Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)

95 mins | Melodrama | 27 August 1955

Director:

Jack Webb

Producer:

Jack Webb

Cinematographer:

Harold Rosson

Editor:

Robert M. Leeds

Production Designer:

Harper Goff

Production Company:

Mark VII, Ltd.
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HISTORY

A prologue set in 1915 on a New Orleans bayou overlooking the Mississippi River depicts the funeral of an African-American cornet player. After the interment, the mourners sing a spiritual, then a brass band playing ragtime music leads the mourners away. The dead man’s cornet, which had been lying on top of the coffin during the service, falls from the hearse. The next scene, set four years later aboard a railroad car near Jersey City, NJ, shows a man winning the cornet in a crap game. The Warner Bros.’ logo appears, after which Jack Webb portraying “Pete Kelly” exits the railroad car with the cornet he has won. The opening credits then commence, beginning with: “Jack Webb as Pete Kelly, in the Screen Play by Richard L. Breen, Pete Kelly’s Blues .” After the last credit in the opening sequence, voice-over narration by Webb begins: “If you’re looking for a new way to grow old, this is the place to come: 17 Cherry Street, Kansas City….” Webb’s voice-over continues intermittently throughout the film.
       Webb, whose first wife was actress and nightclub blues singer Julie London, had a lifelong interest in jazz. Like his previous film, Dragnet (See Entry), Pete Kelly’s Blues ’s first incarnation was a radio series which aired for six months in 1951. Although production charts indicate that the shooting schedule of Pete Kelly’s Blues occurred between late Mar and mid-May 1955, a two page ad in a late Feb 1955 edition of HR reported that the film was “now shooting in New Orleans.” The ad featured a ... More Less

