Film noir meets Jazz
calvinnme | 04/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very offbeat kind of film that is not well known. You'll either really love it - I do - or you'll not care for it at all. Anatole Litvak, who directed so many womens' pictures, directs this odd little film that starts out as a kind of "small town band does good" picture, takes a turn into gangster territory, and then gets really dark with a venture into film noir and mental illness. Nobody in this film was a big name at the time, and I get the feeling it was one of those films that Warner's liked to grind out like sausages in the 30's and 40's that just happened to turn out to be rather special. Great performances are turned in from everyone involved, which includes Priscilla Lane as a good girl with depth, Lloyd Nolan as a gangster with a touch of the entrepreneurial and even a bit of a mentor, Jack Carson as a heel with a large bag of excuses for his behavior, Betty Field as the gangster's moll who aspires to be a singer and also ruins men as a hobby, and Richard Whorf as the musician and bandleader who falls for the moll and also into temporary insanity. Also note that future great director Elia Kazan shows up playing a small part as one of the bandmembers.
Released just three weeks before the beginning of World War II, it provides a snapshot of how the Depression and the era of the gangster were receding into memory just as an age of optimism was beginning that would go on hiatus during the war effort, and restart and peak after the war was over. Great atmosphere and great acting - highly recommended."
William P. Ruspantine | 07/29/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this wonderful story on late night. The acting is superb,story brillant.Betty field as troubled singer, loyd nolan as gangster club owner. this is how stories should flow keeping the watcher interested."
"My mama done tol' me..." Arlen and Mercer hit a home run, b
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 08/27/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It's hard to decide which is the most awkward part of this slightly noirish movie...the beginning, the middle or the end. The beginning features five white musicians and a girl singer who decide to form a special kind of band, led by the impassioned piano player. "It's gotta be our kind of music, our kind of band...the blues, the real blues...the kind that comes out of people, real people...their hopes and their dreams...." The middle features these six riding a box car, becoming entangled with a rough gangster who befriends them, a tough-as-nails femme fatale who does not, and a roadhouse success in New Jersey. The end features a nervous breakdown, a dead baby, a shooting, a car ride to death and another box car. You know, the usual blues stuff. Along the way there is some impassioned dialogue.
What Blues in the Night has going for it are songs by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer, including one great song, "This Time the Dreams on Me" and one they knocked out of the ball park, perhaps the best popular blues song ever written, "Blues in the Night." The movie also features another first-rate performance by Lloyd Nolan as the gangster. I wonder if any other actor appeared in so many flawed A movies or just plain B moves but who invariably gave believable, notable performances. There are several musical numbers that stand out. We also have the chance to see Betty Field, a first-rate actress who wasn't as successful in Hollywood as she was on Broadway. She plays the femme fatale, complete with bad grammar and the kind of sexy selfishness that can lead a man to bed at night and leave him alone with an empty wallet the next morning. She's brittle and hard here, but her strong suit as an actress, I think, was the fragile vulnerability and warmth she could project. After her role in this movie, the next year she played the doomed Cassie in Kings Row, two performances as different as a prostitute's embrace is from a tremulous first kiss. The movie also has the curiosity value of featuring Elia Kazan in his last acting role. He plays the band's hyperactive young clarinetist whose mother wants him to be a lawyer. Kazan and the film's screenwriter, Robert Rossen, both were hauled before the House Un-American Activities Committee during the Hollywood witch-hunts. Both named lots of names. While those they named saw their careers crushed, Kazan and Rossen prospered. Would I have done it differently? I don't know. What little reason there is to remember this movie, however, is the great Arlen/Mercer song:
My mama done tol' me, when I was in knee-pants,
My mama done tol' me, "Son, a woman'll sweet talk
And give you the big eye, but when the sweet talkin's done,
A woman's a two-face, a worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing the blues in the night."
Now the rain's a-fallin', hear the train's a-callin, "Whooee!" (My mama done tol' me)
Hear that lonesome whistle blowin' 'cross the trestle, "Whooee!" (My mama done tol' me)
A-whooee-ah-whooee, ol' clickety-clack's a-echoin' back th' blues in the night.
The evenin' breeze'll start the trees to cryin' and the moon'll hide its light when you get the blues in the night.
Take my word, the mockingbird'll sing the saddest kind o' song, he knows things are wrong, and he's right.
From Natchez to Mobile, from Memphis to St. Joe, wherever the four winds blow.
I been in some big towns an' heard me some big talk, but there is one thing I know.
A woman's a two-face, a worrisome thing who'll leave you to sing the blues in the night.
My mama was right, there's blues in the night.
Anyone who doesn't believe this is true American poetry...well, you should also throw out the works of William Carlos Williams. For Mercer fans, you might be interested in the CD Evening With Johnny Mercer. Before an audience (which included Harold Arlen) he explains a bit about his writing, takes us through his career and breezes through a number of his songs. It was recorded in 1971, five years before he died. The drawback is that it runs less than an hour. For Mercer fans, it's essential. Mercer usually was his own best interpreter, but Bobby Troupe does a nice job with Bobby Troupe Sings Johnny Mercer. Troupe swings it and keeps it intimate. There's none of the over-orchestrating and lushness that some otherwise great singers brought to Mercer's songs. The CD is hard to find. Easier to locate is The Songs of Johnny Mercer sung by Susannah McCorkle, a fine, low-key stylist.
If I've given the impression you should forget this movie and instead spend more time listening to Johnny Mercer...you'd be right."
Depression-era jazz melodrama
M. Comack | 03/14/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Overlooked film drama part film noir, part celebration of jazz music, part social commentary - features future directors Elia Kazan and Richard Whorf in leading roles - fast-paced, well written -recommended."