Judge Patrick Naugle ain't gettin' out of this review without singin' the blues!
Their music would set the world on fire.
Aloof Ram Bowen (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke) and determined Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier, Guess Who's Coming to Dinner) are two jazz musicians living the good life in Paris 1950s, where their style of music is celebrated and Eddie's race isn't an issue. Upon a chance encounter with two American girls, Lillian (Joanne Woodward, Mr. and Mrs. Bridge) and Connie (Diahann Carroll, Claudine), Eddie and Ram fall head over heels and must decide if they want to stay in Paris or move back to American for their newfound respective loves.
Paul Newman was undoubtedly one of the greatest actors of his generation. Newman started his career as a bit player and began his movie career alongside contemporaries like Marlon Brando and James Dean. Often looked at as a pretty face, Newman worked hard to overcome his attractive good looks to be taken seriously as an actor. Newman was an actor committed to his work, and his goal was to do the best he could with the scripts he chose. Over the years Newman was able to achieve much success in classics like the pool hall drama The Hustler, the Robert Redford western Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and director Martin Scorsese's The Color of Money (for which he won an Oscar). Over the course of nearly fifty five years Newman was a presence on the big screen, and his death in 2008 marked one of the last chapters in Hollywood's "Golden Age" of cinema.
Newman made a lot of movies, some great, some good, and only a few that were rather tepid or forgettable. 1961's Paris Blues, directed by Martin Ritt (who would work with Newman numerous times) falls somewhere between decent and forgettable. It's a movie that includes a lot of great musical cues and little in the way of drama. Taking place in Paris during the late 1950s, Paris Blues crackles with scintillating atmosphere and a love story (two of them, actually) that never rises above mediocre. Even with its flaws, director Martin Ritt's film is worth checking out for the swinging soundtrack that features Louis Armstrong onscreen and Duke Ellington as the film's pianist, composer, and bandleader.
While I wasn't very enthusiastic about Paris Blues as a drama, I have to admit that I enjoyed some of the performances contained in the film. I've made it no secret that Paul Newman is one of my favorite actors, and even in a film as so-so as Paris Blues, the late actor is still a joy to watch. Newman's frigid demeanor as Ram fits right in with the jazzy feel of the film. Sidney Poitier—a black actor who broke many racial barriers during his career—is often the epitome of smoldering coolness, giving Newman a run for his money. The supporting cast includes singer Diahann Carroll and Joanne Woodward (Newman's real life wife) as American tourists who catch Ram and Eddie's eye. Both Carroll and Woodward are attractive women who are also able to hold their own against the male leads.
At its heart, Paris Blues is a romance and a film about the decisions we make in life that can set us on a new path. Both Ram and Eddie have to decide what they want out the country and their careers—to stay in the more racially tolerant Paris or head back to America, their homeland. The two new women in their lives don't make their decisions easy, which is the basic conflict of the film. Unfortunately, the conflict is never as compelling as it could be, and the screenplay by Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, and Walter Bernsetein (adapted from the novel by Harold Flender) is sometimes plodding, stopping along the way for bursts of energy from Duke Ellington and his band. Newman and Woodward have a natural chemistry together that makes the love scenes go down a bit easier, although I never really bought them as a possible couple due to Newman's coldness and unfaltering love for his music.
Paris Blues (Blu-ray) is presented in 1.66:1/1080p HD widescreen. The black and white image looks far better than it ever has with a limited amount of grain or imperfection. The black levels are deep and dark and the whites bright and bold. Fans of this film will be exceptionally happy with the effort Kino Lorber has put into this transfer. The DTS-HD 1.0 Master Audio gets the biggest boost from the musical cues, though the bulk of it is obviously front heavy. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
The only extra is a trailer for the film.
Fans of classic movies may want to check out Paris Blues, but it won't be for the dialogue or story. The main draw for viewers is going to be the jazz score, which is top notch. The locations—filmed in France—are as sumptuous and enriching as the music, which is an extra added bonus. As a romantic drama, the movie offers a standard love story that's rather tame and forgettable. As a musical, it swings.
A middling drama that sports some great jazz.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
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