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USA 1958
Directed by
Allen Reisner
93 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

St. Louis Blues

As history this biopic of blues founding father W.C. Handy has little but the bare-bones to recommend it. As was typical of biopics of the time, it is a highly sanitized account of its subject and it is more than a little hard to accept the honeyed tones of Cole and the mellifluous treatments of Handy’s songs as in anyway representing “the devil’s music”. Also Cole is far from being a good actor and he plays the role with over-earnest respect for Handy, who died shortly before the film’s release.

The result is thus far from being a good film and it tanked in its day. Nevertheless, for jazz buffs it is a treat as it features vocal performances not only from Nat King Cole in the lead, but also Eartha Kitt, Mahalia Jackson and Ella Fitzgerald. There are also appearances from Cab Calloway, Pearl Bailey and an eleven year old Billy Preston as the young Handy in the film's opening sequences.

FYI:  The film was one of only three films made in the 1950s that featured an all black cast (there are white extras). The other two were Carmen Jones in 1954 and Porgy and Bess in 1959.




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