Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Basil Dearden | All Night Long

a night to be remembered

Nel King and Paul Jarrico (as Peter Achilles) (screenplay), Basil Dearden (director) All Night Long / 1962
by Douglas Messerli

                                                        for Sid Gold

How could you not enjoy Basil Dearden's 1962 British film which is basically a warehouse jazz session—with actual jazz greats such as Charles Mingus (Bass), Tubby Hayes (Tenor Sax and Vibes), Bert Courtley (Trumpet), Johnny Dankworth (Alto Sax), Kenny Napper (Bass), John Scott (Alto Sax and Flute), Dave Brubeck (Piano), Ray Dempsey (Guitar),  Barry Morgan (Bongos), and numerous others—that is set against a retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello? Stir in illicit drugs (only marijuana in this case), lots of liquor, inter-racial relationships, and a sexy female singer, Delia Lane (Marti Stevens) who everyone attending the all-night party would like to get their hands on, most professionally but others sexually, and you have a hot mix of music and political issues that few movies of the day could have dared. I might add that along with Nel King, the writer of this remarkable film was blacklisted screenwriter Paul Jarrico (writing under the name Peter Achilles).
       The “palace” in which this Othello, musician Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris), visits belongs to the music promoter Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough). To some of the neophyte guests it may seem, as they enter the bowels of the warehouse, like a grungy place to hold a party, but by the time they get upstairs, they enter a two-story modern apartment with all the amenities, including a catered affair with a more than full bar. And then there’s all that jazz—just to celebrate the 2nd wedding anniversary of Rex and Lane’s marriage. This Desdemona, having given up her successful singing career, argues she is quite happy giving her complete attention to Rex. Although there are rumors, just as in Shakespeare, in this case that she is planning a come-back (based perhaps on the fact that she has been rehearsing a new song to surprise Rex at this event), and that she has been visiting Rex’s band manager, Cass (Keith Mitchell) (again in relationship to her new song). Cass (Cassio), moreover, just as in Shakespeare, is Rex’s most trusted friend, a young man (also a musician), who he as rescued from a drug addiction (again, folks, just marijuana here).I suggest for a more realistic picture, viewers see Shirley Clarke’s wonderful movie based on Jack Gelber’s jazz and drug-infused film of a year earlier The Connection.
      The Iago, in this case, is the more-than-ambitious drummer, Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), who would love to lure Delia back on the stage to perform with a band he is attempting to get together. At least, in this version, Iago’s evil doings make some sort of sense, as he gradually, over the evening, plants seeds of doubt in Rex’s head about Delia’s faithfulness, lures Cass back into a marijuana smoke, and tapes both Cass and his black wife, as well as Delia, altering their words to suggest something that their own comments deny. Talk about false news!
      Cass gets drunk and behaves badly, forcing Rex to fire him. And the more that Delia attempts to intervene, the clearer to Rex that she is actually having an affair with Cass. Indeed, the joint soon is hopping with rumors, which the two visiting music managers even note as people jump up like jack-in-the-box figures in order to settle personal affairs.
       By the time Delia gets around to singing her beautiful new tune to Rex, he is so convinced of his wife’s guilt that he can hardly sit still, crawling up the well-designed staircase, used effectively throughout, convinced of his Delia’s duplicitousness.
       Finally, breaking down, just as Othello he attempts to choke her to death, but in this case is stopped by the entire gathering as they each begin to perceive how Cousin has manipulated them, one by one, his absolutely abused wife Emily (Betsy Blair) finally speaking out about her husband’s inability to tell any truth. Sound familiar?
      The party’s over, and gradually the musicians and guests stagger out, Rex storming to the street in complete embarrassment, but in this case, being chased by Delia, suggesting that, at least in this version, Desdemona and Othello may go on to live a relatively happy life ever after. Quentin Tarantino was clearly not the first to alter realities of the past. Cass, we recognize will probably even get his job back and return to his wife. Who knows, perhaps after his downfall, this Iago might even come to appreciate the honesty of the woman he married as a teenager.
      Many critics perceived Dearden’s ending as a kind of cop-out. But I like to think of it, instead, as a kind of redemption of the bi-racial relationships these couples have chosen in a rather unforgiving society. And let us hope that soon after, or even ever-after, they can come together many another “all night long” for sessions of great jazz.

Los Angeles, September 4, 2019
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (September 2019).

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