Blues in the Night (1941)

US / 88 minutes / bw / Warner–First National Dir: Anatole Litvak Scr: Robert Rossen, Elia Kazan (uncredited) Story: Hot Nocturne (unproduced play) by Edwin Gilbert Cine: Ernie Haller Cast: Priscilla Lane, Betty Field, Richard Whorf, Lloyd Nolan, Jack Carson, Wally Ford, Elia Kazan, Peter Whitney, Billy Halop, Howard Da Silva, Joyce Compton, Herbert Heywood, George Lloyd, Charles Wilson, Matt McHugh, William Gillespie, Jimmie Lunceford and His Band, Will Osborne and His Band, Mabel Todd, Ernest Whitman, Napoleon Simpson, Dudley Dickerson.

Blues in the Night - 0 Ernest Whitman & Napoleon Simpson

Ernest Whitman and Napoleon Simpson.

Brilliant jazz pianist Jigger Pine (Whorf) and drummer Peppi (Halop) are rocking the joint at the St. Louis Cafe, egged on by their clarinetist fan and would-be band member Nickie Haroyan (Kazan). Jigger gets into a fight with an obstreperous drunk (McHugh) and the trio end up in a cell for a few hours while Nickie’s mom arranges bail. There they meet Jigger’s old bassist pal Pete Bossett (Whitney) and Jigger spells out his vision to the other three:

“You think I never thought about starting a band before? I thought about it lots of times. I’m always thinking about it. But it’s got to be our kind of music. Our kind of band. The songs we’ve heard when we’ve been knocking around this country. Blues, real blues, the kind that come out of people, real people, their hopes and their dreams, what they’ve got and what they want, the whole USA in one chorus. . . . And that band ain’t just kinda blowin’ and poundin’ and scrapin’. That’s five guys, no more, who feel, play, live, even think the same way. That ain’t a band, it’s a unit. It’s one guy multiplied five times. It’s a unit that even breathes on the same beat. It’s gonna kick on its own in a style that’s theirs and nobody else’s. It’s like a hand in a glove, five fingers, each to fit quick and slick.”

Blues in the Night - 1 Nickie calls Mom to bail them out

Nickie (Elia Kazan) calls Mom to bail out him and his pals (Whorf and Halop).

And there are quirks in the reification of this dream, at least as portrayed in this movie. The four in that jail cell form Jigger’s “unit” all right—adding trumpeter Leo Powell (Carson) and his wife, singer Ginger “Character” Powell (Lane), along the way—but Continue reading

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Criminals Within (1943)

US / 67 minutes / bw / PRC Dir: Joseph Lewis (i.e., Joseph H. Lewis) Pr: E.B. Derr Scr: Edward Bennett Story: Arthur Hoerl Cine: Arthur Martinelli Cast: Eric Linden, Ben Alexander, Don Curtis, Ann Doran, Constance Worth, Dudley Dickerson, Bernice Pilot, I. Stanford Jolley, George Lynn, Robert Frazer, Boyd Irwin, Dennis Moore.

Professor Carroll (Lynn) is one of a number of scientists working on a new high explosive for Military Intelligence. When he’s murdered, attention turns to his brother Greg (Linden), a trickster corporal at Army base Camp Madison. The base appears to be riddled with spies, among them Alma Barton (Worth), who runs the commissary and who sneaks messages out to Fifth Columnists via crooked cobbler Carl Flegler (Jolley) in the trick heel of one of her shoes. (Although it’s nowhere stated which country the spies work for, by implication they’re Nazis.)

A list of the names and addresses of the scientists who’ve been working on the explosive goes missing from the office of Captain Bryant (Frazer), and Greg’s put in the guardhouse on suspicion of having stolen it; he breaks out and, when Bryant’s found dead, it’s assumed Greg’s the killer. With the help of his good buddy Sergeant Paul (Alexander), Greg escapes the base, finds Alma murdered, hooks up with reporter Linda (Doran), exposes the nest of vipers, dodges death and bullets, and discovers his “good buddy” isn’t everything he seems.

Director Lewis would of course go on to helm some of noir’s classics, like MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS (1945), GUN CRAZY 1949), CRY OF THE HUNTED (1953) and The BIG COMBO (1955). This is a barebones production with a clumsy script and some mediocre acting, and it seems Lewis’s heart wasn’t really in it (there have even been suggestions that, despite the screen credit, he did not in fact direct it — that it was a different Joseph Lewis). Dickerson and Pilot play, respectively, Camp Madison’s gofer Sam Dillingham and Linda’s housemaid Mamie, Sam’s girlfriend; in the offensive stereotyping Hollywood then thought was comical, they’re portrayed as simple-minded but good-hearted buffoons. Linden’s fairly good and Doran turns in a highly appealing performance, while Worth’s sizzle is timeless. In one odd scripting moment, Linda refers to Greg as “about six feet tall” when it’s perfectly obvious to all that Greg/Linden is actually quite slight.

The movie was made in 1941 but held back for two years, presumably—as with a few others of its era—for fear of offending any Nazi sympathizers in the audience.

On Amazon.com: Criminals Within