Blues in the Night (1941)

“That ain’t a band — it’s a unit! It’s one guy multiplied five times.”

Synopsis:
A jazz pianist (Richard Whorf) and a clarinetist (Elia Kazan) form a blues band with a trumpeter (Jack Carson) and his singer-wife (Priscilla Lane), but find their aspirations complicated when an ex-con (Lloyd Nolan) first holds them up in a train car, then invites them to come work for him at a roadhouse where a manipulative singer (Betty Field) attempts to seduce nearly every man around her.

Genres:

Review:
Wikipedia describes this interesting, fast-paced enigma (mess?) of a movie as an “American musical in the film noir style”. Indeed, reading Wikipedia’s plot synopsis gives a good sense of how this bizarre film shifts from a “let’s put together a band!” feel-good musical to a tale where we’re no longer certain what role music plays other than as the life-passion being sucked out of Whorf by a ruthless femme fatale. Ernest Haller’s cinematography makes the entire affair gorgeous to look at, and there are some mind-bending surrealistic images that shift the film into yet another category of cinema altogether. Field gives a red-hot performance, future-director Kazan hops around on screen like he’s on speed, and there’s no guarantee at all of where or how things will end. Is this really what the blues look like at night?

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Betty Field as Kay
  • Ernest Haller’s atmospheric cinematography

  • The Oscar-nominated title song

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.

Links:

One Response to “Blues in the Night (1941)”

  1. First viewing. Not must-see – but it will be of interest to those who check out over-heated ’40s flicks. As per my post in ‘The ’40s-’50s in Film’ (fb):

    “But it’s gotta be our kind of music – our kind of band – the songs we’ve heard that’s been knockin’ around this country: blues, real blues! The kind that come out of people, real people! Their hopes and their dreams, what they want and what they’ve got!”

    ‘Blues in the Night’ (1941): It’s not all that often that, if a film is memorable, it’s mainly to the credit of its director. ‘BITN’ is not a great or particularly good movie. Still, with Anatole Litvak behind the camera, it’s a rather compulsively watchable one. It starts out simply enough as a story about a group of jazz musicians, always broke (of course), often riding in boxcars in search of gigs and a chance to break through with their ‘sound’. Typical band story, fine. But screenwriter Robert Rossen (adapting a play) is ambitious. In fact, he gives us 3 movies for the price of one. On one of their travels, the band comes across a shifty guy (Lloyd Nolan) who leads them into a subplot that resembles ‘The Petrified Forest’: Mr. Shifty turns menacing. From there, the film morphs again when the band leader falls for the bad dude’s fiery femme fatale (played to the hilt by Betty Field). His passion for her and her rotten treatment of him is so intense that he becomes an alcoholic – thus entering ‘The Lost Weekend’ (with Litvak getting wonderfully creative with dipsomania visuals). …Did I say 3 movies? Make that 4: the ending anticipates ‘Queen Bee’. For balancing measures, the band’s songs are by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer (my fave being ‘This Time the Dream’s On Me’). The cool cast includes: Priscilla Lane, Richard Whorf, Jack Carson, Wallace Ford, Elia Kazan and Howard Da Silva.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.