The 1961 Martin Ritt directed adaptation of the Harold Fender 1957 novel Paris Blues stars Paul Newman as trombonist Ram Bowen an American Expatriate living and playing in Paris Jazz clubs while pursuing a music career alongside Sidney Poitiers saxophonist Eddie Cook.
When Bowen is a train station on the way to meet Louis Armstrong’s Wild Man Moore he encounters two American tourists, Diahann Carroll’s Connie and Joanne Woodward’s Lillian and invites them both to the Club 33. The women are in the city of love for two weeks. While on holiday Ram pairs up with Lillian & the African American Eddie starts dating Connie. The rest of the movie we follow the young couples as they get closer to each other with the issues of race, chasing career goals and drug use as underlying themes.
The cast give good performances, the rapport between the four leads are strong and are each given moments to show off their acting abilities. The scenes of Newman and Poitier on the smoky jazz club stage are engaging but there musical mimicking doesn’t hold up much today.
Paris Blues is a movie that’s got much to enjoy from Ritts direction, the Oscar nominated music score by Jazz great Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong’s fun cameo where he’s essentially playing himself and the mix of beautifully constructed practical sets & on location photography of Paris.
But the narrative is frustrating during the scene in the train station between Paul Newman and Diahann Carroll. They have a potentially intriguing chemistry with each other, the idea of leading man Newman in an interracial relationship wasn’t going to happen in a early 1960s Hollywood movie.
But the issue of race is far better handled during the romantic stroll along a river between Eddie and Connie. When a small boy comes up to Eddie asking for his ball and the child response is “Merci Monsieur Noir, Merci Madame Noir”.
This launches a powerful scene in which Eddie tells Connie about how he likes that in Paris because his ethnicity isn’t an issue there and that’s why he’s fearful of returning to his home country with the current events that were taking place at the time.
The film was co produced by Marlon Brando’s Pennebaker Films with him as the lead until he lost interest in the role that Paul Newman would play in Paris Blues.
This dual format from the BFI has a nominal amount of extras of a booklet with academic writing,stills gallery,trailer and an audio commentary from Australian film critic Adrian Martin who talks us through the films history.
Dir: Martin Ritt
Scr: Walter Bernstein, Irene Kamp, Jack Sher, Lulla Rosenfeld
Cast: Paul Newman,Sidney Poitier,Diahann Carroll,Joanne Woodward
Prd: Sam Shaw
D.O.P: Christian Matras
Music: Duke Ellington
Run time: 98 minutes
Paris Blues available on Dual Format from the 24th of October