Tuesday, May 28, 2013

On DVD: Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)

If I mention the name Jack Webb, what to you comes to mind first? Dragnet, of course. But can you picture ol' deadpan Jack playing anything but a lawman?

In 1955, Webb directed himself and a fairly credible ensemble cast in "Pete Kelly's Blues", which was produced by Webb's Mark VII Productions for Warner Bros.. Webb plays a jazz bandleader who has his hands full with a crime boss (Edmund O'Brien) who has him and the Big 7 under contract. Of course, Webb and his crew didn't really play, as the music was dubbed over by an all-star jazz ensemble, comprised of guys I'm not familiar with, including Matty Murdock. However, when you consider the band on screen includes movie tough guy Lee Marvin and Martin Milner (who'd appeared on the original Dragnet and would be considered a part of Webb's repertory company pre-Adam-12), you'd think these guys would've mixed it up with the mob if need be. As it was, drummer Joey Firestone (Milner) is whacked by machine gun fire 1/3 of the way in.

Actress-singer Peggy Lee earned an Oscar nomination as Rose, a singer added to the band at the boss' insistence, but when she gets a little too tipsy one night, she's remanded to an asylum, where she's regressed mentally to the age of 5. The last scene Lee shares with Webb was, I think, what got her the nomination. Pete Kelly (Webb) also finds love in the form of Ivy (Janet Leigh). If you thought that Webb could never get the girl just because he was a stone-faced square on Dragnet, well.........! As you'd expect, Webb also narrates, as if this was Dragnet or his other radio gigs, The Lyon's Eye or Pat Novak For Hire. Of course, there's also the smart-aleck analogies and wisecracks that I became acquainted with on the latter series.

Speaking of series, "Blues" was transitioned to television, perhaps not long after the movie, but that's for another time.

Something else to look forward to are a couple of solo numbers by jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald. Enough said.

Following is a sample clip of Pete Kelly's Big 7 "performing" "Sugar":

Webb didn't make too many movies. A pity, as he might've earned himself an Oscar or two if he made a few more pictures before transitioning permanently to television.

Rating: A.

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