Movie Review: Too Late Blues (1961)

“Whoever told you that’s what you had to do to reach somebody?”

Cassavetes, after Shadows, is not a stranger to the music world. Here he takes a much more direct route discussing the character of John ‘Ghost’ Wakefield (Bobby Darin) who’s an idealistic musician who refuses to sell out. He prefers to play in parks for birds and classrooms of ten year olds playing what he wants than taking any contracts or club gigs to be forced to play some watered down version of it.

Eventually he comes upon a woman, Jess (Stella Stevens), who’s the complete opposite. She’s completed jaded not expecting anything from the music world while being pushed by her agent and still put down to size while having a certain musical talent that’s almost ignored by most.

Ghost courts Jess in the same way he courts music, seeking an idealistic version of it, wanting love and nothing short of it while Jess is looking for what she can get now and nothing more. It creates a weird dynamic. We get those wonderful moments, as one can expect, in relationships like this where the optimism of Ghost bleeds into the pessimism of Jess and it’s wonderful. However, the film also takes us into the opposite as the pessimism of the world overtakes Ghost’s ideals and when he chooses his utopian viewpoint over reality it hits him hard.

While I wouldn’t go calling this film misguided I would throw the world blunt at it with little issues. The point is clear and almost forgettable at the same time. The idea of needing the world to bend your way and see things from your perspective without any middle ground is ill founded. In the world of art it’s encouraged to be idealistic. Be creative and come up with your thing and hope the world embraces it. However, when the rent is due and all other bills come knocking one must question those idiosyncratic creative urges for the sake of realism. I acknowledge and respect artists for being resilient and refusing to budge (as any fan of the arts would have to be), but here Ghost just comes off as insulated stupid throughout the film. Even when his ideals come to a head and costs him everything we’re left there and supposed to empathize with this struggling artist, but I don’t believe we ever truly reach that point in the film.

The bittersweet ending of film, as we see the gang play that song together, is tough to swallow. We know that while it’s great to see them play there now, we know – or at least suspect – that they’re not going to start recording again and that makes it sad at the same time.