STUDIO: Olive Films | DIRECTOR: John Cassavetes | CAST: Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens, Everett Chambers, Nick Dennis, Vince Edwards, Val Avery, Seymour Cassel
RELEASE DATE: 5/29/12 | PRICE: DVD $24.95, Blu-ray $29.95
SPECS: NR | 103 min. | Drama | 1:85 fullscreen | stereo
Fans of John Cassavetes’ trailblazing independent work have long awaited a professional release of 1961′s Too Late Blues, the film he made in the mainstream that is the most like his “personal” masterworks. The film has never been available for the home-entertainment market and is invaluable, as it illustrates what his incredibly honest vision of relationships looked liked in a Hollywood context.
The plotline is a staple of Forties melodrama, the jazz musician who mistreats those around him until he gets his comeuppance. As played here by Bobby Darin (always game for a professional challenge), the character is abrasive and possessing of an uncertain talent that seems to flourish only in collaboration.
It’s easy to see Darin’s character as Cassavetes’ stand-in for himself: a sincere artist who agrees to “sell out” to the mainstream, but realizes his talent really lies in the margins, working with people he’s comfortable with. Cassavetes wasn’t that “alone,” though, when he made his big-budget (by his standards) Hollywood debut as a filmmaker — he cast a number of his NYC actor friends (the “introducing…” credit here contains two rows of names!), including Seymour Cassel, Val Avery and Rupert Crosse.
Darin acquits himself quite nicely in the unlikeable lead role. Stella Stevens not only looks spectacular as his erstwhile singer girlfriend, but gives a great performance in some of the film’s later anguished moments (which prefigure scenes enacted by Gena Rowlands in later Cassavetes films). The best piece of casting is Vince Edwards (TV’s “Dr. Ben Casey”) as a bully who humiliates Darin in the film’s most uncomfortable sequence.
Too Late Blues stands as fascinating evidence of the “road not taken” by Hollywood in the early Sixties (most likely because the film fizzled at the box office). At that point, the studios could’ve fostered the work of filmmakers like Cassavetes but instead waited until the late Sixties when their big blockbusters became irrelevant, and Easy Rider made it possible for a filmmaker like Cassavetes to make personal works (Husbands, Minnie and Moskowitz) with studio backing… for a short time.
Olive releases don’t include extras, but here the official trailer for the film is sorely missed, as it brackets scenes from the film with a statement by Cassavetes himself (speaking about how the film is “about people I know… my age, my generation”). It can be found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooXNbasxYMU