Too Late Blues Reviews
As strange as it might seem to some that John Cassavetes would use an all-white band as part of a statement to disprove stereotypes about jazz musicians(admittedly, there are lots of non-white faces in the early scenes), it should not seem as unusual that he is just as interested in the thorny issue of artistic integrity.(Why the musicians in the film never pass the hat is beyond me.) With his second film as director, he has already crafted a manifesto which will serve as a guideline for the rest of his career where he later works with somebody in real life named Polanski but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Even at this early point, he also has a good deal to say artistically, as he is the only person who would not turn the scene in the park into a train wreck.(When they say it is for the birds, they mean it literally). While the performances are lacking the intensity of his later films, at least Bobby Darin and Stella Stevens still do fine work here.
Darin, as Cassavetes surely intended, brings a realistic contribution to his character from his life in the world of the era's music scene, as a dogmatically philosophical band leader who takes tremendous pride in seeing a profound, transcendental beauty in a mellow, instrumental school of jazz that he, with the exasperated tolerance of his fellow players, finds ideal to play to empty parks to communicate with nature and birds when he isn't playing gigs at old people's homes and orphanages. What is irrelevant in this film is how we feel about the music he feels most personally in tune with (no pun intended) in comparison to the commercially accessible music that would welcome him into a successful career. Like all Cassavetes films, Too Late Blues is about a character whose proclivities are beyond us, and what keeps it from being subjective or affected is that the rest of the characters share our feelings.
The key to our understanding and relating ardently to Darin's character is his unrelenting obstinacy, which becomes Bobby Darin uncannily, borne by the pride that absorbs all of his perceptions into what is of use only to him. As this dooming characteristic rears its head, an internal conflict between his true passions and what will gain him the recognition that deep down he wants more than anything else, we come to dislike him and find ourselves on the side of his band members and his girl Stevens.
Full of far-seeing insight and relentless individuality, it is not well-recognized film, which in itself is a testament to the artistic truth it presents. This is in some sense a shame though, because it is really a moving film in spite of all the expectations accompanied by an audience's perception of a music film. There are many great scenes where we simply hang out with the band in their regular hang-out spot with an entertaining bar owner, or we indulge in their impulsive diversions, or we react in unusual ways and we must step out of our regiments and make an endeavor out of looking further.
The excellent acting, a trademark of cassavetes' working style, carries the film. Stella Stevens is engrossing on screen.
This film is small yes, but it has human dignity, intelligence and intensity.