Flick Review < Too Late Blues | John Cassavetes (1962)



Too Late Blues (1962) is certainly one of the greatest films ever made about the jazz world. Despite being a studio movie and being scripted, it feels like jazz, like an improvisation. 

Given the maverick nature of John Cassavetes and the rawness of his first film, Shadows, it was truly bold of Paramount Pictures to hand the reins of a big studio production to someone like Cassavetes. But that’s exactly what happened with Too Late Blues. It was a perfect match between subject matter and filmmaker. In 1959, Cassavetes had starred in a TV series called Johnny Staccato, playing a jazzman who moonlights as a detective.

In a 1971 Playboy interview, Cassavetes stated: “I should have made the film my way—in New York instead of California and not on an impossibly tight schedule. To do the film right, I needed six months, and I agreed to make it in 30 days—working with people who didn’t like me, didn’t trust me and didn’t care about the film.”

“I think Too Late Blues was potentially a hell of a lot better picture than I made it. I’m not copping any pleas. I just didn’t know how to work under the system at that time. But I learned a few things in the course of that film. For instance, there is no such thing as a low-budget picture at a major studio. At least not from a director’s point of view. Once you say it’s a low-budget picture it’s like being a man with no credit in a rich neighborhood. In a huge studio like Paramount, a small-budget means absolutely nothing. The film is always seen in terms of its immediate profit. As soon as you tell them you have any high ambitions for a low-budget picture, they look at you as if you were a complete fool.”

John Cassavetes

< John Cassavetes in clover; on the set of Too Late Blues, directing for a major studio. 


Stella Stevens shares a couple of Darin stories: (from a 2003 interview)

 “I’ll tell you two stories about Bobby Darin. We made Too Late Blues (1962) together. It was John Cassavetes’ first major studio film. One story is silly; the other lives on. The first story is when we were doing a scene in which I come out of the bathroom and walk over to him, and he’s sitting on the bed — before we have our affair —, and I take his head and bring it to my bosom. He said to me, “Don’t mess with my hair!” He had a hairpiece, and he was afraid that it would reveal it was a hairpiece.”

 “The more glorious story is when I’m standing against the wall in a scene, and he walks over to me and kisses me with this passionate kiss. Well, we kissed and kissed. When he stood back he had an erection this big. The guy on the catwalk noticed it, so everybody on the set knew about it after that. I can’t think of Bobby Darin without thinking of him with a huge erection. That is an honor, you know? To me, and to him.”

Too Late Blues (1962)

Directed by: John Cassavetes

Written by: Richard Carr, John Cassavetes
Starring: Bobby Darin, Stella Stevens, Everett Chambers
Music: David Raksin (composer, best known for the title song and score of Laura, 1944)
Too Late Blues is a beautifully made film, with great performances and gorgeous black-and-white photography, and a score to die for, by the great David Raksin. There is a lot of jazz in Too Late Blues. The easy way out would have been to do standards, but Raksin wrote all original music for the film, even for the source cues. And what music it is – Raksin at his best, and Raksin at his best is as good as it gets. It didn’t hurt that he was working with some of the best West Coast jazz players of that era, including Red Mitchell, Benny Carter, Shelly Manne, Jimmy Rowles, Milt Bernhart, and the best studio musicians anyone could hope for – including the amazing trumpet player Uan Rasey. (…)

Blues for Tomorrow
Benny Splits While Jimmy Rowles

“The man who played the sax part, was of course Benny Carter, and the guy who pre-recorded the piano part was Jimmy Rowles, so I called this number “Benny Splits While Jimmy Rowles.” David Raksin 


” I had already read the script, so after lunch John and I went to work in the most straightforward way, as befit the occasion. He would point out where he needed various kinds of pieces: now a jazz piece for the Combo, then something that would be heard from a radio or jukebox, or something for Slim Gailliard; about fourteen pieces in all, plus a main theme which would first be sung on camera as a vocalise and would also become important in the underscoring.

Cassavetes would explain how he proposed to film the scenes and what he needed from the music; then I would immediately improvise something, and in almost every case he would accept my first idea. While we were doing this, John and I also discussed the personnel of the actual combo, the musicians who would pre-record the soundtrack, and since we both knew the best jazz guys we came up with a special group.

On alto sax we had the magnificent Benny Carter. On trumpet Uan Rasey, who does not improvise, but that didn’t matter because all of the “improvisations” had to be composed in advance so that they could be taught precisely to the actors. The trombonist was Milt Bernhart, guitarist Barney Kessel, the pianist Jimmy Rowles, bass was Red Mitchell, and on drums dear and wonderful Shelly Manne.”

 David Raksin  > “…and that ain’t all!”

1 thought on “Flick Review < Too Late Blues | John Cassavetes (1962)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *