DENNIS SCHWARTZ 
IS THERE ANY GOOD 
IN SAYING 
EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?

 
TOO LATE BLUES (director/writer: John Cassavetes; screenwriter: Richard Carr; cinematographer: Lionel Lindon; editor: Frank Bracht; music: David Raksin; cast: Bobby Darin (John 'Ghost' Wakefield), Stella Stevens (Jess Polanski), Rupert Crosse (Baby Jackson), Vince Edwards (Tommy, poolhall bully), Cliff Carnell (Charlie, the saxophonist), Richard Chambers (Pete, the trumpeter), Seymour Cassel (Red, the bassist), Everett Chambers (Benny Flowers, manager), Alan Hopkins (Skipper), Nick Dennis (Nick, Greek poolhall owner), James Joyce (Reno), Bill Stafford (Shelly, the drummer), Val Avery (Frielobe), Marilyn Clark (Countess); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: John Cassavetes; Paramount; 1962)

 
"One of the better and more honest jazz films ever made in Hollywood."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Actor turned director John Cassavetes ("Faces"/"Shadows"/"The Killing of a Chinese Bookie") goes to Hollywood for the first time and co-writes with Richard Carr this plotless freewheeling experimental film about struggling jazz musicians trying to make art and pay the rent without compromising their art, in a film that Cassavetes deemed a failure (but many others, including me thought otherwise). Though a commercial flop and a maudlin melodrama, this is still one of the better and more honest jazz films ever made in Hollywood. The pic has 17 original jazz numbers that include: "Sax Raises Its Ugly Head, " "Look Inward Angel," "The Rim Shot Heard 'Round the World," "Benny Splits While Jimmy Rowles," and "Move Over." Top-flight jazz musicians such as Benny Carter, Shelly Manne, and Jimmy Rowles play off-screen for the featured jazz combo and deliver terrific numbers.

Arrogant piano player John 'Ghost' Wakefield (Bobby Darin) is an uncompromising artist who vows to never go commercial. He's the obnoxious leader of a band of struggling jazz musicians in LA, who practice in the park and mostly play in nursing homes. Things pick up for Ghost when he steals neurotic aspiring singer Jess Polanski (Stella Stevens) away from his slimy untrustworthy agent Benny Flowers (Everett Chambers). But soon loses her when he reveals himself as a coward to a pool-hall bully (Vince Edwards), who comes onto Jess and Ghost shrivels up in fear rather than protecting her. She dumps the humiliated Ghost, who can't accept her unconditional love, and she degenerates into a suicidal bar hooker; while he gets into a fight during a recording session with his band and deserts them to play in fashionable but artless cocktail lounges in the better part of LA.

Ghost frets he is selling-out playing stale music on the cocktail circuit and becoming the gigolo of an aging rich Countess, who has a thing for jazz musicians. The fast-talking agent Benny calls Ghost a phony and now refuses to get the talented musician any more gigs after a year of avoiding him. The agent expresses joy that he helped bring down the high and mighty artist a few pegs. This causes Ghost to suddenly re-evaluate his life and ask forgiveness of the band and the insecure beauty Jess, and begs them to take him back into their lives and for all of them to return to being real artists (unfortunately the act of contrition by Ghost was never convincing).

Though the story flags at times with overwrought melodramatics and macho pretenses, there are some great performances by Stella Stevens and Everett Chambers; and a promising one by singer Bobby Darin, in his first acting gig, that keeps the story line following along the lines of Cassavetes's belief more in films as works of art rather than as a means of making money.

The role of Ghost was originally written for Montgomery Clift, who was forced to back out at the last minute

REVIEWED ON 1/22/2011       GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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