Saturday, June 26, 2021

The Films of John Cassavetes: Too Late Blues (1961)

Too Late Blues is quite the juxtaposition viewing when double-billed with the John Cassavetes previous picture, Shadows. Both films concern the unglamorous side of jazz musicians, but, whereas Shadows still feels spontaneous and edgy, Blues feels weighed down, never fully reaching the scales it’s attempting. The core problem lies with miscast Bobby Darin’s one note, though earnest, delivery. Darin, a truly energetic 20th century legend on the music stage, comes across stiff and uncomfortable on screen, making his scenes with Stella Stevens unconvincing. Still Blues is watchable because the Cassavetes script has major bounce when the plot veers toward an artist that is unwavering in his convictions—you almost wonder what more the finished product could have accomplished with Cassavetes, a damn fine actor, mouthing his own words (co-written with Richard Carr). And the supporting cast of Vince Edwards, Everett Chambers, and Rupert Crosse carry the picture over lulls making it worthwhile. Oh, and for jazz enthusiasts, there’s Shelly Manne, Red Mitchell, Jimmy Rowles, Benny Carter, Uan Rasey, and Milt Bernhart on the soundtrack.

SHADOWS (1959)
A moody Charles Mingus score accentuates this vivid look at several desperate lives via the debut lens of John Cassavetes. The grit seeps off the screen as Cassavetes positions his camera in seedy New York 1950's nightclubs and on the bouelvards for realistic brawls. The improvised vibe indeed feels very loose, in keeping with the Beat movement of the time, though we now know a lot of it was reshot after an earlier version didn’t pass the director’s high standards. Gena Rowlands said in a Guardian interview that her husband probably “would have kept reshooting and editing for the rest of his life!” The plot revolves around a woman (Leila Goldoni) entering into an interracial relationship and its consequences. She has jazz musician brothers (Hugh Hurd, Ben Carruthers) who look out for her while enduring their own hardships making a living and surviving the mean streets. Though wooden acting sporadically becomes unintentionally funny, this film still holds up and is a snapshot of life not to miss.