Sunday 31 January 2021

Around Midnight… All Night Long (1962)

I was so distracted by the stream of famous jazz players in this film that it took me a good portion of the action to realise that it’s a jazzed version of Othello. Patrick McGoohan plays drummer Johnny Cousin who has his eyes set on stealing his friend’s wife and using her to front his own band. He sets out by playing everyone against each other by whispering in their ear, spreading rumours and lies, undermining friendships and loves, aiming to break everyone so that he may succeed.

McGoohan goes further than Iago in terms of having a commercial end game but he’s so good in this role, pushing his friends as far as he can, letting them fall into traps of their own making and always seeming to be on their side. On top of this the actor also plays his own drums and, even if the sound of those beats was from drum coach/ “ghost drummer” Allan Ganley, he looks like he can keep a rhythm and he seemingly spent long hours practicing in a garage to copy the movement.

Just as the various characters take their cue from McGoohan’s lies so does the film’s tension revolve around the actor’s intensity and his ability to convey malice and nervous duplicity with ease. It’s Iago with a beat, self-hatred and a lonely soul as a motivator.

Charlie Mingus

All seems cool enough at the start when rich benefactor Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) travels down from Belgravia in his Bentley to open up his warehouse club down in Stoney Street, Southwark. As he walks in, he greets one Charles Mingus, pipe in his mouth, warming up over a double bass and it’s the kind of moment that makes this film essential viewing for every jazz lover: Mingus in the flesh!

More players arrive including Tubby Haynes, Allan Ganley, Ray Dempsey, and others with a pretty young blonde name of Carol White – uncredited here but soon to take the world by storm as the Battersea Bardot. There are so many “faces” in the crowd… including Cleo Laine if you look hard enough. It’s as if someone just put in a call to Ronnie Scott’s to send down anyone who was playing that week.

The boys in the band greet Carol White

Sure enough the great Dave Brubeck turns up and it’s a delight to watch him work ads it is with Johnny Dankworth – see that’s why Cleo’s there! Some have complained that there’s not enough jazz versus story but there’s more than enough to establish a real vibe in the stary and anymore and we’d be looking at a musical rather than a drama and Basil Dearden's direction is too cool for that.

The balance works well enough and allows the intensity of the story to build as Johnny tries everything he can to break up the anniversary party given in honour of piano player Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and his wife, singer Delia Lane (Marti Stevens). Harris has great presence as the powerful Aurelius – London’s King of Jazz (hence “Rex) who, whilst he loves his Desdemona/Delia true, still asked her to stop performing when they got married.

Marti Stevens and Paul Harris

Johnny aims to coax her back and away from her man – he has his own designs all mixed up in fear and jealousy… so much does Paddy convey! Johnny also aims to undermine Aurelius’s manager and sideman Cass (young Keith Michell) and skilfully encourages him to fall off the waggon and smoke some weed against his boss’s instructions. He has lifted Delia’s cigarette case and gives it to Cass with more weed, pushing his buttons so that he might rebel.

It’s striking to see Aurelius and Delia’s mix-race relationship in 1962 and with not a comment from anyone. Cass’ girlfriend Benny (María Velasco) is also black, and the only problem there is Cass’ commitment phobia.

Patrick McGoohan, shaken and a stirrer...

Johnny plays on all of these things and strings everything together for a climactic scene of betrayal and violence. His own wife Emily (Betsy Blair) has stood by him even though he married her out of obligation and reveals his own conflicted soul driving him to ruin as much of everyone else’s happiness as he can.

Does it end like Othello or is their salvation in those Southbank streets…? I’d recommend you watch it and find out for yourself.

Dusty verdict: A powerful mix of drama and jazz which stands or falls on fine the performances of the key players. The jazz takes an inevitable back seat but gives the full feeling of the cutting edge of contemporary cool. The jazz is real and so too are the emotions… jealousy, anxiety and pure insecurity driving people to risk everything even though they’d be safer staying at home. And that is jazz.

All Night Long is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Network and you can order it direct from their site right here.


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