A prologue set in 1915 on a New Orleans bayou overlooking the Mississippi River depicts the funeral of an African-American cornet player. After the interment, the mourners sing a spiritual, then a brass band playing ragtime music leads the mourners away. The dead man’s cornet, which had been lying on top of the coffin during the service, falls from the hearse. The next scene, set four years later aboard a railroad car near Jersey City, NJ, shows a man winning the cornet in a crap game. The Warner Bros.’ logo appears, after which Jack Webb portraying “Pete Kelly” exits the railroad car with the cornet he has won. The opening credits then commence, beginning with: “Jack Webb as Pete Kelly, in the Screen Play by Richard L. Breen, Pete Kelly’s Blues .” After the last credit in the opening sequence, voice-over narration by Webb begins: “If you’re looking for a new way to grow old, this is the place to come: 17 Cherry Street, Kansas City….” Webb’s voice-over continues intermittently throughout the film.
       Webb, whose first wife was actress and nightclub blues singer Julie London, had a lifelong interest in jazz. Like his previous film, Dragnet (See Entry), Pete Kelly’s Blues ’s first incarnation was a radio series which aired for six months in 1951. Although production charts indicate that the shooting schedule of Pete Kelly’s Blues occurred between late Mar and mid-May 1955, a two page ad in a late Feb 1955 edition of HR reported that the film was “now shooting in New Orleans.” The ad featured a punch-out recording containing a message from Webb and a 78 rpm recording of a song from the film. According to a Feb 1955 HR news item, production of Webb’s popular Dragnet television series was halted during the production of Pete Kelly's Blues .
       Trombonist Elmer Schneider, who appeared on film in the band, was credited onscreen as “Moe” Schneider. Although the appearance of the following actors in the film has not been confirmed, HR news items add Arlene Harris, Lomax Study, Robert Lorraine and Dinah Ace to the cast. Other HR news items add Eddie Sheehan as a Kansas City hoodlum and Wally Ruth as a saxophonist. According to a May 1955 HR news item, the following dancers, who were supervised and directed by Lillian Culver, appeared in the roadhouse party scene: Cynthia Blaire, Linda Coleman, Ingrid Dittmar, Irish Krasnow, Jewel Diehl, Shirley Falls, Joan Larkin, Winona Smith, June Valentine and Shirley Wilson. Another May 1955 HR news item reported that 200 extras were hired to dance popular dances of the “Roaring Twenties” era, the Charleston and the Black Bottom, in the dance hall scene. According to opening credits, the bayou sequence at the beginning of the film, which featured cornet player Buckner and the Choir of the Israelite Spiritual Church of New Orleans, was shot on location at The Fleming Plantation in LaFitte, LA.
       Peggy Lee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the picture, but lost to Jo Van Fleet in East of Eden (see above). Although opening credits list only two songs performed in the film, according to a Mar 1955 HR news item, a total of thirty-eight musical numbers were at least partially featured in the film. The “Big Seven” musicians also played twelve tunes from the film, each introduced by Webb, on the RCA Victor label. The musicians portraying “Pete Kelly’s Big Seven,” several of whom appeared in Dragnet , recorded songs from the film with Ray Heindorf and the Warner Bros. orchestra on the Columbia Record label. Ella Fitzgerald and Peggy Lee, who appeared in the film as “Maggie Jackson” and “Rose Hopkins,” respectively, recorded an LP of songs from the film on the Decca label. As early as Apr 1955, a HR news item reported that Webb planned a thirty-day tour in conjunction with the opening of the film to determine whether there was interest in creating a spin-off television series. From Apr through Sep 1959 a Pete Kelly’s Blues television show aired on the NBC network, starring William Reynolds as the title character. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Mar 55
p. 118.
Box Office
6 Aug 1955.
---
Cue
20 Aug 1955.
---
Daily Variety
28 Jul 55
p. 3.
Film Daily
28 Jul 55
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
11 Aug 1955.
---
Hollywood Citizen-News
16 Aug 1955.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Aug 1954
p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Feb 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1955
p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Feb 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 1955
pp. 9-10.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Mar 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Mar 1955
p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Mar 1955
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
1 Apr 1955
p. 47.
Hollywood Reporter
8 Apr 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Apr 1955
