Too Late Blues

Last updated
Too Late Blues
Too Late Blues.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Cassavetes
Produced byJohn Cassavetes
Written byRichard Carr
John Cassavetes
Starring Bobby Darin
Stella Stevens
Everett Chambers
Music by David Raksin
Cinematography Lionel Lindon A.S.C.
Edited by Frank Bracht, A.C.E.
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release date
  • November 7, 1961 (1961-11-07)(France)
  • February 28, 1962 (1962-02-28)(USA)
Running time
103 minutes
CountryUnited States

Too Late Blues is a 1961 black-and-white American film directed by John Cassavetes and starring Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens and Everett Chambers. It is the story of jazz musician "Ghost" Wakefield and his relationship with both his fellow band members and his love interest, Jess, a beautiful would-be singer. The film was written by Cassavetes and Richard Carr. [1]


It was the first film that Cassavetes produced for a major Hollywood studio, Paramount, [2] and Darin's first nonsinging role. [3]


"Ghost" Wakefield is the leader of a struggling jazz band. At a party he meets the attractive singer Jess, who is in a relationship with the Ghost's agent, Benny. At Ghost's insistence, she joins the band, and he begins a relationship with her, antagonizing Benny.

Benny arranges for the band to cut a record. In a party at a bar celebrating the recording session, Benny encourages a tough guy, Tommy, to pick a fight with the band. Ghost avoids fighting, causing a rift with Jess. She leaves the band, and it breaks up. Ghost becomes the protege of a rich patron, playing the piano in night clubs, his career in decline, while the rest of the band plays inferior music to make a living.

Ghost locates Jess, who has become a prostitute, and goes with her to the other band members, who reject him but begin playing their old music with Jess singing.


Special recordings by (as listed in opening credits)


The film's musical score was by David Raksin, and was performed by eminent musicians, including Benny Carter. Cassavetes wanted Montgomery Clift and Gena Rowlands, his wife and frequent leading lady, for the main roles, and the production of the film was rushed. However, the production of the film was less traumatic for Cassavetes than he would experience with A Child Is Waiting (1963), his other early studio film, which was taken from him during editing. [3] Announcements about the projected film appeared in December 1960, [4] February 1961 [5] and July 1961, when two photographs of Stella Stevens being directed by two actors, Edmond O'Brien in Man-Trap and John Cassavetes in Too Late Blues (the second photograph included Bobby Darin), were published in The New York Times Sunday Magazine . [6]

Billed 4th in the film's credits, Nick Dennis, who portrays a bar owner named "Nick" and 5th-billed Vincent Edwards, playing "Tommy", the tough guy encouraged by Benny to start a fight with "Ghost", were both cast, at the time, in the long-running (1961–66) medical series, Ben Casey , with Edwards playing the title role of the uncompromisingly ill-tempered neurosurgeon and Dennis at the bottom of the supporting cast as the hospital orderly named, again, "Nick". The series was already cast and production on initial episodes started when press notices announcing the upcoming series were published in TV columns during mid-May 1961. [7] It is unclear whether a halt in the filming of Ben Casey, which premiered as part of ABC's Monday night schedule on October 2, 1961, enabled Dennis and Edwards to fit their scenes into Cassavetes' schedule or if his brief 30-day shoot for the film had already wrapped by the time production started on Ben Casey. Cassavetes and Edwards had known each other since they were classmates at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in the late 1940s. In 1955 they both co-starred as escaped convicts in Andrew L. Stone's The Night Holds Terror and the following year portrayed brothers in conflict over their father's legacy in "The Last Patriarch", the November 28, 1956, episode of The 20th Century Fox Hour . Nick Dennis had also worked with Cassavetes when he played a supporting role in "The Poet's Touch", the November 26, 1959 episode of Cassavetes' series, Johnny Staccato . Another familiar face among the cast of Too Late Blues, playing a member of the band, was Seymour Cassel, who appeared in most of Cassavetes films over the years. [3]

Critical reception

At the time of its release, the film received a poor reception from critics and had a mediocre box office performance. Darin's acting was criticized, as was the film's plot. [8]

At the release of a DVD of the film in 2012 however, Dennis Lim of the Los Angeles Times said Darin and Stevens were surprisingly good in the lead roles, with Darin "willing to appear both arrogant and weak", and Stevens proving her "range and nerve". He also praised Chambers' "indelible, cold-eyed performance". [3]


