Too Late Blues


1h 40m 1962
Too Late Blues

Brief Synopsis

A jazz artist sells out when he falls for a beautiful singer.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Musical
Music
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Detroit showing: Jan 1962
Production Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Synopsis

Because he insists upon playing only what pleases him, jazz musician John "Ghost" Wakefield and his dedicated combo exist only on the outer fringes of the successful musical world. One day he meets and falls in love with Jess Polanski, a timid and uncertain vocalist, and takes her away from her fast-talking agent, Benny Flowers. Following a minor success at a recording session, Ghost, Jess, and the combo celebrate at their favorite hangout, Nick's poolhall. The party turns into a drunken free-for- all when the vindictive Benny instigates a fight between Ghost and a musician-hating bully named Tommy. Overcome by fear, Ghost is unable to fight back, a humiliation that causes him to reject Jess and his friends. His downfall is complete when he becomes the gigolo of an aging "countess" and ends up playing rank jazz for listless audiences. Only when Benny denounces him as a complete phony is Ghost able to attempt a new beginning. He seeks out Jess, now a drifter and a prostitute, and prevents her from committing suicide. Together they find the members of Ghost's combo; as Jess starts humming their old blues numbers, the antagonisms melt and the combo begins once more to play their kind of music. (Musical numbers include: "Sax Raises Its Ugly Head, " "Look Inward Angel," "The Rim Shot Heard 'Round the World," "Benny Splits While Jimmy Rowles," and "Move Over.")

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Musical
Music
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Detroit showing: Jan 1962
Production Company
Paramount Pictures
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White

Articles

Too Late Blues


The plot of this 1961 drama, about a cutting-edge jazz musician forced to compromise his artistic principles, could have been a metaphor for actor-turned-director John Cassavetes' experience making his first studio-financed film. The compromises that resulted were something he would regret the rest of his life, while the picture's box-office and critical failure have made it one of the hardest-to-find of all of his films as director. Yet it has also built a cult following over the years for its depiction of the world of jazz musicians always on the cusp of success, the emotionally naked performances of stars Bobby Darrin and Stella Stevens and the telltale signs of Cassavetes' visual style.

Cassavetes was building a solid career as an actor when his first directing effort, Shadows (1959) won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. Made with money raised from friends and family, the film was developed through improvisations about two light-skinned black siblings and the crisis that follows the woman's fling with a white man unaware of her race. The result was a loosely structured, gritty and passionately acted critical hit that some have called the birth of the American independent film movement.

The film's acclaim and Cassavetes' direction of five episodes of his short-lived television series Johnny Staccato brought Paramount Pictures calling with an offer to direct a feature. Almost from the start, Cassavetes clashed with studio executives. He wanted to cast Montgomery Clift as the uncompromising jazz musician. Ghost. and his wife, Gena Rowlands, as the would be singer forced into prostitution when Ghost's combo falls apart. Clift was tied up, however, and the studio insisted on casting Stella Stevens, who had scored positive notices as Appassionata Von Climax in their production of L'il Abner (1959). Pop singer Bobby Darrin, who had played a bit in Shadows, was cast in the male lead. Both acquitted themselves well, and Stevens would later list Too Late Blues as one of her favorite performances. Cassavetes fleshed out the cast with Johnny Staccato's producer, Everett Chambers, in his only film performance, as Darin's bitter agent, future Ben Casey Vince Edwards as a villain who beats Darrin, friend Seymour Cassel as a member of Darrin's jazz combo and Shadows cast members Marilyn Clark and Rupert Crosse.

Cassavetes and the studio also clashed over the shooting schedule. To accommodate his improvisational approach, the director wanted to spend six months on the film. Instead, Paramount held him to just one, requiring him to script the film with Johnny Staccato writer Richard Carr. Ultimately, their work undermined Hollywood formulas. The characters are so human and complex that they make easy audience identification difficult, and the ending is far from the uplifting happy resolution typical of Hollywood films of the era.

Although Cassavetes would later complain about having to work with studio employees who didn't like him or appreciate his approach to filmmaking, cinematographer Lionel Lindon and composer David Raksin did outstanding work on the film. Lindon created a gritty, black and white visual style that helped the film look more improvised than it was. He also met Cassavetes' demand for extensive tight close-ups with some beautifully composed shots that capture the most subtle performance details. Raksin, who had written lush symphonic scores for films like Laura (1944) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), came through with a powerful jazz score. He also engaged such jazz legends as Benny Carter and Shelly Manne to record the performances for Darin's combo.

