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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

BLUES IN THE NIGHT (1941)

Everybody talks a mile-a-minute in this hokey, but entertaining melodrama about a little jazz combo who ride the rails to find gigs and wind up fronting at an illegal roadhouse craps joint. Richard Whorf, Jack Carson & Elia Kazan (very enthusiastic in his final acting gig) are in the band with pretty Priscilla Lane as the white-bread singer while Lloyd Nolan, Betty Field, Wallace Ford & Howard da Silva work the gambling end. Their location is just close enough to NYC for the band to hope for a bit of exposure, but sex, in the available form of Ms. Field, brings the two sides of the house into fatal conflict. It’ll take a break-up or two, a psychiatric meltdown, a few murders and some backstabbing before things settle down. With all the Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer music and a mere 96 minute running time . . . no wonder they all talk so fast! But it’s swell talk, thanks to scripter Robert Rossen (half the time, Nolan sounds just like Bugs Bunny) and it has a sleekly compelling look thanks to Ernest Haller’s noirish lensing, Anatole Litvak's smooth helming and smart art direction from Max Parker who makes the tight budget work with the film’s fatalistic atmosphere. Same goes for Don Siegel’s OTT surrealistic montages; watch for the taffy keyboard on that nightmare piano! The DVD comes with a spectacular helping of EXTRAs, including JAMMIN’ THE BLUES/’44 with a great all-star jazz line up and awesome b&w lensing via Robert Burks, plus three smash Looney Tunes.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Billy Halop, one of the original DEAD END kids, busts all Hollywood narrative conventions as the band’s drummer. He hacks away like Camille in his first scenes, but it doesn’t lead to a fatal illness or even an early exit to the TB ward. You can almost hear producer Hal Wallis yelling, ‘Rewrite!’

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