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Apr 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
21 Apr 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
22 Apr 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
25 Apr 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
27 Apr 1955
p. 19.
Hollywood Reporter
4 May 1955
p. 8, 11.
Hollywood Reporter
13 May 1955
p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter
17 May 1955
p. 3, 7.
Hollywood Reporter
19 May 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
25 May 1955
p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter
28 Jul 55
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Jul 1955
p. 1.
Life
29 Aug 1955.
---
Los Angeles Examiner
29 May 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
24 Apr 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
31 Jul 1955.
---
Los Angeles Times
11 Aug 1955.
---
Mirror-News
11 Aug 1955.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
6 Aug 55
p. 545.
New York Times
19 Aug 55
p. 10.
New Yorker
27 Aug 1955.
---
Newsweek
5 Sep 1955.
---
Saturday Review
27 Aug 1955.
---
Variety
3 Aug 55
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
Prod
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Chief set elec
ART DIRECTORS
Prod des
Courtesy Walt Disney Productions
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Cost des
MUSIC
Arr for Pete Kelly's Big Seven
Mus tech in charge of synchronization
MAKEUP
Makeup supv
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Scr supv
Asst to Jack Webb and casting aide
Treasurer, Mark VII
Loc chief
Loc auditor
STAND INS
Stunts
SOURCES
LITERARY
MUSIC
"Smiles," music by Lee G. Roberts, and other tunes arranged by Matty Matlock
"Breezin' Along With the Breeze," music by Haven Gillespie, Seymour Simons and Richard A. Whiting
"Oh, Didn't He Ramble," music by Hattie Bolton.
SONGS
"Pete Kelly's Blues," music by Ray Heindorf, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"He Needs Me" and "Sing a Rainbow," music and lyrics by Arthur Hamilton
"Bye Bye Blackbird," music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Mort Dixon
+
SONGS
"Pete Kelly's Blues," music by Ray Heindorf, lyrics by Sammy Cahn
"He Needs Me" and "Sing a Rainbow," music and lyrics by Arthur Hamilton
"Bye Bye Blackbird," music by Ray Henderson, lyrics by Mort Dixon
"Hard-Hearted Hannah," music and lyrics by Jack Yellen, Milton Ager, Bob Bigelow and Charles Bates
"Sugar," music and lyrics by Edna Alexander, Maceo Pinkard and Sidney D. Mitchell
"I'm Gonna Meet My Sweetie Now," music by Jesse Greer, lyrics by Benny Davis
"Somebody Loves Me," music by George Gershwin, lyrics by B. G. DeSylva and Ballard MacDonald
"After I Say I'm Sorry," music by Walter Donaldson, lyrics by Abe Lyman
"I Never Knew," music by Ted Fiorito, lyrics by Gus Kahn
"Just a Closer Walk with Thee," traditional.
+
DETAILS
Release Date:
27 August 1955
Premiere Information:
World premiere in San Antonio: 27 July 1955
New York opening: week of 19 August 1955
Production Date:
late March--mid May 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Mark VII, Ltd.
Copyright Date:
27 August 1955
Copyright Number:
LP7011
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
WarnerColor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Lenses/Prints
Print by Technicolor
Duration(in mins):
95
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17527
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In 1927, cornet player Pete Kelly is the leader of "Pete Kelly and his Big Seven Band” which performs nightly at a seedy Kansas City, Missouri speakeasy. Rudy, the parsimonious manager who serves watered-down whiskey, treats the musicians well and the jazzmen are reasonably content with their lot, until racketeer Fran McCarg decides to take over the local bands and extort them for twenty-five percent of their earnings. Pete discusses McCarg’s demands with his band, who decide as a group to refuse to cooperate with the mobster. Joey Firestone, the band’s young drummer, who has never experienced the brutality of men like McCarg, is especially vocal in his indignation. Pete’s closest friend, clarinetist and band member Al Gannaway, predicts that McCarg will kill one of them. Before Pete can talk to McCarg, Rudy sends the band to play at a private party held by flapper Ivy Conrad, who is the daughter of a prominent family. Infatuated with Pete, the fashionable Ivy throws herself at him, but he is not impressed by her forced conviviality. Although Pete is distracted by thoughts of McCarg, he agrees to dance with her, but when she grabs his horn to get his attention, he lets her fall into the swimming pool. Meanwhile, McCarg phones the mansion to talk to Pete, but a drunken Joey takes the call and rashly tells him off. Later, while driving home, the band is run off the road by McCarg’s men and Joey is thrown through the windshield. He quickly recovers, but Pete and Al realize that McCarg will continue to harass them until they give in. Tired of mobster ... +


