Too Late Blues (1961) review

Too Late Blues (1961) review

It's late, it's late, it's late, but not too late... blues.

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Ghost (Bobby Darin) is a jazz player, meandering through life with his bandmates. They are content to just play their music, for the most part, without any hopes or plans for the future. Then he meets Jess “Princess” Polanski (Stella Stevens) and decides to set his sights on fame and fortune, seemingly at any cost. The problem? Nobody rates her voice. She does have a moderately pleasing warble, singing without singing. So er, that’s something.

The other problem? The rest of the band aren’t particularly well rated either. But Ghost has a vision, and it’s his creative posturing that keeps things going.

Cassavetes gets in close and personal with the camera at every opportunity, the focus being on the performances rather than setting or situation. It is all about the emotions, the human element. Other than establishing shots, the majority of the film is played this way. This might have been a result of financial constraints or that the film needed to completed as quickly as possible, but it works.

And that’s perfectly suitable. Antagonism and crumbling personal relationships form the basis of Cassavetes and Richard Carr’s script, the first film Cassavetes made for a major studio. The plot, whether knowingly or not, reflects his battle with the studio, the ongoing struggle of maintaining your creative vision despite the efforts of others to twist it to suit their own needs.

Ghost is a coward, both in a physical and an emotional context. Darin plays him one part smarm, one part charm, one part weak and vulnerable. The smirk on his face is a facade, a public face that contrasts with his inner demons. There have been complaints about Darin’s performance, but I’m of the opinion that it suits the character.

Throw in a hefty dose of personal drama in his relationship with Princess and you have the makings of an emotionally explosive and dramatic story. Suffice to say the finale is much like life – downbeat but tinged with hope.

For me this was a story about finding balance between creative endeavours and other important aspects of your life such as friends and family. It’s something that we all struggle with in one form or another, or at least those of us with a creative and/or busy mind. Life is about balance, ultimately. This is something lost on Ghost until the closing moments.

I have a few complaints, in that the supporting players aren’t filled in as well as I would like. Aside from their instruments of choice there is precious little of them added to the story. Even the outrageously stereotypical manager of their bar of choice has more going for him. Admittedly, this is more to do with him being an outrageous stereotype rather than deep characterisation.

It might not be the greatest human drama ever committed to film, but the hallmarks are there. If the rushed 30 day schedule led to Cassavetes not achieving what he had hoped, it does at least show he had talent behind the camera. And, sometimes, taking 30 days rather than 6 months can work in your favour.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Too Late Blues (1961)
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