Director: Basil Dearden
Screenplay: Nel King, Paul Jarrico
Based on a Play by: William Shakespeare
Starring: Patrick McGoohan, Marti Stevens, Keith Michell, Betsy Blair, Paul Harris, Richard Attenborough
Running Time: 91 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
I may spend much of my free time writing about films and work for a production company who make them, but film isn’t my only passion in life and, depending on my mood, isn’t necessarily my biggest either. My first love was music and it remains a vitally important part of my life. I’m an avid album collector and have been ever since I got a copy of Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ on cassette for my 6th or 7th birthday. I’ve also played the piano since the age of 5 and had short stints learning the saxophone, training my singing voice and self-teaching myself some basic guitar chords. Films are hugely dear to my heart too of course, but they’ll never fully replace the joy I get from listening to or playing my favourite songs or albums.
I pride myself in appreciating a wide range of music, from classical to metal, but one particular genre has long been my go-to and that’s jazz. The whole reason I learnt to play the saxophone as a teenager was because I’d discovered jazz music and artists such as Charlie Parker who brought the instrument to vivid life. I often go through phases of different types of music I listen to more frequently than others, but jazz is always there in the background.
So what better way to combine my two life passions than in a film about jazz? I’ve been looking for some good ones recently as my jazz love has been in overdrive, but there aren’t that many good ones available. I tracked down a couple of documentaries, such as Ken Burns’ fantastic Jazz TV series, but feature films on the subject tend to largely be biopics and I’ve never been a fan of biopics, so tend to avoid them. Network have recently come to my rescue though, asking if I’d like to review Basil Dearden’s spin on Shakespeare’s Othello, All Night Long, which is set in the 60’s London jazz scene and features jazz luminaries such as Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth and Tubby Hayes. Needless to say, I took them up on their offer.
Shakespeare’s Othello character is renamed Rex here and played by Paul Harris. Rex, a popular jazz band leader, is celebrating his one year anniversary to Delia (Marti Stevens), a once famous jazz singer, now devoted wife, having stepped away from the limelight in her prime. A friend, Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), wants her to make a comeback and be part of his new band, giving him his first shot as leader. Not only will this help raise the profile of Johnny’s band, it will also allow him to get closer to Delia, who he’s madly in love with. She turns him down, largely because Rex doesn’t want her singing anymore, but Johnny won’t give up so easily. He quickly hatches a plot to turn Rex’s bandmate Cass (Keith Michell) against his leader and stir up rumours of an affair between the younger man and Delia. This all makes for a tumultuous night whilst the anniversary celebrations go on around them.
What makes this a ‘jazz film’, beyond the main characters being jazz artists, is the fact that the party during which the whole film is set is kept moving by jazz band performances. The lineup changes throughout, mixing the fictional players with actual jazz performers, some of which I listed previously. Some of the numbers played are great, including a brief but wonderful duet between Mingus and Brubeck. Other than one or two short dramatic cues, the jazz tunes provide the full soundtrack to the film too. They don’t merely act as side-shows to sell records, they perfectly accompany the drama on screen.
This is where the film truly shines. The music becomes fiery and intense as the drama does, or gets blue when a character is down. There’s a great moment when Rex is playing on stage and he’s starting to have suspicions about Delia and Cass. His playing becomes notably heavy handed and offbeat as he watches them across the room. Not enough to sound clunky and obvious, but enough to register if you’re listening carefully.
So musically, the film worked perfectly for me. There are some nice smooth camera moves too and some moody noirish lighting in the exterior shots. I had a few minor issues here and there though. Some of the performances felt a bit stagey and unnatural at times and some of the ‘jive talking’ jazz banter doesn’t always slip off the tongues of the cast. McGoohan and Harris are strong as Johnny and Rex though and Richard Attenborough is great as the wealthy host of the party, Rod, who’s also fond of Delia.
Any dated aspects of the performances or dialogue can be offset by the forward thinking attitudes to drugs and race though. There are two interracial couples presented front and centre in the film and no fuss is made of them, which is impressive for a film of its age. The film is also very frank about drug use, which is quite brave for the time, although some of the dialogue and attitudes surrounding it sound a bit out of touch now.
So, despite a couple of minor quibbles, All Night Long was a bit of a revelation for me. Being a lover of classic films and jazz music, this hit my sweet spot and did so most effectively. Being based on a Shakespeare play, the story is engrossing too, so even those with a tin ear for jazz should enjoy the film. An easy recommendation.
All Night Long is out in on Blu-Ray and DVD on 4th July, released by Network as part of their The British Film collection. I watched the Blu-Ray version and the film looked and sounded great.
Unfortunately there aren’t many features included, only a trailer, image gallery and booklet.