The conflicts in the film paralleled Cassavetes' own difficulties adapting to the studio system, embodied by the Ghost's conflict with Benny. Ghost is portrayed as a purist dedicated only to his art, while Benny seeks to make Ghost compromise to make money. When Ghost refuses, Benny seeks to destroy him. New Yorker critic Richard Brody observed in 2012, when a DVD of the film was released, that "there’s something Beckett-like in the incantatory force of Cassavetes’s dialogue and images, as well as in his blend of degradation and exaltation." [2]

This film and A Child Is Waiting are often viewed "as footnotes at best, or compromised failures at worst", film critic Dennis Lim commented in the Los Angeles Times in 2012. But the Cassavetes hallmarks ("the delicate way of handling emotional messiness, the tough but ultimately generous view of human behavior") were evident in the film. Lim described the film as "something like a confessional manifesto from the emerging director, 31 when he made it." [3]

In a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine, Cassavetes lamented that Too Late Blues never had a chance. He regretted that he succumbed to studio pressure and shot the film in California, not in New York, and in only 30 days, and not the six months that he felt it needed. [8]

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray for the first time on May 29, 2012 by Olive Films. [9]

Paperback novelization

Concurrent with the release of the film, Lancer Books issued an excellent novelization of the screenplay, by Stuart James (1926 – ?). James's previous published work included over 300 short stories sold to crime, mystery, adventure and men's-interest pulp magazines; five original novels of a "higher order" for paperback houses that specialized in soft-core "adult" reading, two under the pseudonym "Max Gareth"; and novelizations of Jack the Ripper , The Stranglers of Bombay , and The Enemy General , the last also as Gareth. His by-line would disappear for almost three decades until the late '80s, when he re-emerged as the author of three consecutive espionage novels published as lead titles by Bantam Books. [10]

See also


  1. Miller, Frank. "Turner Classic Movies Film Article Too Late Blues"
  2. 1 2 Brody, Richard (5 September 2012). "DVD of the Week: "Too Late Blues"". The New Yorker. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Lim, Dennis (27 May 2012). "A Second Look: John Cassavetes' touch is clear in 'Too Late Blues'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  4. "Of Local Origin" (The New York Times, December 9, 1960, page 39)
  5. Schumach, Murray. "Paramount Plans Art-House Movie Cassavetes to Produce and Direct 'Dreams for Sale' in Studio Experiment" (The New York Times, February 9, 1961, page 36)
  6. S.P. "When Actors Star Behind the Camera". (The New York Times Sunday Magazine, July 30. 1961)
  7. Adams, Val. "Two 'Physicians' on TV Next Fall" (The New York Times, May 18, 1961, page 71)
  8. 1 2 Charity, Tom (2001). John Cassavetes : lifeworks. London: Omnibus. ISBN   0711975442.

Related Research Articles

Original Dixieland Jass Band American jazz band

The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was a Dixieland jazz band that made the first jazz recordings in early 1917. Their "Livery Stable Blues" became the first jazz record ever issued. The group composed and recorded many jazz standards, the most famous being "Tiger Rag". In late 1917 the spelling of the band's name was changed to Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

<i>Shadows</i> (1959 film)

Shadows is a 1959 American independent drama film directed by John Cassavetes about race relations during the Beat Generation years in New York City. The film stars Ben Carruthers, Lelia Goldoni, and Hugh Hurd as three African-American siblings, though only one of them is dark-skinned. The film was initially shot in 1957 and shown in 1958, but a poor reception prompted Cassavetes to rework it in 1959. Promoted as a completely improvisational film, it was intensively rehearsed in 1957, and in 1959 it was fully scripted.

Bobby Darin American singer, songwriter and actor

Bobby Darin was an American singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, impressionist, and actor in film and television. He performed jazz, pop, rock and roll, folk, swing, and country music.

Dexter Gordon American jazz tenor saxophonist

Dexter Gordon was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. He was among the most influential early bebop musicians, which included other greats such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. Gordon's height was 6 feet 6 inches (198 cm), so he was also known as "Long Tall Dexter" and "Sophisticated Giant". His studio and performance career spanned over 40 years.

