Too Late Blues Blu-ray Review

The year is 1961. In Britain Tony Richardson directs A Taste of Honey, in France Last Year In Marienbad is released, in Italy there is Accatone, in Japan Yojimbo, and in America Hollywood is struggling. In a bid to capture the emerging art house audience Paramount signs up John Cassavetes after his radically independent debut Shadows. The result is Too Late Blues, a low-key jazz melodrama.

In typical Cassavetes fashion the film concerns men struggling to be men and women struggling to be women. In the directors own words, “The inability of people to live, not survive, but to live”
There are no heroes here; instead everyone seems crippled by circumstance, by society, but most of all by their own doubts and insecurities.

John ‘Ghost’ Wakefield (Bobby Darin) is a jazz pianist and bandleader determined to stick to his musical guns even if it does mean surviving on the slim pickings of playing local parks and charity gigs. His troubles come in pairs when he spots the glamorous but brittle wannabe singer Jess (Stella Stevens) accompanied by Ghost’s erstwhile agent Benny Flowers. They represent love and money but on the B-side lies only heartache and torn ideals. As Benny, Everett Chambers gives a masterclass in venal venom. He is a buzz-cut Burt Gordon and like George C. Scott’s character in The Hustler Benny hides his weakness by manipulating his creative ingénue. The Hustler also came out in 1961 and Cassavetes is playing from the same songbook as future mentor Robert Rossen. Like Rossen, Cassavetes had wanted a method man as his lead. Unfortunately the studio stepped in so instead of Montgomery Clift we get Bobby Darin whose acting has all the edge of his pudgy features.

The best part of the film may have been the sequence the studio cut: A long dark night of the soul in which Ghost wanders the city in a daze, goes to a nightclub, picks up a girl. This was to feature a number of new jazz pieces commissioned by Cassavetes but vetoed by the studio. While Shadows has jazz in its blood, in the conception, shooting, and edit, Too Late Blues is restrained, never quite letting go. Although there are hints of something more in the moments of emotional honesty, the emphasis of character over plot, and some trademark scene stealing by Nick Dennis (who played Nick Va Va Voom in Kiss Me Deadly), it is perhaps fitting that a film about compromise is itself unfulfilled. But then who said playing the blues would be easy?

‘Too Late Blues’ is released in a Dual Format (Blu-Ray and DVD) edition on 21 July 2014

About The Author

Writer

When he isn't writing reviews Rob likes to make short films of a surreal nature. His work has screened at the BFI London Film festival and SXSW. His favourite movies include A Matter Of Life And Death and L'Atalante.

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