Musical Monday: Ballad in Blue (1965)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Ballad in Blue (1965) – Musical #733


Alsa Productions, distributed by 20th Century Fox

Paul Henreid

Themselves: Ray Charles, The Raelettes
Actors: Tom Bell, Mary Peach, Dawn Addams, Piers Bishop, Betty McDowall, Joe Adams, Anne Padwick, Monika Henreid,

While Ray Charles (himself) is performing at a school for a school for blind children, he meets and befriends David (Bishop). David’s mother Peggy (Peach) is overprotective of her son, which makes her constantly at odds with her boyfriend Steve (Bell), who thinks the child should have more independence. Ray tries to show Peggy that David can live successfully without his sight, but also recommends a surgeon who may be able to help them. Ray also offers a job to Steve as a music arranger and composer. Steve wants Peggy and David to travel with them, but Peggy is reluctant to uproot David.

• While the film was released in the UK in Feb. 1965, it wasn’t released in the united States until Sept. 1966 under the title “Blues for Lovers.” The working title in the U.S. was “Light Out of Darkness.”
• Ray Charles’s second film, but his first starring film role.
• Filmed in London, Ireland and Paris.

ballad in blue4

• The opening credits with Ray Charles and His Orchestra performing, with excellent lighting.
Ray Charles saying “Sing it, children.”
• Ray Charles and the little boy at the carnival.

Notable Songs:
• “What’d I Say” performed by Ray Charles
• “Hit the Road Jack” performed by Ray Charles and children
• “That Lucky Old Sun” performed by Ray Charles
• “Unchain My Heart” performed by Ray Charles
• “I Got a Woman” performed by Ray Charles
• “Careless Love” performed by Ray Charles
• “Busted” performed by Ray Charles
• “Light Out of Darkness” performed by Ray Charles

ballad blue

My review:
This week’s Musical Monday feels unique and special, because of interesting elements. It’s one of actor Paul Henreid’s last directorial feature film projects and a rare starring role for Ray Charles — though he plays himself.

“Ballad in Blue” may not be your typical musical, but with 11 songs performed by Charles, it felt appropriate to highlight this film for its music.

The film follows Ray Charles, playing himself. While he’s performing in London, he visits a school for blind children where he sings with the children and befriends a child, David (Bishop). David’s mother Peggy is overprotective, which puts her at odds with her boyfriend Steve, who disagrees with her caregiving. Ray Charles tries to show that David can be self-sufficient. Amidst the plot, there are several on-stage performances by Charles, his band and the Raelettes.

ballad in blue5Some have noted that the plot and film are a bit odd. The story is a little odd, but it’s interesting and feels unique. Ray Charles is honestly quite good.

“It’s fun for me because I didn’t have to act,” Charles said in an interview during the filming. “All I have to do is be myself. I’ve found it isn’t all that hard to be myself. If I had to act I would turn it down completely.”

The scenes with Ray Charles and young Piers Bishop are sweet, and I particularly liked when they were at the carnival together. I also enjoyed how the film opened with Charles singing “Hit the Road, Jack” in a call and response with the students.

Mary Peach and Tom Bell are also fine in the film, though Charles and Bishop are the real stars. Dawn Addams also shows up in what feels like a rather random role of a wealthy ex-girlfriend of Bell.

The story is set to excellent cinematography by Robert Huke under the direction of Paul Henreid. The camera work and lighting are really one of the main highlights of the film. The opening credits are set against the backdrop of Charles singing. Other interesting touches include Ray Charles shaving in his bathroom, but in the dark.

“Ballad in Blue” was filmed on a tight budget. Charles later said, “it could have been much hipper if the folk making it hadn’t run out of money,” according to Charles’s biographer. Despite this, it still looks great.

The film ends with “What’d I Say,” which feels appropriate and exciting.

“Ballad in Blue” is an interesting curio that I recommend if you can catch it — especially if you are a fan of Ray Charles.

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