“That ain’t a band — it’s a unit! It’s one guy multiplied five times.”
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.
- Anatole Litvak Films
- Betty Field Films
- Femmes Fatales
- Jack Carson Films
- Priscilla Lane Films
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
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.