Saturday, 11 April 2015

All Night Long (1962)

Firstly before we start, let's just take a moment to acknowledge how beautiful this poster is. 

Isn't it just a thing of design brilliance?

Director Basil Dearden delivers a Noirish curio in All Night Long, an entertaining update of Shakespeare's Othello set in the London jazz scene of the early '60s. In reworking the Bard, the scriptwriting team of Nel King and 'Peter Achilles' - the pseudonym for blacklisted exiled American Paul Jarrico -  shift some of the focus from the titular character of the Moor, depicted here as jazz band leader Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and onto his duplicitous, malevolent drummer Johnny Cousin played to slimy, jittery perfection by the great Patrick McGoohan. 

The action takes place almost exclusively in the converted dockland warehouse pad of a titled music patron played by Richard Attenborough (who seems three decades ahead of the yuppie trend for London's Docklands warehouse conversions) who is busy preparing a surprise first year anniversary party for Rex and his bride, Delia (Marti Stevens) Milling around the pad, setting up their instruments and helping themselves to a drink is a truly eclectic and diverse cast which includes real jazz greats like Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth ("Sorry Cleo couldn't make it!"), Johnny Scott and Tubby Hayes as well as the likes of Bernard Braden as a recording studio money man, Keith Michell as Cass, the Cassio role naturally, Harry Towb, Betsy Blair and in a brief uncredited role, future Ken Loach favourite Carol White. 

McGoohan's Johnny stalks around the proceedings dripping poison in everyone's ear as he attempts to manipulate the evening's events to propel himself into the big time, smuggling away Delia from the group and her marriage to be his singer. The plot stays pretty close to Shakespeare (until the end, at least) and neatly embraces the contemporary using such props as doctored tape recordings and cigarette cases as plot devices used to further Johnny's web of lies. Race and more specifically racial politics is alluded to in the mature way one would expect from Dearden who was also responsible for Sapphire and Flame In The Streets and one doesn't have to imagine how rare the film's progressive use of mixed-race couples was for early '60s cinema.

The dated hipster dialogue may appear occasionally contrived or just plain cringeworthy to some but I think it lends to the retro appeal now inherent in the production, and at least its delivered relatively well by the assembled cast. Certainly, Attenborough may have been a little too long in the tooth to truly convince in his role but he serves as a strong and reassuring ballast and master of ceremonies for the more unknown and inexperienced actors around him.  

It's fair to say the film belongs to the powerhouse McGoohan, who plays his own drums here (and I couldn't help but think of the intro to The Prisoner every time Dearden showed the darkening storm clouds and had thunder claps fill the air) but Paul Harris' dignified and hurt Rex is also worthy of strong praise. 

Wisely, the real-life musicians aren't expected to act all that much in terms of the drama that occurs around them and Dearden uses them primarily as credible background decoration, before shifting them to the foreground to do what they do best and enliven the proceedings with their musical talent.


  1. I liked this a lot a while back, its so unknown now. Dearden certainly turned them out ... McGoohan is marvellous as usual.

    1. If Dearden was an American filmmaker he'd be the subject of major retrospectives I reckon

  2. This film's a real favourite - I'm also reminded of The Prisoner when the catering staff exit to the tune of Pop Goes The Weasel, a musical motif that was used occasionally in Prisoner episodes.

    I'm intrigued by some of the reviews for this on IMDB; they dwell on the violence and wonder that Delia would stand by Rex at the, don't they know love when they see it? There was physical violence, sure, but it was the result of McGoohan's scheming and manipulation...and once exposed, it's quite touching the forgiveness that the characters can express; one feels, as watching Delia follow Rex down the street at the very end, that their relationship has been through a real baptism of fire they could never have expected, and that their relationship will be even stronger for it (and Keith Michell, what a guy!)

    Not sure I'd agree that Attenborough's too long in the tooth for his role - he's played as one of those ambiguously rich types, and seems to have a reputation that goes back some years, by some characters' say-so...amusing, though, to see him switch from establishment suit to hip jazz fan simply by removing his jacket and replacing it with a cardigan :-)

    1. God yeah Pop Goes The Weasel too!

      IMDB is a starnge, strange place. I had a profile on their for 8 years but in the end the tosspots and trolls got to me and I just deleted it. I don't condone for one moment violence towards anyone, especially domestic violence, but all I can say to those who complain about it is they've clearly never read or seen Othello!

      I think, on reflection, with Attenborough (who is one of my favourite actors by the way) it's not so much that he's long in the tooth, it's more that he was by that stage in his career known for more mature and weighty parts that belonged almost to the previous generation and that's why seeing him here is a teensy bit jarring. He was barely 40 when this was made I think so yeah I'm probably too harsh to say 'long in the tooth' after all, music benefactors are almost always a few years older than their proteges anyway.

      I meant to add to the review that anyone who likes this will most probably surely enjoy Stephen Poliakoff's series Dancing on the Edge.

      PS, Keith Michell yes...great actor but he near ruined everything for me releasing that godawful Captain Beaky nursery rhyme in 1980. How that got into the charts I will never know. It was on the BBC4 repeats of Top of the Pops the other week and I've just about de-clenched now. Almost as bad as the sodding Frog Chorus!