A Forgotten Film to Remember: All Night Long (1963)

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Basil Dearden is not generally a name that stirs excitement in the hearts of movie fans, or even classic movie lovers. I knew him as a British director who had worked in the 1950s and 1960s, but he did not make horror films for Hammer, and though he worked at Ealing Studio, he did not direct any of those iconic comedies that show up in retrospectives or DVD collections. Like many movie fans, my appreciation of British film of this period tends to lean toward Hammer and Ealing. Though I recognized Dearden’s name, I was not familiar with his body of work. After stumbling across All Night Long (1963) currently streaming on FilmStruck, I gained a newfound respect for him.

I am sure many aficionados of “cool jazz,” that style of modern jazz popular after WWII, already know about All Night Long. Real-life jazz musicians Charles Mingus, Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth, Bert Courtley, Keith Christie, Ray Dempsey and Tubby Hayes, among others, play themselves in the film, and spend considerable screen time making music. However, the film is more than a showcase for popular jazz artists; the narrative is actually a reworking of Othello set in the world of contemporary jazz. The music serves to transition the story and sometimes express the internal feelings of the characters.

As the title suggests, All Night Long takes place over the course of one evening during a party held in a warehouse in London’s industrial district on the south bank of the Thames River. Long before warehouses were turned into cool living spaces in the 1980s, this film was set in a hip space/bachelor pad. The downstairs is basically one huge room with stylish modern furniture, a well-stocked bar, abstract paintings and a designated area for musicians and their instruments. Up the winding staircase is a cozy living space. The cool digs belong to millionaire jazz aficionado Rod Hamilton, played by Dearden favorite Richard Attenborough. The one-room set-up allows for complex deep-space compositions by cinematographer Ted Scaife whose crane and tracking shots probe and prowl around the characters as they gossip and scheme.

Hamilton’s party is in honor of band leader Aurelius Rex and his bride of one year, vocalist Delia Lane. Rex is jealous and possessive, even of the friendship that Delia shares with their manager, Cass. But, the driving force behind the narrative is drummer Johnny Cousin, played by Patrick McGoohan, who schemes and manipulates to get what he wants. A misanthrope and narcissist, Cousin believes the key to his success and happiness hinges on starting his own band, with Delia as vocalist. Delia has retired from performing to devote herself to her marriage, and though she misses singing, she won’t agree to join Johnny’s combo. Without her commitment, he can’t land the booking support he needs from Lou Berger. Handsome and charismatic, McGoohan steals the film as Johnny deftly puts his plan in place, playing on the fears and weaknesses of his “friends.”

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It has been a while since I have seen a version of Othello, but Rex and Delia correspond to Othello and Desdemona, while Johnny Cousin is Iago. Cass is a version of Cassio, Cousin’s wife Emily is Emilia and Lou is Lodovico. The cast consists of both American and British actors. Unfortunately, the least interesting performances are those by Paul Harris and Marti Stevens, who make a stilted Rex and a dull Delia. More interesting is the character of Emily, who is played by Betsy Blair, better known as the leading lady in Marty (1955). Blair is heartbreaking as she tells the story of her spontaneous marriage to Johnny, who wed her on a lark while he was drunk.

The reworking of Othello is clever, but the shock of the film is the progressive depiction of interracial relationships. Rex is black and Delia white, but, surprisingly, race is not an issue in the film; it’s not even a theme. I suspect interracial relationships were accepted in the bohemian jazz scene of the time, but they were not common onscreen. All Night Long was released in England in 1962, a full five years before the mainstream Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967) and the two years before the groundbreaking indie film One Potato, Two Potato (1964). Rex and Delia are not the only interracial couple: Cass, who is played by white actor Keith Michell, is in love with Benny, played by Maria Velasco, an actress of color. During the party scenes, black and white characters of opposite sexes mingle and mix.

All Night Long (1962)Directed by Basil DeardenShown: Betsy Blair, Paul Harris

I admire the way Dearden handled this aspect of the film. During the opening scenes of the party, characters talk about Rex and Delia, setting up their importance to the viewer. We not only anticipate their arrival but we are anxious to see the golden couple. When they finally come through the door, a medium shot clearly reveals their racial difference. In other words, the viewer is set up to be surprised. However, within minutes, Dearden has directed our attention to Johnny and his manipulations, and the racial difference between Rex and Delia is not a part of the story. I can’t speculate on the way audiences of fifty years ago reacted to the film, but it did not take me long to lose my initial feeling of surprise and become absorbed in the story. A couple of lines of dialogue reflect on race, as when Johnny jokes about the lack of white American jazz musicians, so Dearden is not ignoring it. It’s simply part of the milieu—not the impetus for the drama.

