My post about Diahann Carroll’s enchanting cameo in the 1961 film, Goodbye Again (HERE), got me thinking about that other black and white film shot in Paris, that she co-starred in that same year – Paris Blues.
Directed by Martin Ritt, a great American director who I still think is terribly underrated (Hud, The Molly Maguires, Norma Rae, Sounder), the film is admittedly rather thin, plot-wise. More of a souffle than a full course meal.
But it’s made with real style, and has a wonderful vibrant feel to it, likely in large credit to a great score by Duke Ellington. And besides, what city in the world looks more beautiful in black and white than Paris?
The film revolves around two struggling jazz musicians, played by Sidney Poitier and Paul Newman, and their entangled romances with two visiting tourists, played by Newman’s real life wife Joanne Woodward and Diahann Carroll.
The story involving Newman and Woodard is admittedly not all that interesting; its the storyline involving Poitier and Carroll that I found more intriguing.
In the film, Poitier plays a sax player who’s been living in Paris for the previous five years, fleeing the racism he encountered in the States (not-so uncommon during those days for black artists). Meanwhile, Carroll is a young teacher Poitier meets, who, of course, is immediately smitten with him. But being more socially conscious, she wants Poitier to return to the states to participate in the the ongoing civil rights fight, instead of what she sees as him taking the easy way out, escaping the struggle at home to live a more carefree life abroad, in Paris.
Their scenes together are romantic and charming, and there’s a genuine chemistry and subtle sensuality between them. That shouldn’t be surprising, considering that the film was made when both the married Poitier and Carroll were almost two years into an intense private affair, which lasted another seven, before ending disastrously in bitterness, as well as both their marriages. Although they made up years later, and have remained close friends ever since.
My one problem with the film is that I wished there were more scenes of them (Poitier and Carroll) together, instead of the rather dull ones with Newman and Woodard. Even better, I’d have preferred to see a film about the Poitier/Carroll characters alone.
Still it’s rare to see a film that shows off a serious romance between two mature, adult, intelligent black people, and sadly, it’s still rare even today, over 50 years later, which speaks to the state of things where blacks in Hollywood studio movies are concerned.
Nijla’s February piece – Lupita, Michael, and the Future of Black Romance in Film – touches on this.
Paris Blues is not a great classic film in any way, but it sure is refreshing to see to a pair of adult black people in love in a movie.
Sadly it’s not streaming on Netflix, but it’s currently available on Blu-ray & DVD. Pick up a copy HERE.
Here’s a scene: