Paris Blues

1961, Movie, NR, 98 mins

Review

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The story is slim but the jazz is great, especially when legendary Louis Armstrong gets into the act. Newman and Poitier are friends and American expatriates living in Paris after WW II, playing jazz in a club run by Laage who is having a tepid affair with Newman. Living in Paris for Newman means dedicating himself to studying and composing classical music while earning a comfortable living in a jazz joint. For Poitier, the expatriate life offers asylum from the racial hatred in America. Then into their lives burst bubbling tourists Woodward and Carroll, who pair off with Newman and Poitier. Carroll convinces Poitier that it's better to go back to the US and face his fears of bigotry than to hide out in a foreign country. They fall in love and plan to wed when returning to America. Newman, on the other hand, returns Woodward's deep affection with hesitant emotions; he doesn't want to give up his music career to become a second-rate musician at home. Yet he succumbs and leaves Paris after learning from his professor that his latest classical composition is considerably less than classical. But once he decides to marry Woodward and return to the States, Newman is nagged by the thought that he is deserting his great talent. He changes his mind at the last minute and tells Woodward at the train station that he cannot go with her, that he is staying in Paris to continue his career. PARIS BLUES is well-intentioned, but Ritt's direction flags and the dialog is often bogged down with talky stretches wherein Poitier mouths generalities about racism and Newman waxes too eloquently about "pure" jazz. The appearance of Armstrong is the great highlight of this mostly turgid film. Newman is good in the thin role he was given, but Poitier is merely a black prop designed to appease the growing concern over racial equality. This was Newman's second film with Ritt directing and was made just after he scored a great triumph in THE HUSTLER. This was also his fourth film with wife Woodward. Newman's trombone playing was dubbed by Murray MacEachern, and Paul Gonsalves dubbed Poitier's saxophone exercises. The jazz numbers are outstanding and include: "Mood Indigo" (Duke Ellington, Irving Mills, Albany Bigard), "Take the `A' Train" (Billy Strayhorn), "Sophisticated Lady" (Ellington, Mills, Mitchell Parish), "Paris Blues," "Paris Stairs," "Unclothed Woman," "Autumnal Suite," "Wild Man Moore," "Nite" (Ellington), "Birdie Jingle," "Guitar D'Amour." The score by Ellington was nominated for an Oscar. leave a comment

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