to get the two stars together, and though gorgeous Gloria looks quite ravishing she's not quite at ease with the material, unlike Melvyn Douglas, so suave and likable (even playing a supposed rogue) that one would think that he was the old pro rather than her. The plot was reminiscent of Jeanette MacDonald's 1930 musical "Oh, for a Man!" in which Bela Lugosi appeared pre-Dracula as a music teacher. In his first role since playing The Monster in "Frankenstein," Boris Karloff is a twinkling hoot as the knowing waiter, sadly only present for one sequence at the 38 minute mark, while J. Carrol Naish appears unbilled in the opening reel as a heavily accented Venice radio announcer with a hilarious line from the Italian sponsor: "my spaghetti is longer than my name!" In just a few months Karloff would find himself top billed over Douglas in James Whale's "The Old Dark House," while Douglas would be seen further down the Hollywood ladder in the Poverty Row Majestic feature "The Vampire Bat."