Wealthy music promoter Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) throws an anniversary party for a famous jazzman, Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris), and his wife and musical partner, Delia (Marti Stevens). Music and good will flow freely until the arrival of an ambitious musical rival, Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), who – intent on poaching Delia to join his own band – plans to destroy the couple’s relationship over the course of a single night.
Cinema has put Shakespeare into all sorts of unusual settings to great success. He makes for a cracking screenwriter. Even so, Othello in an East London jazz club, playing out as a psychological drama, sort of a musical without showtunes? If anything, by the end of All Night Long, Basil Dearden’s curious British gem from 1962, you might wonder why there haven’t been more.
For one thing, it appears effortless, bordering on routine, perhaps lacking in ambition beyond a TV play. It’s all in the planning though; stellar cast, a dream band led by actual Jazz legend Dave Brubeck, and a single location for the story to play out in real-time over one night. There is nothing in particular that stands out, cinematically speaking, but it works because of the cast and the music. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t like Jazz. You may very well do by the end because of the persistent and infectious rhythm, but in any case, it is used so cleverly it becomes part of the narrative; the unpredictable nature allowing it to follow the beat of the story, much the same way as a musical would. The band playing throughout accounts for a live score and the cast occasionally even play their own tempo. Just watch sneaky Patrick McGoohan on the drums.
You might catch these pretenders miming occasionally amongst the real musicians, but that’s being picky. Dearden directs an excellent cast and a story that would otherwise be quite heavy with a drag potential actually glides by, the music giving it pace and immediacy. Meanwhile the dialogue has an American flavour. Shakespeare might have sounded odd in swinging 60s London, but so does the hipsville transatlantic slang, baby! Yet it works somehow, never even slipping into Austin Powers parody. If anything, it has perhaps stopped the film dating as much as it should as it plays out within its own unique bubble.
Richard Attenborough largely sticks to his dependable routine and he’s a steady rock as the host. Patrick McGoohan on the other hand really stands out in a ferocious and clinically timed performance, clearly loving his role as a sly villain. It’s fun watching him move, whispering cowardly poison and bringing the film to life. Arguably, The Prisoner was so successful it’s diluted McGoohan’s career in retrospect. Roles such as this and the villain again in Hell Drivers show him to have been one of Britain’s finest talents.
Paul Harris plays Rex, around whom the story revolves. Interestingly Othello was traditionally a black character also and race was part of the story, but not so here. It is purely a story of one man trying to manipulate everyone else and Harris is an imposing, cool character, slowly being driven mad.
It’s a small story, concisely and workmanlike directed without any flair, but the disciplined and stripped down performances are great to watch. McGoohan’s stunning performance and that band bring it to life. Dearden shows off the cameos a little, but who can blame him when it’s Dave Brubeck in his prime on the piano or Johnny Dankworth on sax? There are some superb musical moments; just listen out for ‘Brazillian Pistol’! A good solid plot and great music make it a fun production.
The mono photography is crisp and clean, and holds up well, possibly thanks to almost a single, controlled location. Colour would have lost something and dated the film. Occasional blooms, a little flat, but sharp as a pin and bright. This is sort of British Noir, but more in theme than visually.
Extras are thin, but then Network are known for doing excellent releases of forgotten curiosities that slip through the cracks, so the bonus is having it at all. The trailer is included. Old fashioned, and one of those bizarre introductory versions (Dickie Attenborough as the party’s host), but virtually gives the entire story away! There is also an image gallery of various versions of the striking poster, plus lobby cards of the day and set photos.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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