Too Late Blues (1961) Poster

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Another Cassavetes Gem!
juniperjenn9923 May 2002
I suppose one might consider this 'minor' Cassavetes, given the fact that this is a very conventional story about jazz musicians and a woman who has been misused by men all her life. The production values also seem a little lower than some of his other films. But I can't help but feel astonished over how Cassavetes can make a meal out of just a few crumbs. Actually, he had more than a few crumbs. He had an excellent cast, headed by two extremely talented and wayward (!) actors. I'm in awe of how amazing Stella Stevens was, given the quality of the rest of her career. She certainly took a bad turn somewhere, but perhaps like her character in this film, no one ever took her seriously in the first place. A real shame! I saw Bobby Darin give an excellent performance in a film called PRESSURE POINT from around the same period as this film, so he has only confirmed my belief that he could have been a leading actor of his generation. But Cassavetes could probably even make me a good actress, so certainly he qualifies for a good deal of the credit here. This is just a small, human film with dignity and intelligence told with Cassavetes' usual panache for intensity. I can't remember how long it's been since I've cared about any screen characters so strongly. It was probably the last time I caught one of Cassavetes' other films!
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Another Oft-Misunderstood Cassavetes Film
jzappa18 August 2008
John Cassavetes creates an eternally unique drama with his chronicle of an idealistic jazz musician played by crooner Bobby Darin, and his relationship among his fellow band members and his object of affection, a beautiful would-be singer who comes between him and his band members, played by Stella Stevens in an honest, humanly extreme performance clearly directed by Cassavetes and cementing an argument that she could have held her own as a star.

Darin, as Cassavetes surely intended, brings a realistic contribution to his character from his life in the world of the era's music scene, as a dogmatically philosophical band leader who takes tremendous pride in seeing a profound, transcendental beauty in a mellow, instrumental school of jazz that he, with the exasperated tolerance of his fellow players, finds ideal to play to empty parks to communicate with nature and birds when he isn't playing gigs at old people's homes and orphanages. What is irrelevant in this film is how we feel about the music he feels most personally in tune with (no pun intended) in comparison to the commercially accessible music that would welcome him into a successful career. Like all Cassavetes films, Too Late Blues is about a character whose proclivities are beyond us, and what keeps it from being subjective or affected is that the rest of the characters share our feelings.

The key to our understanding and relating ardently to Darin's character is his unrelenting obstinacy, which becomes Bobby Darin uncannily, borne by the pride that absorbs all of his perceptions into what is of use only to him. As this dooming characteristic rears its head, an internal conflict between his true passions and what will gain him the recognition that deep down he wants more than anything else, we come to dislike him and find ourselves on the side of his band members and his girl Stevens.

