Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joyce in Blues in the Night (1941)

Blues in the Night ranks as one of the more enjoyable Warner Brothers melodramas of the 1940s. Silly and overblown at times, but engrossing nonetheless. Richard Whorf (above, left) heads a mid-level cast as jazz pianist Jigger Pine, a regular guy with a quartet that includes wormlike Elia Kazan, hulking Peter Whitney and young pup Billy Halop. The trio are at a crossroads. A scuffle with a belligerent customer at the dive where they’re playing lands them in jail, prompting them to stick with the noncommercial blues-influenced style they love. They travel to New Orleans to meet with trumpeter Jack Carson, who is married to lovely singer Priscilla Lane. The group form a swell combo, riding the rails and playing wherever they can to get a decent meal. Eventually they befriend gangster Lloyd Nolan, who leads them to a New Jersey dive where sad sack Wallace Ford and hard-bitten singer Betty Field (who is amazing in this) work. The story gets very complex from there, helped along by some eye-popping montages from the uncredited Don Siegel. I love the “traveling across America” montage and the “I hate these singing lessons” montage. The “I’m going crazy” montage is a pip, as well.

Joyce Compton appears in the film's first five minutes as a blonde patron in the seedy bar where Wharf's band is playing. Although Joyce's character is seen enjoying the jazzy tunes, her drunk dancing partner (played by Matt McHugh, brother of W.B. character actor Frank McHugh) is annoying the band with his persistent requests for "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles". His pestering causes a barroom brawl which prompts Wharf & Co. to go and ply their trade in New Orleans. Joyce is quite cute in this tiny role. It's not very indicative of the more substantial parts she was doing at this time in movies like Bedtime Story and Sky Murder, however.

In 2008, Warner Bros. released Blues in the Night in a nicely packaged DVD with several bonus cartoons and musical shorts that utilize the famous Harold Arlen/Johnny Mercer title song. It is available (cheap!) at here.