John Cassavetes Greek-American actor, film director, and screenwriter (1929-1989)

John Nicholas Cassavetes was an American actor, film director, and screenwriter. First known as an actor on television and in film, Cassavetes also became a pioneer of American independent cinema, writing and directing movies financed in part with income from his acting work. AllMovie called him "an iconoclastic maverick," while The New Yorker suggested that he "may be the most influential American director of the last half century."

Zoot Sims

John Haley "Zoot" Sims was an American jazz saxophonist, playing mainly tenor but also alto saxophone. He first gained attention in the "Four Brothers" sax section of Woody Herman's big band, afterward enjoying a long solo career, often in partnership with fellow saxmen Gerry Mulligan and Al Cohn.

ATCO Records is an American record label founded in 1955. It is owned by Warner Music Group and operates as an imprint of Atlantic Records. After several decades of dormancy and infrequent activity under alternating Warner Music labels, the company was relaunched by Atlantic Records in early 2020.

<i>Beyond the Sea</i> (2004 film)

Beyond the Sea is a 2004 American biographical musical drama film based on the life of singer-actor Bobby Darin. Starring in the lead role and using his own singing voice for the musical numbers, Kevin Spacey co-wrote, directed, and co-produced the film, which takes its title from Darin's song of the same name.

Stella Stevens American actress and model

Stella Stevens is an American film, television, and stage actress. She began her acting career in 1959 and starred in such popular films as Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962); The Nutty Professor (1963); The Courtship of Eddie's Father (1963); The Silencers (1966); Where Angels Go, Trouble Follows (1968); The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970); and The Poseidon Adventure (1972).

Dennis Edwards

Dennis Edwards Jr. was an American soul and R&B singer who was best known as the frontman in The Temptations, on Motown Records. Edwards joined the Temptations in 1968, replacing David Ruffin and sang with the group from 1968 to 1976, 1980 to 1984 and 1987 to 1989. In the mid-1980s, he attempted a solo career, scoring a hit in 1984 with "Don't Look Any Further". Until his death, Edwards was the lead singer of The Temptations Review, a Temptations splinter group.

Jimmy Cobb American jazz drummer

Wilbur James Cobb was an American jazz drummer. He was part of Miles Davis's First Great Sextet. At the time of his death, he had been the band's last surviving member for nearly thirty years. He was awarded an NEA Jazz Masters Fellowship in 2009.

Nick Cassavetes American actor, director, and screenwriter

Nicholas David Rowland Cassavetes is an American actor, director, and writer.

<i>Love Streams</i> (film)

Love Streams is a 1984 American film directed by John Cassavetes, in what would be his final independent feature and penultimate directorial project. The film tells the story of a middle-aged brother (Cassavetes) and sister who find themselves relying on one another after being abandoned by their loved ones.

David Albert "Panama" Francis was an American swing jazz drummer who also played on numerous hit recordings in the 1950s.

<i>Hell Is for Heroes</i> (film)

Hell Is for Heroes is a 1962 American war film directed by Don Siegel and starring Steve McQueen. It tells the story of a squad of U.S. soldiers from the 95th Infantry Division who, in the fall of 1944, must hold off an entire German company for approximately 48 hours along the Siegfried Line until reinforcements reach them.

<i>The Messengers</i> (film)

The Messengers is a 2007 supernatural horror film directed by the Pang Brothers, and produced by Sam Raimi. It stars Kristen Stewart, John Corbett, William B. Davis, Dylan McDermott, Carter Kolbeck and Penelope Ann Miller. The film is about an ominous darkness that invades a seemingly serene sunflower farm in North Dakota, and the Solomon family—the owners of the farm—who are torn apart by suspicion, mayhem, and murder.

Jack Sperling was an American jazz drummer who performed as a sideman in big bands and as a studio musician for pop and jazz acts, movies, and television.

<i>That Funny Feeling</i>

That Funny Feeling is a 1965 American romantic comedy film directed by Richard Thorpe and starring Sandra Dee, Bobby Darin, and Donald O'Connor.


Loosies is a 2012 romantic comedy-drama film written and produced by Peter Facinelli, and directed by Michael Corrente. The film stars Peter Facinelli, Jaimie Alexander, Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, William Forsythe, Christy Carlson Romano, Glenn Ciano, Vincent Gallo and Chad A. Verdi.

Charles T. Gentry was an American jazz saxophonist.