Classic Film Guide

Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)

Right after "Dragnet (1954), the movie", Jack Webb got the opportunity to produce, direct and star in this Prohibition era drama featuring jazz music and singing by Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald, each of whom also had a role in its story. In fact, Lee earned her only Oscar recognition, a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award nomination. The story, which features a racketeer that muscles in on Kelly’s (Webb’s) band played by Edmond O’Brien, was written by Richard L. Breen, two years after he’d won his Academy Award (shared with Charles Brackett and Walter Reisch) for Titanic (1953). The cast also includes Janet Leigh, who plays an heiress that (incredibly) finds Kelly irresistible – she literally throws herself at him – despite the stiffness with which Webb plays the part. Lee plays O’Brien’s stereotypical moll, whom the mobster wants to sing – he uses his leverage to ‘force’ Kelly to give her a spot in his band – while she drinks to salve her loneliness in their now empty relationship. Fitzgerald plays another singer, the one that sings the film’s title song. There are some interesting casting choices in the other supporting roles: Andy Devine plays a hardnosed FBI agent (if I didn’t know the voice I’d have sworn it was someone else), and Lee Marvin plays the clarinet playing member of Kelly’s band while Martin Milner plays a dumb, too tough for his own good drummer. I’m guessing that you really have to be a jazz fan to like this one; it’s possible that the music would make it enjoyable enough to tolerate its predictable plot (which contains several conveniences or unnecessary elements). For the rest of us, tedious appears to be the adjective that comes to mind; strange that that was the word which came to my mind before I read Maltin’s review (he uses the word tedium in his Movie & Video Guide.

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