Jazz Odyssey: All Night Long

Welcome to Jazz Odyssey, a week of jazz-related film reviews because this blog isn’t nearly alienating enough as it is. No spoilers but these include a thriller, a documentary, a drama, a musical, a biopic, a concert movie and first, some Shakespeare. Commencing in 3, 2, 1, 2, 3…

All Night Long is a 1962 Othello adaptation that follows a jazz drummer’s (Patrick McGoohan) attempts to ensnare a singer (Marti Stevens) for his band. With its racial themes and gossipy plotting, Othello is ripe for revamping and London’s jazz scene is the perfect pressure cooker environment for Shakespeare’s characters to let loose. His plays straddle a similar low/high-brow divide to jazz, a genre that mixes races conveniently for this tasty retelling.

Basil Dearden’s black-and-white film squeezes the drama into a single setting over one night, specifically an anniversary party and jazz workout thrown by a wealthy music promoter (Richard Attenborough). The picture is essentially a series of jazz performances with Othello happening around it in swinging, offbeat style.

Brubeck and Mingus

The jazz session setting not only provides a cool and propelling diegetic soundtrack, but also a tape recorder that fraudulently captures Cassio’s (here Cass played by Keith Michell) betrayal. Meanwhile a cigarette case stands in for Desdemona’s handkerchief and pot is used to inebriate Cass.

McGoohan plays Johnny/Iago’s nervous energy brilliantly but it’s the musical performances that really cook, featuring jazz legends Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck. The fast-paced dialogue falls rhythmically into this bop backdrop, while Dearden’s camera surveys the scene as though from Johnny’s manipulative perspective.

Like Carmen Jones, a certain amount of emotion does get lost in translation and the ending seems to be missing a beat. All Night Long feels more of a novelty than a great movie, but it sure puts the shakes in Shakespeare.

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