Blues in the Night (film)

Blues in the Night

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Anatole Litvak
Produced by Hal B. Wallis
Screenplay by Robert Rossen
Based on the play Hot Nocturne
by Edwin Gilbert
Elia Kazan
Starring Priscilla Lane
Betty Field
Richard Whorf
Lloyd Nolan
Jack Carson
Music by Heinz Roemheld
Cinematography Ernest Haller
Edited by Owen Marks
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • November 15, 1941 (1941-11-15) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Blues in the Night is a 1941 American musical in the film noir style[1] released by Warner Brothers, directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Priscilla Lane, Richard Whorf, Betty Field, Lloyd Nolan, Elia Kazan, and Jack Carson. The project began filming with the working title Hot Nocturne, but was eventually named after its principal musical number "Blues in the Night", which became a popular hit. The film was nominated for a Best Song Oscar for "Blues in the Night" (Music by Harold Arlen; lyrics by Johnny Mercer).[2]


While playing in a bar in St. Louis, jazz pianist Jigger Pine meets aspiring clarinetist Nickie Haroyen who tries to convince him to put together a jazz band. After a drunk patron starts a fight, Nickie and Jigger are thrown in jail with Jigger's drummer and bassist. They hear a prisoner singing a blues song and are inspired to set out for New Orleans where they hope to learn how to perfect an authentic bluesy sound. There they meet fast-talking trumpeter Leo and his wife Character who is a talented singer. Together, the quintet rides the rails, honing their technique in dive bars across the country.

One day while sheltering in a boxcar they meet a mysterious stranger named Del who first robs them and then, impressed by their camaraderie, offers them a job in a New Jersey roadhouse called The Jungle. The group discovers that the roadhouse is actually owned by Del's former partners in crime, aspiring singer Kay, accomplice Sam and her crippled sidekick Brad. Del has escaped from jail to retrieve his share of a robbery the three committed, but when Kay tells him they have spent all the money, he decides to take over The Jungle and transform it into an illegal gambling club. Kay tries to rekindle her past romance with Del, but he rejects her and she turns her attention to Leo. Although the band is happy playing their brand of jazz each night at the club, Character is worried about Leo and Kay. Jigger reveals to Leo that Character is pregnant and he decides to give up Kay. She soon sets her sights on Jigger who is secretly in love with her. When Sam tries to get her to alert the police to Del's whereabouts, she tells Del and Sam is killed by Del's henchmen. Del orders her to leave The Jungle so she convinces Jigger to quit the band and go to New York City to join a commercial, mainstream jazz band.

Although successful, Jigger is unhappy in his new life, feeling he is not playing authentic jazz. Kay finally grows bored of life with Jigger and leaves him when he tells her he is quitting the band. He descends into alcoholism and has a mental breakdown. His friends find him and help nurse him back to health, hiding the fact that Character's baby has died. They return to The Jungle where Jigger begins playing again, but Kay shows up without any money looking for help. She and Del have a quarrel which begins to turn violent but Jigger comes to her defense, fights with Del. During that struggle, Kay gets Del's gun shoots and kills him. Jigger decides to protect Kay and help her escape from the police, but Brad hears their plans and realizes that Kay is leaving forever. The band shows up and try to talk Jigger out of leaving with Kay, revealing that Character lost the baby. They compare Jigger's mental problems with Brad being a cripple, stating that Brad has no choice about how he will end up but Jigger does have a choice. Brad overhears the band. He joins Kay in Del's car where she was waiting for Jigger. Brad drives away with her into a violent storm, deliberately wrecking the car so they are both killed. The band resolves to leave The Jungle behind and they return to their life on the road, happy to again be playing their preferred version of jazz.



The film began when Elia Kazan optioned an unproduced play by Edwin Gilbert called Hot Nocturne and began retooling it for Broadway. He eventually sold the rights to Warner Bros. who gave the script to Robert Rossen to complete. After initially retitling it New Orleans Blues, the studio named it after its principal musical number "Blues in the Night", which later became a popular hit. Kazan agreed to give up his screenwriting credit and appeared as a clarinetist in the film. He later remarked that after acting in the film he became convinced he could "direct better than Anatole Litzvak".[3] James Cagney and Dennis Morgan were the studio's first two choices to play the gangster Del Davis, but the role was eventually given to Lloyd Nolan. John Garfield was cast in the role of pianist Jigger Pine who was eventually played by Richard Whorf.[4]


The film's music is by Harold Arlen with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. Additional music was written by Heinz Roemheld and Ray Heindorf (only Roemheld was credited). The film features the bands of Jimmie Lunceford and Will Osborne. With the exception of Priscilla Lane none of the actors were musicians so their playing had to be dubbed by other artists. The trumpet music performed by Jack Carson's character was dubbed by Snooky Young and Frankie Zinzer while the piano music was dubbed by Stan Wrightsman.[2][5] Saxophonist and clarinetist Archie Rosate played Elia Kazan's clarinet solos.

  1. "Blues in the Night" (William Gillespie)
  2. "This Time the Dream's On Me" (Priscilla Lane)
  3. "Hang on to Your Lids, Kids" (Priscilla Lane)
  4. "Says Who, Says You, Says I" (Mabel Todd)[6]
  5. "Wait Till It Happens to You" (Betty Field) (dubbed by Trudy Erwin)


Blues in the Night was met with a mixed critical reception upon its release. Hollywood columnist Fred Othman named it "the worst musical of the year".[7] Donald Kirkley of The Baltimore Sun called it "a bizarre...screen oddity"[8] while Los Angeles Times film critic Philip K. Scheuer praised Richard Whorf's performance.[9] It was not financially successful as its East Coast release took place shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The film has since achieved a small cult following, including The Simpsons creator Matt Groening.[10][11][12]

The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:


  1. Chinen Biesen, Sheri (2014). Music in the Shadows: Noir Musical Films. Wisconsin: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 173. ISBN 1421408384.
  2. 1 2 Gabbard, Krin (1996). Jammin' at the margins: jazz and the American cinema. University of Chicago Press. pp. 111–12. ISBN 0-226-27789-5.
  3. Kazan, Elia (2010). Kazan on Directing. Random House. pp. 15–16. ISBN 0-307-27704-6.
  4. The American Film Institute catalog of motion pictures produced in the United States. 1. University of California Press. 1971. p. 267. ISBN 0-520-21521-4.
  5. Kael, Pauline (1991). 5001 nights at the movies. Macmillan. p. 88. ISBN 0-8050-1367-9.
  6. Hemming, Roy (1999). The Melody Lingers on: The Great Songwriters and Their Movie Musicals. Newmarket Press. p. 10. ISBN 1-55704-380-9.
  7. Frederick C. Othman (December 26, 1941). "Movie Critic Invites Dirk in Back as He Selects Ten Worst Film Plays for 1941". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved March 3, 2011.
  8. Donald Kirkley (December 22, 1941). "Blues In Night". The Baltimore Sun. p. 8.
  9. Philip K. Scheuer (November 14, 1941). "'Blues in the Night' Tuneful Melodrama". Los Angeles Times. p. 17.
  10. Bubbeo, Daniel (2002). The women of Warner Brothers. McFarland. p. 136. ISBN 0-7864-1137-6.
  11. Kevin McDonough (November 1, 2007). "Celebs get to pick the films". The York Dispatch.
  12. Robert Osborne, Matt Groening (November 14, 2007). Turner Classic Movies Guest Host Night - Blues in the Night (Television production). Turner Classic Movies.
  13. "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-07-30.

External links

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