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Saturday, February 21, 2015

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)

Kansas City, 1927. A trumpet player (Jack Webb) and his small jazz band are eking out a living when a mobster (Edmond O'Brien) attempts to become their "agent". When they refuse, the band's drummer (Martin Milner) is killed and they give in. The gangster forces an aging alcoholic singer (Peggy Lee in an Oscar nominated performance) on them. How much will they be able to take before things come to a head? Directed by Webb, the film is rich in 20s atmosphere and the music is sensational. It's a tough little crime drama reminiscent of those 1930s Warners gangster melodramas. However, the less said about Webb the actor, the better. He seems to have switched his Joe Friday badge for a cornet but little else has changed. As a romantic leading man, he's a stiff and he and Janet Leigh (as a society flapper) have zero chemistry. Also in the cast: Lee Marvin, Ella Fitzgerald (who does a great rendition of Hard Hearted Hannah), Jayne Mansfield and in a rare dramatic role, Andy Devine.

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