Full of far-seeing insight and relentless individuality, it is not well-recognized film, which in itself is a testament to the artistic truth it presents. This is in some sense a shame though, because it is really a moving film in spite of all the expectations accompanied by an audience's perception of a music film. There are many great scenes where we simply hang out with the band in their regular hang-out spot with an entertaining bar owner, or we indulge in their impulsive diversions, or we react in unusual ways and we must step out of our regiments and make an endeavor out of looking further.
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Desperately deserving of a decent DVD release
Tristan!-210 May 2006
This is a very good jazz film, bringing the whole era to life, thanks to some superb acting by Bobby Darin (thank you thank you Montgomery Clift for backing out at the last minute) and the stunning Stella Stevens (why was she not a major star?). It certainly is not "the best jazz film ever" as some critics have said - "Round Midnight" and "Bird" are infinitely better films. But it's a quirky one, nonetheless. Darin plays jazz pianist and bandleader Ghost Wakefield (was that not also a make of aeroplane?), who is highly idealistic and loves a mellow, instrumental type of jazz. He falls for floozy Jess Polanski (Stevens) and ends up having to decide whether to continue to play on bandstands to empty parks (save for the birds), and old people's homes and orphanages, or compromise his type of jazz and play instead a more commercial type blues. He clearly makes the wrong decision. The hardest thing about this film for me was that I actually prefer the blues-type jazz he was shunning, as will probably most of the audience of this film, but that is irrelevant to our enjoyment of this film: "Too Late Blues" is a film about a stubborn man who is always "too late", because of his abject stubbornness. But there's more to his character than that: he cuts a rather pathetic and therefore lifelike character throughout, but ultimately his stubbornness is so infuriating that we cannot help but sympathise with the other bandmembers, and Jess, more than with the hero (Ghost). Is this a failure in this film? Perhaps it is. Which is why I cannot agree that it is the best jazz film ever. It is certainly a good one, though; although there could certainly have been a little more music in it. And certainly more of Stella Stevens's singing - if indeed that is her voice ("Girls! Girls! Girls!" is normally credited with being the first film in which Stella Stevens sings, which was the following year....) "Too Late Blues" deserves a decent DVD release ASAP - perhaps with a Stella Stevens commentary. Hope you're reading this, Paramount!
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a jazz musician (bobby darin) compromises his values for a pretty blonde (stella stevens)
dougbrode20 March 2006
This may be the best movie ever made about jazz, at least by a mainstream Hollywood company. John Cassavetes had not yet dropped out of the L.A. scene to write and direct his own indie movies, and Too Late Blues represents one of his final attempts to try and do something different and ofbeat within the framework of The Big Time of movie-making. He pretty much pulls it off, with only one problem - because he and the film company refused to pull any punches, and offered a realistic rather than a romantic portrait of the jazz scene, what they ended up with was a pretty fine movie that was so totally depressing, no one wanted to go see it. Bobby Darin, just then trying to kick off a movie career a la his idol frank sinatra, plays the lead, "Ghost," a talented jazz musician with a fine band that just might make waves as they refuse to compromise for commercial success. Then Bobby meets a depressed but gorgeous young blonde (Stella Stevens, the most underrated actress of her generation) and shortly will do everything and anything he needs to do to win her. She's no simple femme fatale, though, and the full dimensionality of her character is essential to why the film clicks - in a notably downbeat way. As Bobby must choose between getting the girl or getting the gigs, he faces the great threat of every artist, jazz or otherwise. The mood and atmosphere is vivid, convincing, memorable in a noir kind of way. Catch this if you want quality - but not if you want some easy going escapism.
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Between experiment and mainstream.
dbdumonteil21 July 2003
Coming after "shadows" and preceding "a child is waiting" ,"too late blues" is some kind of arithmetic mean between them.Not overtly avant-garde ,but never really mainstream,unlike the 1959 movie ,it has a screenplay and most of the dialogues are not improvised:actually they sometimes seem "carefully" written.

Stella Stevens gives a wistful sad performance ,diametrically opposite to later parts such as those of "girls girls girls" (!)or 'the silencers".Her singing -or that of the singer who dubs her?- looks like a moaning which stunningly blends with the boys' music.

"Too late blues" keeps a rather loose plot,but "a child is waiting "would take its "conventional " side and tighten it up:as a result ,Cassavetes would disown "a child..." and go back to less accessible works such as his debut.
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A great sophomore effort by John Cassavetes
JasparLamarCrabb26 May 2013
Warning: Spoilers
John Cassavetes's great second feature (bankrolled by Paramount Pictures) stars Bobby Darin as a very self-righteous pianist in a jazz band who falls hard for good time girl/singer Stella Stevens. After an eye-opening bar fight in which Darin fails to defend Stevens, their relationship collapses. Darin gives what is probably his finest performance, trying mightily to keep his self-respect as an artist and as a man and failing at both. He's well-matched with Stevens (an actress given very few real chances to shine during her career). Her performance here is astounding. Cassavetes is clearly saying a lot about what it means to maintain integrity in one's professional life as well as in one's personal life. Despite the studio backing, this is a very noncommercial film. Way ahead of its time in 1961, it's also not an easy movie to watch. The supporting cast is peppered with Cassavetes regulars Seymour Cassel, Val Avery and, in a very odd cameo, Rupert Crosse as "Baby" Jackson.
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Cassavetes Within the SystemÂ…Darin & Stevens are Superb
LeonLouisRicci15 January 2015
Unconventional Hard Hitting Slice of Jazz Musician Life from Edgy Director Cassavetes, who always seemed as Nervous as His Films.

The Second Film from the Adverse to the Studio System Auteur was Made from within and as such He Never Thought Much of it.

It was done at a Strange Time in Pop Culture. Race Relations and Integration were Percolating and Hollywood was mostly Late to the Struggle usually Steering way Away from anything Provocative or Controversial.

Cassavetes seems to be in Their Face Right-Off with an opening Scene that Literally Fills the Wide Screen with the Black Faces of Children Contrasted to the White Jazz Group.

The Script also makes more than one Reference to Interracial Relationships, Dope, and Prostitution. Bobby Darin is Fine as a Songwriter/Piano Player who Leads the Combo, but it Never in the Right Direction. Stella Stevens is also Superb in a Teary Role as an Insecure Singer with a Killer Body.

