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Thursday, June 29, 2017

PARIS BLUES (1961)

The Beat Generation meets Kennedy’s New Frontier in racially integrated early ‘60s Paris. That’s the setting (and setting is whole deal here) in this otherwise wan romance² about a pair of tourists (Joanne Woodward; Diahann Carroll) who fall in with a pair of jazz men (Paul Newman; Sidney Poitier). Tussling between the sheets when not roaming the town and debating Artist’s Life vs Conventional Family or La Vie de M. Noir vs Civil Rights activism back in the States. All in all, quite pleasant, and fun to watch director Martin Ritt locate his inner charcoal-sketch stylings under lenser Christian Matras (Jean Renoir & Max Ophüls in his past; Luis Buñuel in his future) as they take on some Parisian nabs designed in classic forced perspective by Alexandre Trauner. (The sets work out better than the real locations. The exact opposite of Ritt Stateside.) But drop the music (which includes a couple of set pieces for Louis Armstrong as well as a Duke Ellington score) and the dramatic pickings grow slim. Basically, will Paul make a mark as serious jazz composer, will guitarist pal Serge Reggiani kick his drug habit, and which couple holds on. Newman, working his usual self-centered cad routine of the time, looks incredibly fine; Woodward struggles against a bad hairdo; Carroll is impossibly pretty; and Poitier, ah, Sidney. He’s the real reason to watch. Dandy playing fake sax, but more importantly, looser, sexier, more comfortable in his shoes than in any other film. Perhaps, like his character, he’s just so gosh darn happy to drop the ‘credit-to-his-race’ striver roles he so often got stuck with, allowing personality angles rarely on display to shine out. He’s a knockout.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY/LINK: Good as she is here, Carroll wouldn’t make another feature until 1967. Though she did return to Paris . . . Paris, Broadway, that is, in Richard Rodgers’ 1962 musical NO STRINGS, as a fashion model who falls for Maine-boy Richard Kiley. Now, she’s the one who doesn’t want to go back to the States. Here’s the opening number: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jo3yq4zMTMU

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