The film was so far from what Paramount executives expected they sent it directly to neighborhood theatres, where it did poorly at the box office. Reviewers at the time weren't much more enthusiastic. The New York Times called it a "curious but sordidly fascinating fragment of a film." Although they praised Cassavettes' creation of atmosphere and the performances, they decried the lack of sympathy generated for the lead character and the inconclusive conclusion. Variety wasn't much better, praising the score and a party scene, but complaining of "a tendency to force casebook psychology on the characters that robs the film of spontaneity."

More recently, however, the few critics able to see the rarely screened film have found much to love. Time Out has called it "one of the more impressive Hollywood movies to be set in the hip, flip jazz world" and praised the scenes of conflict between Darin and his combo members. On the CinemaRetro web page, Dean Brierly hails it as "a lost Cassavetes classic" and claims "its stylistic daring and the emotional depth charges set off by its lead actors transcend the film's limitations. Indeed, its very awkwardness serves to underscore the instability of its ambitious yet emotionally stunted characters. The few souls lucky enough to have witnessed the minor miracle that is Too Late Blues find that it lodges in the memory with the persistence of a jilted lover." For its more recent fans, any chance to view the film has become an occasion.

Producer-Director: John Cassavetes
Screenplay: Richard Carr & Cassavetes
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Score: David Raksin
Cast: Bobby Darrin (John 'Ghost' Wakefield), Stella Stevens (Jess Polanski), Everett Chambers (Benny Flowers), Nick Dennis (Nick Bobolenos), Vince Edwards (Tommy Sheenan), Marilyn Clark (Countess), Rupert Crosse (Baby Jackson), Seymour Cassel (Red), John Cassavetes (On-Screen Trailer Host & Narrator), Ivan Dixon (Party Guest)

By Frank Miller

Reference:
Brierly, Dean. "Too Late Blues: Dean Brierly...Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s." Cinema Retro, October 8, 2013, http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/196-TOO-LATE-BLUES-DEAN-BRIERLY-REVISITS-A-LOST-GEM.html.
Too Late Blues

Too Late Blues

The plot of this 1961 drama, about a cutting-edge jazz musician forced to compromise his artistic principles, could have been a metaphor for actor-turned-director John Cassavetes' experience making his first studio-financed film. The compromises that resulted were something he would regret the rest of his life, while the picture's box-office and critical failure have made it one of the hardest-to-find of all of his films as director. Yet it has also built a cult following over the years for its depiction of the world of jazz musicians always on the cusp of success, the emotionally naked performances of stars Bobby Darrin and Stella Stevens and the telltale signs of Cassavetes' visual style. Cassavetes was building a solid career as an actor when his first directing effort, Shadows (1959) won the Critics Award at the Venice Film Festival. Made with money raised from friends and family, the film was developed through improvisations about two light-skinned black siblings and the crisis that follows the woman's fling with a white man unaware of her race. The result was a loosely structured, gritty and passionately acted critical hit that some have called the birth of the American independent film movement. The film's acclaim and Cassavetes' direction of five episodes of his short-lived television series Johnny Staccato brought Paramount Pictures calling with an offer to direct a feature. Almost from the start, Cassavetes clashed with studio executives. He wanted to cast Montgomery Clift as the uncompromising jazz musician. Ghost. and his wife, Gena Rowlands, as the would be singer forced into prostitution when Ghost's combo falls apart. Clift was tied up, however, and the studio insisted on casting Stella Stevens, who had scored positive notices as Appassionata Von Climax in their production of L'il Abner (1959). Pop singer Bobby Darrin, who had played a bit in Shadows, was cast in the male lead. Both acquitted themselves well, and Stevens would later list Too Late Blues as one of her favorite performances. Cassavetes fleshed out the cast with Johnny Staccato's producer, Everett Chambers, in his only film performance, as Darin's bitter agent, future Ben Casey Vince Edwards as a villain who beats Darrin, friend Seymour Cassel as a member of Darrin's jazz combo and Shadows cast members Marilyn Clark and Rupert Crosse. Cassavetes and the studio also clashed over the shooting schedule. To accommodate his improvisational approach, the director wanted to spend six months on the film. Instead, Paramount held him to just one, requiring him to script the film with Johnny Staccato writer Richard Carr. Ultimately, their work undermined Hollywood formulas. The characters are so human and complex that they make easy audience identification difficult, and the ending is far from the uplifting happy resolution typical of Hollywood films of the era. Although Cassavetes would later complain about having to work with studio employees who didn't like him or appreciate his approach to filmmaking, cinematographer Lionel Lindon and composer David Raksin did outstanding work on the film. Lindon created a gritty, black and white visual style that helped the film look more improvised than it was. He also met Cassavetes' demand for extensive tight close-ups with some beautifully composed shots that capture the most subtle performance details. Raksin, who had written lush symphonic scores for films like Laura (1944) and The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), came through with a powerful jazz score. He also engaged such jazz legends as Benny Carter and Shelly Manne to record the performances for Darin's combo. The film was so far from what Paramount executives expected they sent it directly to neighborhood theatres, where it did poorly at the box office. Reviewers at the time weren't much more enthusiastic. The New York Times called it a "curious but sordidly fascinating fragment of a film." Although they praised Cassavettes' creation of atmosphere and the performances, they decried the lack of sympathy generated for the lead character and the inconclusive conclusion. Variety wasn't much better, praising the score and a party scene, but complaining of "a tendency to force casebook psychology on the characters that robs the film of spontaneity." More recently, however, the few critics able to see the rarely screened film have found much to love. Time Out has called it "one of the more impressive Hollywood movies to be set in the hip, flip jazz world" and praised the scenes of conflict between Darin and his combo members. On the CinemaRetro web page, Dean Brierly hails it as "a lost Cassavetes classic" and claims "its stylistic daring and the emotional depth charges set off by its lead actors transcend the film's limitations. Indeed, its very awkwardness serves to underscore the instability of its ambitious yet emotionally stunted characters. The few souls lucky enough to have witnessed the minor miracle that is Too Late Blues find that it lodges in the memory with the persistence of a jilted lover." For its more recent fans, any chance to view the film has become an occasion. Producer-Director: John Cassavetes Screenplay: Richard Carr & Cassavetes Cinematography: Lionel Lindon Score: David Raksin Cast: Bobby Darrin (John 'Ghost' Wakefield), Stella Stevens (Jess Polanski), Everett Chambers (Benny Flowers), Nick Dennis (Nick Bobolenos), Vince Edwards (Tommy Sheenan), Marilyn Clark (Countess), Rupert Crosse (Baby Jackson), Seymour Cassel (Red), John Cassavetes (On-Screen Trailer Host & Narrator), Ivan Dixon (Party Guest) By Frank Miller Reference: Brierly, Dean. "Too Late Blues: Dean Brierly...Celebrating Films of the 1960s & 1970s." Cinema Retro, October 8, 2013, http://www.cinemaretro.com/index.php?/archives/196-TOO-LATE-BLUES-DEAN-BRIERLY-REVISITS-A-LOST-GEM.html.

