Saturday, February 12, 2011

Film Review--All Night Long (1962)

In the context of the rest of the collection, I was surprised by the final installment in Basil Dearden's London Underground, 1962's All Night Long. After the polemics of Sapphire and Victim and the political tomfoolery of The League of Gentlemen, I didn't expect a jazzy confection to round us out. It's not a great film, but it's a little more substantial than I initially gave it credit for. As an adaptation of Shakespeare's Othello, this is Basil Dearden's philosophy in practice and, because it stays fairly close to the original material, it has a stronger structure than the other films in the set.

I won't recap Othello for you, but here's how it works in the confines of Richard Attenborough's jazz club. Bandleader Aurelious Rex (Paul Harris) has recently married Delia Lane (Marti Stevens) and everybody's thrilled. Everybody, that is, except Johnny Cousins (Patrick McGoohan, The Prisoner). He wants to start his own band and even has a gig, but it won't go on unless he can recruit Delia to sing. Unfortunately, Delia retired after the wedding and won't return while she's married, so Johnny hatches a plan to convince Rex that Delia is having an affair with best friend and trumpeter Cass Michaels (Keith Mitchell). But, you know, best laid plans and all of that.

Without Shakespeare's plot, All Night Long likely wouldn't be anything that great. McGoohan and Attenborough do pretty well, but the rest of the performances are not up to the level of what we've previously seen in the collection. Because there's already baggage from thousands of performances of the main characters, it doesn't come off as completely hollow, but the lack of any real standout performace and some questionable casting choices give the film an unfortunate amateur feel. The real culprit, though, is the stunt casting of the house band. Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes may never have held the biggest sway in the jazz world, but putting Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck in the band is agregious. They may have been exceptional instrumentalists and one may have trained his cat to use the toilet, but actors they are not. While closeups of their hands are cool, their main function is to say things like "That's some hot playin', Charlie!" and "Thanks Dave" in tight cutaways. It reminds me of something that might have hapened in Gold Diggers of 1932. That is not a compliment. That said, the three or four minutes of music we get to hear are pretty good, so it's not a total loss, I guess.

There isn't a lot of outward connection between this film and the others here, but there are similarities in tone and attitude. Most importantly, the world of All Night Long is integrated, and the non-chalance of it is interesting. Obviously, the Moorish lead character in the play makes that interracial couple natural (though Paul Harris is black, whites in makeup would play the part for years after this came out), Dearden inserts other mixed-race relationships into the scene. Importantly, he never mentions it. This is not a political film; it's Othello, but that the director sees fit to quietly place them in the film is proof in practice of the heavy-handed ideals he presents in the earlier films.

Taken on its own, All Night Long would probably fare better, but within the confines of this collection, it feels somewhat trifling. It isn't just the lack of an overt political message, although that's part of it; outside of the Othello trappings, there's simply nothing going on. At least in a movie like Tim Blake Nelson's O, which I like but is of mixed quality, had some stylistic flourish. Even if it's a little pretentious, at least he's trying. Here, it seems that Dearden was content to film the play with little style outside the musical interludes. The film isn't boring and, because of the source, plays out well, but it doesn't come anywhere near the other films here and isn't the kind of sendoff I would have hoped for for such an eye-opening collection.