Paris Blues (1961)

Drama, Music, Romance
Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Sidney Poitier, Louis Armstrong
Ram Bowen and Eddie Cook are two expatriate jazz musicians living in Paris where, unlike America at the time, Jazz musicians are celebrated and racism is a non-issue. When they meet and ...
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  • 27 Sep 1961 Released:
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  • Jack Sher (screenplay), Irene Kamp (screenplay), W Writer:
  • Martin Ritt Director:
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multiple subplots - deeper than suggested9/10
this movie has been mischaracterized as a fluffy love story, it is not. this film examines racial equality and the differences between France and the us in accepting people of color as more than "help" or as something to fear. this film also touches on the popularity of jazz music, and showcases authentic early jazz as well as painting a picture of the hip jazz subculture, including smoky clubs, late nights and loose women. the film also shows the journey of young musicians trying to find their style and find a place for themselves as jazz composers- not just as musicians. finally, this movie does reflect aspects of a love story- but in examining the film on a deeper level one finds that there really is no love, rather it is a commentary on disconnected, self-indulgent lust. finally - Louis Armstrong appeared and played in the movie- Does it get any better?
"The Frenchmen's all prefer what they call, le jazz hot."7/10
The American in Paris theme has been done very often in American cinema. The tradition is huge splashy technicolor with Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, Audrey Hepburn cavorting around the well known streets and landmarks. Those are nice films, but that ain't what you get here.

No Louvre, no Arc de Triomphe, no Eiffel Tower, a brief shot of Notre Dame from a distance; that's about it from the well known Paris. The Paris we see here in this black and white film is of the jazz clubs of the Left Bank where two expatriate musicians, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier, eke out a living doing what they love.

Newman has ambitions though, he'd like to be a serious composer not a trombonist all his life. Poitier has come to Paris for reasons of the race problems in the USA.

Into their lives two American tourists come, Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll. A couple of dual romances commence.

Carroll and Poitier have a spirited debate over civil rights. The movement is getting into high gear in America and Carroll wants him to return and be part of it. No thanks, says Poitier, he just wants to do his jazz thing where his skin color isn't anyone's problem least of all his own.

Interestingly Carroll was doing a kind of warm up for another part of a black woman in Paris on Broadway the following year in Richard Rodgers, No Strings. In that play she falls for an expatriate writer played by Richard Kiley. An interracial romance, one of the first shown on the Broadway stage, still a lot of the same issues were in that show.

Paris Blues is a different slice of Parisian life for an American film to explore. All four leads do just fine, though the film probably doesn't rank in the top work of any of them.

Lots of jazz music for the aficionado. And of course the presence of the incomparable Louis Armstrong. The highlight of the film is the jam session with those two ersatz musicians Newman and Poitier.

The way Satchmo is received by the public only proves the truth of that line he sang in High Society about the way the French love American jazz.
See it for Louis!7/10
If you're looking for a film on the level of Godard's "Breathless" , which was made in the same year (1961), forget it. Belmondo and Seberg coolly ride the crest of the New Wave in some other Paris. But there's never a good reason not to see Louis Armstrong, who is wonderful, so if nothing, see it for him. And where else are you going to get Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier hanging out in a jazz cave with hipsters looking like they just flew in from planet square, but in the process looking a lot cooler than the people trying to look cool.

The love scenes are as melodramatic and corny as they can be, bordering on camp, with a lot of hand wringing and flinging about and running, but c'mon! Newman and Woodward and Poitier and gorgeous Diahann Carroll? Rent this with Diva or Charade or both and it can be a Paris street scene night., although Diva and Charade are far superior. You can definitely do a lot worse.
The Indian Summer of America's honeymoon with Europe.8/10
Within 2 years of "Paris Blues" being released the US involvement in Vietnam began to sour the relationship between America and la rive gauche. French intellectuals affected to disdain the United States and all its works;one of the few aspects of Americana that were permitted to be still admired was jazz music. Even so the myth of the American jazz musician as a god-like figure had faded by the mid sixties.Giants like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington were still revered but the journeymen jazzers like Ram Bowen(Newman)no longer filled the clubs just because they were American. The Indian Summer of America's honeymoon with Europe peaked with "Paris Blues".

Beautifully shot in black and white in the quintessentially Parisian parts of the city where the 2 pairs of lovers could stroll hand in hand photogenically it was a love letter to the arondissements beloved of Scott Fitzgerald,Hemingway and Gertrude Stein 30 years after the affair had ended.

Paul Newman was never more charming,Sidney Poitier never more cool and self-effacing;their pairing considered quite daring at the time coming just a few years after the ground-breaking "The Defiant Ones". Duke Ellington wrote the score and his "Mood Indigo" is beautifully played by Murray McCeachern.Louis Armstrong plays himself - why his character is named Wild Man Moore one can only speculate.

I saw "Paris Blues" when I was 20 years old and my love affair with jazz was a its height. Looking at it now it doesn't seem all that special,the characters and situations have all become cliches;but perhaps that's a bit like saying "Hamlet"'s a good play but it's full of quotations.
The film's great asset was the fascinating background music…7/10
The story is about two young jazzmen Newman and Poitier who live in Paris…Newman is after a serious musical career… Poitier enjoys the tolerant atmosphere and the freedom from U.S. racial tensions… They work at a Left Bank cub owned by Barbara Laage who is having a casual affair with Newman… Serge Raggiani a gypsy guitarist who is a narcotics addict, and Louis Armstrong a trumpeter, are among their friends… Newman and Poitier meet a couple of American tourists, Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll who are visiting Paris on a two-weeks vacations…

A romance develops between Poitier and Carroll… Woodward and Newman also find that a feeling is growing between them… Woodward wants him to return with her to the U. S., but Newman believes that marriage would interfere with his career, and decides to remain…

As in "The Hustler," Newman plays a man whose devotion to making his talent better than second-rate prevents love… But he was natural as the pool player, and convinced us—through his movements, dialog and expressions—of his feelings for the music…

Woodward is more aggressive than Newman… Moved by his music, she displays genuine emotion, but Newman is so defensive, egocentric and selfish that he becomes hostile, stubborn, unpleasant and offensive… Woodward is determined to make something more of it, but he remains uninfluenced—willing to show slight affection but incapable of being sincerely tender… In their final bedroom scene, the two superb1y perform a progression from spontaneous domestic affection, to growing alienation, to his indifferent rejection of her love…

Legend Louis Armstrong shines in one flamboyant jazz interlude…