Too Late Blues - Bobby Darin in John Cassavetes's TOO LATE BLUES


In between his pivotal independent classics Shadows and Faces, actor-turned-director John Cassavetes spent the early 1960s making two lesser-known studio films often neglected in studies of his work. One of these was MGM's A Child Is Waiting, which still gets some airplay thanks to the presence of Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster as the leads, while the other, Paramount's Too Late Blues, is rarely acknowledged except as a rare leading man opportunity for singer Bobby Darin.

Seen today, the film (which the director often dismissed) is a valuable snapshot of both a director in transition and a jazz culture in the midst of seismic changes. Some top talents can be found providing music for the many numbers here including Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, and Shelly Manne on such songs as ""Sax Raises Its Ugly Head" and "Look Inward Angel," as well as a sparing incidental score by jazz specialist David Raksin.

More freewheeling character study than traditional narrative, the film follows the creative spirit of "Ghost" Wakefield (Darrin), a determined musician dedicated to his art who refuses to sell out for fame. He hooks up with old flame and current floozy Jess (Stella Stevens, a year before she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Girls! Girls! Girls!), and when he lets her front the band, the entire combo threatens to collapse.

The basic idea of this film sounds like one viewers had already seen countless times before, but what makes Cassavetes' take so unique is its focus on atmosphere and musical verisimilitude rather than soap opera dramatics. The friction of a recording session, the dynamics of a front man against the often overlooked backup players, and the challenges of keeping body and soul together in the face of financial difficulties are all captured here in a gritty, unflinching style that led to film to become branded as "depressing" by many critics and moviegoers at the time. However, time has been very kind to the film, and while it's odd to see Darrin in a music-oriented film where he doesn't actually sing, he acquits himself well in a role that veers into far more unsympathetic territory than one would normally expect at the time. Also significantly from a pop culture standpoint, this 1961 film also features a young Vince Edwards, who would go on to fame the same year as the lead on TV's Ben Casey.

Also among the cast is Cassavetes regular Seymour Cassel as band mate "Red;" although he had a bit part in Shadows, this was only his second significant role after the forgotten Juke Box Racket. He would go on to remain with Cassavetes on and off through the director's penultimate film, Love Streams.

One of several key Cassavetes films kept out of home video circulation throughout the VHS and major DVD eras (though admittedly not as crucial as the long-MIA Husbands), Too Late Blues gets its first official release from Olive Films as part of its ongoing crusade to present overlooked gems from the Paramount vaults. As usual it's a no-frills package (with both Blu-Ray and DVD options on the market), and the packaging somehow misspells Vince Edwards' name. More important is the presentation of the film itself, and it looks terrific. Razor sharp with beautiful inky blacks and rich grays, it's lovely from start to finish and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, slightly opened up from the 1.85:1 framing of the theatrical version. Even more impressive is the sound; for an early '60s mono track, it's shocking how clear and powerful the audio on this one really is. Considering the importance of the music on the soundtrack, that's certainly something for which movie fans can be grateful.

For more information about Too Late Blues, visit Olive Films.

by Nathaniel Thompson

Too Late Blues - Bobby Darin in John Cassavetes's TOO LATE BLUES

In between his pivotal independent classics Shadows and Faces, actor-turned-director John Cassavetes spent the early 1960s making two lesser-known studio films often neglected in studies of his work. One of these was MGM's A Child Is Waiting, which still gets some airplay thanks to the presence of Judy Garland and Burt Lancaster as the leads, while the other, Paramount's Too Late Blues, is rarely acknowledged except as a rare leading man opportunity for singer Bobby Darin. Seen today, the film (which the director often dismissed) is a valuable snapshot of both a director in transition and a jazz culture in the midst of seismic changes. Some top talents can be found providing music for the many numbers here including Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, and Shelly Manne on such songs as ""Sax Raises Its Ugly Head" and "Look Inward Angel," as well as a sparing incidental score by jazz specialist David Raksin. More freewheeling character study than traditional narrative, the film follows the creative spirit of "Ghost" Wakefield (Darrin), a determined musician dedicated to his art who refuses to sell out for fame. He hooks up with old flame and current floozy Jess (Stella Stevens, a year before she appeared opposite Elvis Presley in Girls! Girls! Girls!), and when he lets her front the band, the entire combo threatens to collapse. The basic idea of this film sounds like one viewers had already seen countless times before, but what makes Cassavetes' take so unique is its focus on atmosphere and musical verisimilitude rather than soap opera dramatics. The friction of a recording session, the dynamics of a front man against the often overlooked backup players, and the challenges of keeping body and soul together in the face of financial difficulties are all captured here in a gritty, unflinching style that led to film to become branded as "depressing" by many critics and moviegoers at the time. However, time has been very kind to the film, and while it's odd to see Darrin in a music-oriented film where he doesn't actually sing, he acquits himself well in a role that veers into far more unsympathetic territory than one would normally expect at the time. Also significantly from a pop culture standpoint, this 1961 film also features a young Vince Edwards, who would go on to fame the same year as the lead on TV's Ben Casey. Also among the cast is Cassavetes regular Seymour Cassel as band mate "Red;" although he had a bit part in Shadows, this was only his second significant role after the forgotten Juke Box Racket. He would go on to remain with Cassavetes on and off through the director's penultimate film, Love Streams. One of several key Cassavetes films kept out of home video circulation throughout the VHS and major DVD eras (though admittedly not as crucial as the long-MIA Husbands), Too Late Blues gets its first official release from Olive Films as part of its ongoing crusade to present overlooked gems from the Paramount vaults. As usual it's a no-frills package (with both Blu-Ray and DVD options on the market), and the packaging somehow misspells Vince Edwards' name. More important is the presentation of the film itself, and it looks terrific. Razor sharp with beautiful inky blacks and rich grays, it's lovely from start to finish and presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio, slightly opened up from the 1.85:1 framing of the theatrical version. Even more impressive is the sound; for an early '60s mono track, it's shocking how clear and powerful the audio on this one really is. Considering the importance of the music on the soundtrack, that's certainly something for which movie fans can be grateful. For more information about Too Late Blues, visit Olive Films. by Nathaniel Thompson

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall November 1961

Released in United States January 1989

Released in United States May 17, 1990

Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 17, 1990.

Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 22 & 24, 1989.

This marked Cassavetes' first studio-financed picture.

Re-released in Paris June 5, 1991.

Released in United States January 1989 (Shown at United States Film Festival in Park City, Utah (Tribute to John Cassavetes) January 22 & 24, 1989.)

Released in United States May 17, 1990 (Shown at Anthology Film Archives (John Cassavetes Retrospective) in New York City May 17, 1990.)

Released in United States Fall November 1961