In 1927, cornet player Pete Kelly is the leader of "Pete Kelly and his Big Seven Band” which performs nightly at a seedy Kansas City, Missouri speakeasy. Rudy, the parsimonious manager who serves watered-down whiskey, treats the musicians well and the jazzmen are reasonably content with their lot, until racketeer Fran McCarg decides to take over the local bands and extort them for twenty-five percent of their earnings. Pete discusses McCarg’s demands with his band, who decide as a group to refuse to cooperate with the mobster. Joey Firestone, the band’s young drummer, who has never experienced the brutality of men like McCarg, is especially vocal in his indignation. Pete’s closest friend, clarinetist and band member Al Gannaway, predicts that McCarg will kill one of them. Before Pete can talk to McCarg, Rudy sends the band to play at a private party held by flapper Ivy Conrad, who is the daughter of a prominent family. Infatuated with Pete, the fashionable Ivy throws herself at him, but he is not impressed by her forced conviviality. Although Pete is distracted by thoughts of McCarg, he agrees to dance with her, but when she grabs his horn to get his attention, he lets her fall into the swimming pool. Meanwhile, McCarg phones the mansion to talk to Pete, but a drunken Joey takes the call and rashly tells him off. Later, while driving home, the band is run off the road by McCarg’s men and Joey is thrown through the windshield. He quickly recovers, but Pete and Al realize that McCarg will continue to harass them until they give in. Tired of mobster politics, Al soon leaves the band. When Pete learns that Joey has had a fight with Guy Bettenhauser, one of McCarg’s men, Pete tries to try to reach McCarg in time to smooth over the incident. McCarg bursts into the speakeasy around two in the morning and Pete takes the hotheaded Joey out the back exit, but a battery of gunshots from a car at the alley entrance strikes Joey dead. McCarg claims to be innocent and names Bettenhauser as the killer. Later, in the room he shares with a pet bird, Pete finds Ivy sleeping in his bed. He tries to send her home, but she refuses and he soon succumbs to her amorous agenda. In response to McCarg’s demands, band leaders meet secretly at a roadhouse to discuss pooling their money to buy protection. Reminding them of previous failed attempts to dissuade racketeers, Pete announces that he plans to pay McCarg. After being warned by singer Maggie Jackson that a policeman is looking for him, Pete is waylaid by detective George Tenell. The tough cop wants Pete’s help in building a case against McCarg, but Pete refuses. Back at the speakeasy, where the band is breaking in Joey and Al's replacements, Pete tells McCarg they “have a deal” and McCarg introduces singer Rose Hopkins, whom he wants to feature in Pete's act. Despite the difference between the band’s brisk musical style and Rose’s slow, bluesy singing, McCarg forces them to perform together. McCarg wants to make her a star, but the aging Rose has lost her ambition and drinks heavily whenever McCarg is not around. At a ballroom owned by McCarg in which the band has been ordered to play, Ivy proposes to Pete, and overcomes his doubts about a marriage between a spoiled rich girl and a “tramp musician.” One night, when the drunken Rose is ignored by a rowdy crowd, she breaks down in the middle of the song. McCarg beats her up, as his thugs prevent Pete from rescuing her. Later that week, Pete encounters Al, who is touring with a big band and, after accusing Pete of selling out, demands that Pete return a cornet mouthpiece of sentimental value that Al gave Pete long ago. Later that night, however, they make amends and Al decides to stay in town. After deciding to assist Tenell, Pete learns that Rose suffered head injuries and has been admitted to a state asylum. In a confrontation with McCarg, Pete accuses the racketeer of Joey’s murder and tries to quit, but when McCarg makes death threats, Pete backs off. Without explaining his reasons, Pete postpones his marriage to Ivy, who then breaks up with him. Because he and Tenell think they can get to McCarg through Bettenhauser, who is missing, Pete visits Rose at the asylum. Although she is functioning at the level of a five-year-old, she is able to tell him that Bettenhauser is hiding out in Coffeeville, Kansas. Tenell wires the Coffeeville police, and as they wait for a response, Bettenhauser has Maggie summon Pete to the roadhouse. There, Bettenhauser tells Pete that McCarg ordered Joey’s death. For $1,200, the sum he needs to leave town, Bettenhauser offers to provide documents and cancelled checks that will prove McCarg's guilt. After Pete agrees to the deal, Bettenhauser tells him the documents are stored in the ballroom office, which is closed that night. When Al hears that Pete is preparing to break into the ballroom, he offers to help, prompting Pete to knock him out to keep him out of harm’s way. On his way to the ballroom, Ivy stops him and asks to make up, but in his haste, Pete rebuffs her. She follows him to the ballroom, turns on the player piano and drunkenly demands to dance. While Pete tries to appease her, McCarg, Bettenhauser and another thug enter and surround them. Pete and Ivy take cover behind tables as a shoot-out commences. When Bettenhauser climbs to the scaffolding above the mirror ball, Pete shoots him, sending him crashing to the floor. As the remaining henchman takes aim, Pete throws a chair, causing him to misfire and kill McCarg. The thug, claiming that he has “nothing to gain” by continuing the fight, leaves the ballroom without harming Pete and Ivy. Later, Ivy and Pete are married, and Pete and the Big Seven are playing together again at Rudy’s. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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