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A Curio For The Converted
8 August 2000
Ray Charles gets top-billing as himself in this Paul Henreid (Casablanca) directed slice of swinging 60s London cheesecake. The film opens with the first of many very staged-looking live song performances - Ray doesn't break sweat throughout - and moves 'seamlessly' into a school classroom for sightless children, where Ray plays call-and-response with the kiddies on "Hit The Road Jack". He strikes up a relationship with a small blind boy, and plans for the child to see a top eye specialist in Paris. Through the boy's smothering mum, Ray meets her gruff, overly-casual musician lover, played by Tom Bell, who accepts an invitation to be the American performer's arranger on a European tour including on the itinerary - you guessed - Paris.

While the movie tackles blindness head-on, and has a certain grim charm where it might have gone for sentimentality, it's still little more than a vehicle for Ray Charles - and staged or not, you can't complain - Ray belts out his hits with gusto. The scene with the blind children recalls Sam Fuller's "Naked Kiss", specifically the way Fuller staged the crippled kids' Bluebird" song, and is almost as weirdly haunting in its way. But the little lad himself delivers his lines so mechanically - Ray Charles is "as blind as a bat", he observes drily, before being admonished by mother - that you can't help laughing out loud at choice moments.

Not only do they not make them like this anymore, they didn't even back then - this was just one that slipped through the net while Ray Charles star was still somewhat in the ascendancy. Quite bizarre.
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