Tuesday, August 27, 2002


The atmosphere and acting in this tight little Warner Brothers drama help it transcend its B-movie feeling--nothing against Priscilla Lane, but when she and a guy named Richard Whorf are the top billed stars, I'm assuming the studio didn't consider this prestige material (Whorf went on to a bigger career as a director, most notably with CHAMPAGNE FOR CAESAR). It's got elements of a musical, a comedy, a melodrama, and a romance, all with a heaping helping of noir atmosphere.

It's basically the story of the trials and tribulations of a scruffy jazz band, composed of Whorf (an intense pianist), Lane (the singer), Jack Carson (trumpet player and Lane's husband), Elia Kazan (yes, the director, as an intellectual clarinet player), and Billy Halop (probably the best-looking Dead End Kid, on drums). They piece together a meager living and wind up the house band at a roadhouse called the Jungle in New Jersey, within view of the lights of Manhattan (sounds a little Springsteenish...). There are romantic problems triggered by Betty Field as a gangster's moll who also fancies herself a singer. Lloyd Nolan is the gangster who helps the band but mistreats practically everyone else around him, including bartender Howard Da Silva and crippled hanger-on Wallace Ford.

Aside from Whorf, who just doesn't quite fit the part, the acting is fine, espeically Nolan and Ford. Kazan and Halop are good as the naive youths, and Carson fits in as the weary but never-say-die voice of experience. There are some surreal montages, used in dream sequences or as transitional passages, directed by Don Siegel, that really add to the noir feel, as do the nighttime sets. The Jungle itself almost becomes a character, like Rick's in CASABLANCA or the hotel in HOLIDAY INN. The first half, as the characters and situations are set up, is the best, but things never really lag all that much. The band's music is a little too glossy sounding considering their stated desire to play down & dirty blues ("the music of the people," says Whorf), but the title song, which is played several times in several different ways, is just perfect. Highly recommended!!

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