Tuesday, September 15, 2015


John Cassavetes' first movie for a big studio—and one of his last, as he eventually went on to forge a career as the godfather of American independent cinema—charts the rise and fall of a jazz musician (Bobby Darin) following the typical trajectory of such showbiz tales: hardscrabble beginnings, clashes with fellow musicians over his art, temptation to hit it big by selling out, leaving his buddies in the lurch because he has to follow his own muse, hitting bottom, seeing the error of his ways and maybe making a comeback in the end. Some of Cassavetes' later style is on display here, especially in the interesting camera moves and use of close-ups, but the narrative is slow-moving and several individual scenes go on too long, especially the odd poolroom fight scene between Darin's combo and a punk (Vince Edwards). Darin is good, if a bit of a cold fish, as the pianist torn between art and commercialism; Stella Stevens is very good as a somewhat neurotic (but in mostly a low-key fashion) young singer who Darin discovers and adds to his band; the actors playing the band members, including a young and surprisingly boyish Seymour Cassel, give naturalistic performances, though the music was actually played by pros including Benny Carter, Jimmy Rowles and Tommy Tedesco. The standout performance is given by Everett Chambers as Darin's agent who actually comes across as the most complex character—he cares about Darin, but he also cares about the band and making money, and he occasionally sleeps with Stevens. He acts sometimes in reprehensible ways but he's not a one-note villain. Chambers (pictured above with Darin behind him) left acting for a career in TV producing (including Peyton Place, Columbo, and Cassavetes' short-lived jazz/detective show Johnny Staccato). Marilyn Clark has a small role as a middle-aged woman who "keeps" Darin for a time. The score by David Raksin is fine, especially the fun opening number played by the band for a group of children. [TCM]

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