The Movie's Narrative is Not very Tight and Motivations are at times Lacking but the Film has an Offbeat, Gritty Style among its Perfect Hair and Shiny Suits with Skinny Ties. It was Not a Hit and the Director Scurried from Hollywood and Nobody Cared. He wasn't meant to be there anyway.

Overall, Worth a Watch to See what John Cassavetes did within the System and to See Bobby Darin's Acting and Stella Stevens' Range. The Story is Real and Rough and a Movie that was Removed from just about anything On Screen in 1961.
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I'm just to happy to report here that the film exists...
dizozza4 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
My ever-present gaps of awareness are a given, so playing like a new release at that citadel for great film prints, the Museum of Modern Art, was "Too Late Blues." Yes, it's the first Cassavettes film I have seen. "Shadows" was running in the other projection room. I hope to see that one day. "Too Late Blues" is an uncompromising look at two people, Stella Stevens, to whom I think Tim Curry owes a lot, and that pudgy faced icon, Bobby Darin, whom I recognized as a great jazz singer during the time of Bobby Rydell...I have seen one photo of Bobby Darin, with Johnny Mercer as one of the "Two of a Kind" combo, which is a fun musical album. Johnny Mercer is his own jazz vocal stylist, apart from his creation of casually elegant lyrics... "and they commute by stratasferry, my, they love to fly... " Bobby Darin was up for singing with Johnny Mercer and was certainly up for acting in this harrowing Cassavettes movie. Seeing it, you will be a witness to his full range of disarming facade and insecure anger, as well as hers. If you've seen her standing around in Jerry Lewis's The Nutty Professor you'll think that Stella Stevens makes no sense in her harrowing range here. She's amazing. This is a human drama, brilliantly documented. There are wonderful aerial shots of party rooms. There's a bizarre lighting moment of Ms. Stevens backing into the bathroom while turning on the light. The locations were simple. The uses of space transformed them, such as the pool hall, which the director uses like an enormous landscape of varied canvases where no limit of trouble can transpire... Let's see, in the film Ms. Stevens moves from one man to another and in her career she moved from one vocal icon to another, Elvis Presley, also a fine actor, in Girls Girls Girls...a very different musical cinema riot. Look here also for a menacing performance by the actor who played the TV doctor, Ben Casey. This film's music is by the composer of the "Laura" theme. At the end of this film you may agree that, while you may have never seen it before, other movie makers did. I would call this an influential film. Coming back to Stella Stevens, I'm also reminded of Candy Clark's performance in the Man Who Fell to Earth... It is not a far leap to view the talented musician as alien. Let's run down the list of who could handle music icons. Well, Nicholas Roeg, in addition to filming David Bowie and Mick Jaggar, got a great performance from Art Garfunkel, who was already in Carnal Knowledge. I suppose Frank Sinatra and before him, Bing Crosby, already paved paths that included a jump from singing to acting. Prince has Purple Rain. Dean Martin did a great job in all those great movies other than the Silencers which Stella Stevens was also in. Keannu Reaves in... I don't know. I best remember John Cassavettes in "The Fury.".. If ever Mahler wrote a great film score, that one has it. And Cassavettes was in -- I have got to see this entire film, I actually only have a middle reel of it in French -- Rosemary's Baby. Stella Steven's last name in "Too Late Blues" was Polanski. You'll see that both Roman and John found the world within the four corners of individual rooms. The scene where Stella Stevens backs into the bathroom and turns on the light, I half expected she'd return to the apartment in Rosemary's Baby and that John Casssavettes would be on the floor playing scrabble. By drawing all these parallels I have avoided confronting the uncomfortable intimacy in an ultimately uplifting movie. I hope this review was helpful to you...
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A terrific and underrated classic
MOscarbradley20 March 2016
John Cassavetes produced and directed "Too Late Blues", as well as co-writing it, in 1961. It was his second film, after "Shadows", but he never really rated it, feeling the studio imposed restrictions on his 'style' and that the end result was too conventional. It wasn't. It may not be quite in the same class as "A Woman Under the Influence" or "Opening Night" but it is still remarkable in its free-wheeling, semi-improvisational way.

