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Sunday, June 07, 2020

Jazz-Fed Frenzy at Warners!


Blues In The Night (1941) Goes Siegel Montage Mad

Among Warner pics shot on skates, Blues In The Night is a most exhilarating. Director Anatole Litvak of Euro origin made his name with a swirling camera, endless takes, and some complained, imperious attitude. Cagney didn't like him on City For Conquest, others said he wasted resource for mere purpose of showing he could. There is all that perhaps, but also Blues In The Night to tip scale and demonstrate Litvak had something, if not plenty. There was an article years ago in one of the magazines, Film Comment?, where the writer compared hopes and fate for Blues In The Night and The Maltese Falcon, Warner releases of a same season that history recalled far different from what the studio intended. Seems WB pinned bigger expectation on the Litvak project as opposed to John Huston's freshman effort. Blues has been obscured by passing time, but there's not many coming across it now who do not come away astonished.






A lot of credit is montage maker Don Siegel's as opposed to Litvak, although Siegel work was done consciously after style of the director. What Don did was 4X an already quick tempo to something like dramatic delirium, which had critics singling out his transitions, a likely surprise to him if not Warner’s. Result got  noticed on the lot, and brass boosted Siegel to direction of shorts and then The Verdict in 1946. Montages are admittedly the highlight of Blues In The Night and what most remember from seeing the film. Siegel was left largely alone to stage storms in his teacup, segues not regarded vital enough to be overseen closely, although Litvak and producing Hal Wallis each insisted on checking them first, largely an ego thing as Siegel revealed in his memoir.






The cast was off Warner secondary lists, Richard Whorf the lead (was he substitute for a John Garfield or more obvious choice?). The actor/director/set decorator/painter was stuff of the renaissance, but never resonated as a leading man. Whorf was earnest, could play conflicted, but not romantic, which this part called for, and more. The picture flew in too many directions to be coherent, being scattered in tone as any melodrama-musical-comedy-gangster mélange yet made. Warners was gearing up for pace of war and their output, already crackling, upped the tempo to something like delirious. If it's sample of crazy old Hollywood you want to share, begin here. Litvak was good with edits in addition to his tracking camera, so songs get pep injection like Here We Go Again, done in a boxcar and one of the marvels of group performance from the 40's. Popular band men of the day Jimmy Lunceford and Will Osborne do guest turns, the two familiar from live appearance at urban palaces where their boogie preceded film fare.




Chicago First Run
Some have tried positioning Blues In The Night as noir. It's too eccentric for that, but elements are there for the looking, and you'd not be untoward singling several out, including Betty Field as femme force for men's destruction, a noir device flogged from '41 to eternity. I'd position her character more in line with cruel vamps Bette Davis played in 30's forebears like Of Human Bondage, Dangerous, and 40's ones to come. Warners seemed to have a thing about women telling men off in most withering terms, an always unpleasant showdown you could look forward to, or dread, in most any melodrama where poor saps unwisely attached themselves to a Davis, Ida Lupino, or in Blues' case, Betty Field. Toward air of eccentricity, there is also casting of Elia Kazan and Billy Halop as band members with Whorf, Priscilla Lane, Jack Carson, and Peter Whitney (refreshing change as well for this player often used in heavy mode). Halop was on brief leave from Dead End Kidding, a step off a chalk line that might (should) have opened opportunity in a mainstream, but it wouldn't take. Kazan was showing again what a fine actor he was before redirecting energy behind cameras. Blues In The Night plays HD on TCM and is available on DVD.

4 Comments:

Blogger Reg Hartt said...

Don Siegel had more knowledge of great film making in the toenail of the small toe of his left foot than the vast majority of film makers then and now have in their entire bodies. Ditto Andre De Toth.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Mark Mayerson said...

Billy Halop didn't have the career he deserved. I think he would have been great in noirs after the war. Picture him instead of Tom Neal in Detour.

5:48 PM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

This is one of the truly fascinating '40s movies, a strange hybrid of different genres and styles.

As for Halop in "Detour" -- he might have been a better actor, but Tom Neal's dejected, doomed aura fit the movie better than anyone else could have.

3:05 PM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

We tend to forget that John Huston's freshman effort, THE MALTESE FALCON was the third strike on the match and a "B" movie.

Like many "B's" it wound up an "A" largely because the studio did not interfere with its production.

1:13 PM  

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