In 1927 Kansas City Pete Kelly and his jazz band play nightly at a speakeasy. A local gangster starts to move in on them and when their drummer is killed Kelly gives in, even though this also means taking the thug's alcoholic girl as a singer. Kelly soon realises he has made a big mistake selling out in this way and that rich girl Ivy is now the only decent thing in his life. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
"Pete Kelly's Blues" was a do-or-die project for Jack Webb, best known for playing Sgt. Joe Friday on the TV series "Dragnet". Riding on the success of his previous film "Dragnet" (1954), Webb decided to make this film as his next project. If it did well at the box office, Warners would greenlight a TV show of the same name.
"Pete Kelly's Blues" did respectable business (about 5 million), and garnered an Oscar nod for singer Peggy Lee in the Supporting Actress category, but, for reasons unknown, Warners decided to pass on the TV show. Today, "Pete Kelly's Blues" fails to muster much interest and is nearly forgotten today.
Webb's film is dripping in atmosphere, which is a major plus considering the setting (New Orleans during the Roaring Twenties)and the script (by Richard L. Breen, who wrote "Dragnet")is so airtight and taut that you just can't help getting involved in it. I know I've raked Blake Edwards over the coals for paying attention too much to the story sometimes, but with Webb, concentrating on the story is a plus. The acting is excellent, especially by Webb, who some might consider too stiff, but others will consider to be realistic. And using the CinemaScope frame for the first and only time in his career, Webb really creates some complex and stunning compositions. It should be required viewing for all budding cinematographers. It should only be seen widescreen. AMC often airs it this way, showing "Pete Kelly's Blues" in all its 2.55:1 glory.
Webb is one of the most interesting of directors and also the most underappreciated. "Dragnet" told a riveting murder mystery that transcended the TV series. "The D.I." was fairly realistic and daring for its' time (you can't fault it for being more mellow than most Marines films, this was 1957 people!)"-30-" was an interesting clash of styles set in the newspaper industry. With "Pete Kelly's Blues", Webb surrounds it with top notch talent (the cast includes Janet Leigh in an early role and recent Oscar winner Edmond O'Brien and future Oscar winner Lee Marvin)and turns in his most original and best work. If you love jazz, you get lots of it here and Webb shows that besides Clint Eastwood, he is one of the only directors able to understand jazz enough to successfully film it.
Webb deserved a Best Director nomination as well as a Best Picture nod (he also produced the picture; making him one of the first auteurs in film) In any case, "Pete Kelly's Blues" deserves to be treated as much more than a throwaway; it deserves respect and earns it from me. I think anyone will enjoy it though Webb fans will like it even more. You know who you are.
**** out of 4 stars
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