It's about jazz musicians and in particular Bobby Darin's pianist and Stella Steven's singer and their on-again, off-again romance. They are both terrific, particularly Stevens, (I think it's one of the great overlooked performances by an actress in the movies), and there is an equally brilliant performance by Everett Chambers as Darin's Machiavellian agent. Indeed the entire supporting cast are outstanding confirming, even at this early stage, that Cassavetes was a great director of actors. The superb black and white photography is by Lionel Lindon and naturally there is some great jazz on the soundtrack.
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Hollywood limits of the New Thing
chaos-rampant12 December 2015
A jazz musician with his group wants to be free to express himself and love his girl, not worry about settling down with a job. They play out in parks, goof around in bars and wait for their big break. Later when they go to the studio to record he says that he wants to play music he wants to and not what some producer thinks will make money, but in a fit of ego alienates everyone, yells his band away and wounds up alone as a sell-out auditioning for an upscale joint.

And this was Cassavetes himself at this point in his life. He had played a jazz piano playing detective on TV a few years prior. He had made Shadows in a close group of friends, playing music he wanted to. It had taken him three years to finish, two shoots and no prospects were forthcoming. He had even managed to alienate his group over money when the first meager profits came in. So he wound up lobbying hard for a low budget job in Hollywood which he got to make this.

Okay so we now know it as a mere footnote in the career of this man, but it's not bad at all; elicits strong performances, and has a voice that speaks about pressing needs, youth with no prospects. More interesting is how Cassavetes would expand in later years.

The difference with Shadows is not in what it has to say, nor in the type of life, nor how it portrays sex and relationships. We see unsure youth in both. This was scripted, but so was Shadows. No, it's that he has been taken in from outside and that intangible studio quality zaps the whole thing of breath. He wanted real locations in New york, got studio space on a stage. He wanted actual jazz for the band, had to settle for watered down Hollywood score jazz by whoever happened to be on the payroll.

Ironic. The film was made at all and Cassavetes hired to do it, because a producer wanted to see if he could cash in on the "art film" then taking flight, exemplified in Shadows, which no studio would deign to pick up. He knew close to nothing about making films of course, so if he is stifled, it's not in the way of Welles who had delicately conceived work botched after the fact. He simply doesn't have room to breathe shape in the discovery.

That's all fine. He would take flight in a few years, nothing went to waste.

A new expression was bubbling up around the country but fuddy daddies in control of industries still clung tenaciously to their outmoded ways. In music this is Aretha Franklin's Columbia records from the same period: powerful young voice stifled by cocktail arrangements. It would take the ugliest in a nation, rampant racism and war, for all these mores to be rolled back and dismantled, and that for a few brief years. Cassavetes would resurface during that time. What will it take now? Do we even have a New Thing?
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Why darling their playing our song
kapelusznik1810 January 2015
Warning: Spoilers
***SPOILERS***Fast music and hard drinking film directed by the late John Cassavetes, who himself died of acute alcoholism at age 59, with singer actor in his first dramatic role Bobby Darin as jazz musician John "Ghost" Wakefield. It's "Ghost" who ends up losing his Mojo, artistic talent, and never able to get his groove back, in playing jazz music, when he meets and falls heads over heels for pretty blond Polish American Princess Jess Polanski, Stella Stevens, who ends up screwing him or screwing up his head in more ways then one. "Ghost" who took his music very seriously and considered himself a serious jazz musician started to lose his interest in jazz as well as his band by trying to make Jess the band's, who plays only instrumental music, lead singer.

The fact that Jess couldn't carry a note she just hummed her way through a song had "Ghost's" fellow jazz musicians leave in disgust and start a band of their own without their former band leader "Ghost" Warefield. Menawhile the emotionally unstable, in knowing she's a no talent when it comes to music, Jess loses it and ends up as a B-girl picking up guys who buy her drinks and spend the night with her in cheap bars and hotel rooms mostly on the city docks to support herself. "Ghost" in the end realized what a first class creep he is and tries to make up with his band, who want nothing at all to do with him, as well as Jess who by then became suicidal. With his life and career in music now in shambles "Ghost" can only look back at the past and see what a mess he made of his life, and those around him like Jess, and start all over again in possibly another profession like prize fighting or professional wrestling.