While poking around a bit, I learned that Basil Dearden directed several controversial films in the 1950s and 1960s. Violent Playground (1958) deals with juvenile delinquency; Sapphire (1959) is about the racially motivated murder of a young girl, while Victim (1961) stars Dirk Bogarde as a lawyer who stands up to a ring of criminals blackmailing homosexuals. (Check out StreamLiner Jill Blake’s article on Victim here.) Dearden and his partner, art director Michael Relph, who later became his producer, preferred social problem films while others of their generation gained fame in horror and comedy.

All Night Long‘s pedigree is rooted in the Hollywood blacklist. Co-producer Bob Roberts previously produced films by directors Abraham Polonsky and John Berry, who were blacklisted. Roberts, who held the script rights to All Night Long, had been impressed with Dearden and Relph’s Sapphire and asked them to do the film. The original script was penned by Nel King and Peter Achilles, the latter a pseudonym for blacklisted writer Paul Jarrico (Salt of the Earth, 1954).

I discovered All Night Long by perusing the FilmStruck site. I always say some of the best films are those that you stumble across by accident.

Susan Doll

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9 Responses A Forgotten Film to Remember: All Night Long (1963)
Posted By kingrat : July 3, 2017 12:53 am

Dearden also directed the excellent SARABAND FOR DEAD LOVERS and the enjoyable LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN, although scriptwriter Bryan Forbes seems like the main force behind LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN. KHARTOUM is also pretty good.

It’s worth remembering that the French auteurists dismissed almost all British directors not named Alfred Hitchcock, along with many gifted French and American directors, and they were slavishly followed in this by their American sock puppet followers. Many French, American, and British films will come as discoveries to those of us who know only the syllabus prepared by the auteurists.

ALL NIGHT LONG is definitely worth seeing, but it is unfortunate that the Othello and the Desdemona are so weak. Ted Scaife is indeed a gifted cinematographer; his color work in THE KREMLIN LETTER is breathtaking.

Posted By Ed Buskirk Jr. : July 3, 2017 8:34 am

Wasn’t there another recent article here about this film? I remember discussing it with a couple of regular commenters not so long ago. I wouldn’t say it’s a great film, but it’s definitely a good film, whether or not you’re into jazz or Shakespeare, but better if you’re into both.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 3, 2017 10:57 am

Hi Ed:
There could have been another blog post on this film. I can see how it would inspire movie buffs to draw attention to it. The StreamLine writers sign up for the films or topics we are going to write about to avoid duplication, but even if we do comment on the same movies, it is generally not from the same angle.

Thanks for commenting. I agree with Kingrat’s observation that a whole gen of British directors, among others, were overlooked because of the way the auteur theory unfolded in France and the U.S.

Posted By George : July 3, 2017 2:44 pm

“Many French, American, and British films will come as discoveries to those of us who know only the syllabus prepared by the auteurists.”

Another problem was the contempt that British film critics, from Paul Rotha on, heaped on British movies. Even Hitchcock didn’t impress them much. Their contention was that real cinema couldn’t happen in Britain, because of its stage traditions, which of course was absurd.

Posted By George : July 3, 2017 3:25 pm

I wish there still WAS a British film industry. Then British actors wouldn’t have to spend their careers in Hollywood, playing American characters with bad American accents (usually expressed as a guttural growl).

Posted By Doug : July 3, 2017 6:23 pm

I would watch this for the music more than the drama, and I liked Patrick McGoohan in “The Prisoner”. One of my cherished memories was watching “Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow” on “The World of Disney”.

Posted By Susan Doll : July 3, 2017 7:58 pm

Doug: OMG! The Scarecrow was one of my favorite Disney shows of all time. I was very, very young, but I remember it well.

Posted By Doug : July 4, 2017 12:29 am

Susan-I checked…Amazon has it on DVD for only $439.95.
A little out of my price range. Perhaps it will be unvaulted by Disney in a nice Blu Ray someday.
As for “All Night Long”-I’m a fan of most music, including Jazz. There’s a scene set in a London jazz club in “Absolute Beginners” where Sade sings “Killer Blow”. Her song and scene deserved a better movie, and would probably fit nicely in “All Night Long”.

Posted By Tolly Devlin : July 8, 2017 11:37 pm

My main man the late great Charles Mingus makes an extended appearance in this. I saw this many years ago at The Art Institute of Chicago’s Film Center, when Richard Pena was running it.

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