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USA 1955
Directed by
Jack Webb
95 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Pete Kelly's Blues

Jack Webb was the creator, writer, director and star of the Dragnet TV series and 1954 movie of the same who with his collaborator writer Richard L. Breen, turned his hand to this variation-on-a-theme  B-grade Prohibition-era story of a small-time jazz band leader, Pete Kelly (Webb), and his struggles to stay one step ahead of a bullying gangster (Edmond O'Brien).

Pete Kelly’s Blues is a low budget affair that looks like it was shot quickly on some old Singin’ In The Rain sets (the film might have looked more convincing had it been shot in black and white, with Webb seeming to have little concern but keeping himself centre-frame as he pretty much reiterates his tough guy Dragnet persona. Richard Breen’s script is at times almost laughable for its tough talk with such gems as “I didn’t come here to listen to a banjo player who ate a big breakfast” (i.e. an opinionated musician) and “you don’t want to sleep with crumbs in the bed” (i.e. be a loser) while the routine story, which includes a very shaky sub-plot concerning a romance between the trumpeter and a rich party girl (Janet Leigh), isn’t helped by some poor acting notably from Lee Marvin in an early role as clarinet player. Although Peggy Lee received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of a singer hitting the sauce this was more for her cross-disciplinary bravery rather than any truly impressive work.

The film is however distinguished by some good trad-oriented jazz and vocal performances by Ms Lee and Ella Fitzgerald with the band seemingly largely made up of real musicians including guitarist George Van Epps (although Martin Milner who plays the band's young drummer, Joey Firestone, is not). Trivia buffs will appreciate the presence of Jayne Mansfield making her screen debut as a cigarette girl).

Pete Kelly’s Blues has curio value but doesn't have much of interest beyond that. 




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