P.S This was the last film that Vince Edwards made before he hit it big on network TV as the kind understanding and non violent, he only raised his scalpel not his fist on the show, top neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Casey. This was totally opposite to the character that he played in the movie the hard drinking and brawling neighborhood sh*t-kicker Irish Tommy Sheehan. It was Tommy who not only was able to out-drink wine drinking champ Nick Boboleuos, Nick Dennis, under as well as over the table but still be able to stay on his feet and take on the entire bar of hard drinking dock workers until help, the police, arrived.
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Cassavetes' own pressures on his art vs commercial success
random-7077822 December 2019
"Too Late Blues" is Cassavettes' most self referential film and it is a gem. And now that we know that Gena Rowlands continually tried to manipulate editing and versions of Faces, Husbands and especially Shadows editing to make them more commercial (see Ray Carney's exploration of that issue) it is almost spooky to see her simile in Too Late
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Pessimism as the opposite reflection of Cassavetes' future artistic choices.
ElMaruecan827 April 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Cassavetes knew how to compose with the wide ranges of human emotions like so many notes on a jazzman's partition, showing them at their rawest with a fascinating mix of razor-sharp precision and cool jazzy detachment but the virtuosity that made "Shadows" such a revolutionary classic, pulverizing cinematic grounds, seemed to lack in in "Too Late Blues", a sincere story but without that face-slapping intensity that became the director's trademark.

I guess it took some time for Cassavetes to find his way, he was a natural observer of human relationships but his talent didn't pop out of nowhere, I guess it is only by hitting the same vein over and over again that such gems like "Husbands" or "A Woman under the Influence" could implode to our "faces" (pun intended), but in the 60's, Cassavetes, hit a chord with "Shadows" but was still looking for the right note. His second feature "Too Late Blues" is no masterpiece but it does have that detached energy that drove "Shadows".

The film follows a guy nicknamed Ghost, he's the leader of a jazz band where we can spot the face of Seymour Cassel, and maybe Cassel would have been a more interesting choice, but he was no rock icon by the time. Ghost is too baby-faced to really strike as a charismatic protagonist, on which the heaviness of emotions can rest on, he looks like the 'dream lover' he sung actually. He's a good actor, but there's something that doesn't just fit. Cassavetes wanted Montgomery Clift and Gena Rowlands as lead actors, that would have been a satisfying vision.

This is not a comment on Darin and Stella Stevens' appeals, actually, they're meant to be that way since he's a wannabe top singer who's got a notion of success coming to him and she's a struggling and rather mediocre girl with thin vocal capabilities, quite a pair! He obviously develops a liking on her and she's responsive, but he's so wrapped up in a misleading ego and she's so pitiful about herself, passing it as lucidity that their relationship is corrupted from the start.

There's something poignant in the pair formed by these two misfits but the film quickly loses its breath by going round in circles, despite a promising cast, Val Avery made an interesting music manager and I wish Rupert Cross had more screen-time, there's something so irresistible about this actor, there are also a few colorful characters like a Greek bartender (Nick Dennis) and a thug played by Vince Edwards, although I could see Tim Carey playing that part. Yet we're asked to care about the least interesting people in the film.

The character of the Agent, played by the sly and jealous Everett Chambers was a fascinating antagonist: this is a man who promotes a guy he totally despises, which says a lot about his cynicism, much more, he wants his failure because he stole his girlfriend, which he loved just out of territoriality, he didn't think she had any talent, but she was supposed to lean on him. This creates an atmosphere, as the New York Time review pointed out: "sordidly fascinating", a sort of no way out where we know birds will lose their feathers, and this is why the film is never as absorbing as in its first and last act, where it manages to reaches some peaks of greatness.

And Ghost's personality gets more complex as he reveals himself to be a coward, unwilling to fight, and until we found out this is a man with certitudes over his talents, but that's where it ends.Had the film not lost its way in the middle act and dragged on too long for some gratuitous bar scenes, it could have been onto something really special, on the same vein than Martin Scorsese's debut "I Call First" or "Mean Streets", Bobby Darin is no Harvey Keitel but he came very close to it. Reading the trivia about the film, I found out the shooting was rushed because of productions issues, Cassavetes didn't go through the same problems than for his next movie "A Child is Waiting", but his struggles with Paramount might have convinced him that he wasn't fit to work for a studio.

After 1963, it would take him half a decade to come up with his first masterpiece: "Faces". Because he knew he needed the right actors, and he'd make as many films and money so HIS movies would be made. Cassavetes pioneered independent cinema because he wanted independence and it's very appropriate that the character of "Too Late Blues" seek the same independence, wrapped up in a complex position about himself, his character's arc closes when he realizes that he still needed a band to survive and he clearly gets his comeuppance, maybe it was Cassavetes' way to show that you can't go on your own in this business and what counts more is relationships.

No wonder the director would only make movies with his friends Ben Gazzara, Peter Falk and his muse will be no other than his wife: Gena Rowlands. You have germs of a growing talent and "Too Late Blues"'s pessimistic mood is only the opposite reflection of Cassavetes' artistic choices.
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