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Thursday, December 18, 2014

'Pete Kelly's Blues' BD: Jack Webb Has Reasons to Sing the Blues

Pete Kelly's Blues
Warner Archive releasing several classic musicals, such as the recently reviewed "Yankee Doodle Dandy," on Blu-ray in 2014 is a highlight in a not-so-great year for the world. The BD release of the terrific 1951 Jazz Age film "Pete Kelly's Blues" continues the winning streak regarding this effort, which the Unreal TV year-end wrap up on December 21, 2014 will feature.

Just as the also recently reviewed courtroom thriller "Twilight of Honor" takes advantage of the popularity of star Richard Chamberlain in his also reviewed television series "Dr. Kildare," "Blues" benefits from the fame of star Jack Webb regarding his classic series "Dragnet."

The "Blues"/ "Dragnet" connection becomes abundantly clear when Webb starts his trademark voice over noir narration with verbal imagery that would make Raymond Chandler proud.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the epic Webb-hosted, five-minute trailer for "Bues" provides an awesome behind-the-scenes look at the film and a good overview of the plot. (Time constraints prevented confirming whether the trailers on the BD set include this one.)



Webb plays the titular cornetist, whose troubles begin when gangster Edmond McCarg struts into the Kansas City bar where Kelly and his band play. The purpose of the visit is to present Kelly et al with an offer of management that they cannot refuse (or else). Edmond O'Brien, who went onto win a Best Actor Oscar for "The Barefoot Contessa" four years later, does a great job playing playing the tough and restrained violent persona of McCarg.

Martin Milner turns in a wonderful "before they were stars" performance as young drummer Joey Firestone, who learns that resistance is futile regarding guys like McCarg. The wholesome charm that Milner displays provides a nice preview of his later television performances in the anthology drama "Route 66" and later in the police series "Adam-12."

Another memorable performance comes in the form of jazz great Ella Fitzgerald, who performs the theme of the film and another song, as a roadhouse owner.

Archive perfectly describes the manner in which Janet Leigh portrays Ivy Conrad as "a gin-swilling heiress who moves in on Kelly's heart" (and pays the price for grabbing at his pride and joy without asking first), Peggy Lee is even more fatale femme singer Rose Hopkins, whom new manager McCarg thrusts on the band, A scene in which alcoholic Rose tries to make it through a song while blitzed out of whatever remaining brain cells she possesses almost certainly is a reason for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination that she receives for her role.

The fast-paced '20s-style action that perfectly matches the music and overall theme of the film largely revolves around the efforts of McCrag to enforce his hold on the group and the ensuing violence. We also have Kelly contending with Ivy and Rose, and with bar owner Rudy pulling every trick in the book to maximize his profits. One of the best lines in the film relates to a joke about that publican finding a way to cut water.

Writing once again that an Archive release is awesome because they do not make 'em like that anymore seems as cheap as many of the antics that make "Blues" so entertaining, but that is the best way to convey the quality of these films (and the awesome remastering that goes into them.)

Although the plethora of extras in "Dandy" far outshines such features on any home entertainment video release, the special features in "Blues" are also wonderful. The Oscar-nominated short "Gadgets Galore" is a hilarious look at the early days of the auto industry, and the Looney Tunes cartoon "The Hole Idea" is a very clever animated presentation about the invention of a portable hole.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Blues" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.