Combustible Celluloid
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With: Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward, Diahann Carroll, Louis Armstrong, Barbara Laage, André Luguet, Marie Versini, Moustache, Aaron Bridgers, Guy Pedersen, Serge Reggiani
Written by: Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, Walter Bernstein, Lulla Rosenfeld, based on a novel by Harold Flender
Directed by: Martin Ritt
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 98
Date: 09/27/1961

Paris Blues (1961)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Got That Swing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

One usually doesn't hear much about Paris Blues (1961) unless writers are talking about that elusive genre known as "jazz films." Frankly, the movie's two stars received much more attention the same year for two other films, Paul Newman in The Hustler and Sidney Poitier in A Raisin in the Sun. But Paris Blues is a film that seems happy noodling about, riding its highs and lows with equal fascination.

Newman and Poitier are Ram Bowen and Eddie Cook, respectively, a couple of American jazz musicians who have made a career playing regular gigs in a Paris club. They live the high life, while Ram keeps working on his own original compositions. When a couple of American women -- Lillian (Joanne Woodward) and Connie (Diahann Carroll) -- turn up for a two-week vacation, it seems like they're in for a fun time. But unfortunately, the two men fall in love with the two women, and as the vacation ends, hard decisions must be made. Will the musicians come back to the U.S.? Will the women stay in Paris? Or will they separate?

First off, let's just say how great the music is in this film. Duke Ellington lent some of his greatest songs, such as "Take the A Train" and "Mood Indigo" to the film, and he received an Oscar nomination for Best Score. Then, Louis Armstrong appears as "Wild Man Moore," a successful American jazzman who arrives in Paris for a tour, and makes a surprise appearance at Ram and Eddie's club for a jam session.

The performances by the four lead actors are superb, filled with passion and excitement for life. Their conversations are dynamic and intelligent. (Woodward and Newman had recently been married in real life, and they have a genuine spark onscreen.) Of course, some of the talk concerns racial issues, which was fairly pressing in 1961 and can be forgiven, especially given the free mingling of the races among the main characters. (White characters flirt with black characters.)

Quite a bit more forced is the issue of one of the band members, "Gypsy" (Serge Reggiani, a veteran of Melville, Ophuls, and Becker films), being addicted to cocaine. The film practically stops dead while trying to address this issue.

Indeed, Martin Ritt was probably not the loosest and most improvisatory of all filmmakers. The best "jazz films" are filled with music and atmosphere, and an inventive, intelligent way of abandoning traditional structure. Paris Blues doesn't quite achieve a perfect score, but it contains more than enough moments of vibrant life to make it worth grooving to. Kino Lorber released the fine-looking and great-sounding 2014 Blu-ray edition, which includes a trailer.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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