St. Louis Blues

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can’t stay away from the music of the streets and workers. After he writes a theme song for a local politician, Gogo, a speakeasy singer, convinces Will to be her accompanist. Will is estranged from his father for many years while he writes and publishes many blues songs. At last the family is reunited when Gogo brings them to New York to see Will’s music played by a symphony orchestra.

What people are saying:

“Black casted movies are a rarity in and of themselves, but one with such mega stars of old was so very uplifting! The movie was made by blacks for blacks and had a plot, story-line and theme that blacks can indeed relate to with pride dignity and a sense of self-esteem. The movie is one that you can watch over and over again and get something more out of it each and every time. It deals with human weaknesses and pitfalls such as are common to man; but finishes on a high note of strength and victory because of faith in and love for God and perseverance. ”

“I found the father-son estrangement contrived along conventional religion vs the devil lines, but moving nonetheless. I had forgotten what a good piano player Nat Cole was. Ertha Kitt is the heart of the film. She acts as she sings — biting, precise, and all-knowing. I think the great Pearl Bailey is wasted here — wonderful as the Aunt, but we only hear her singing a snippet of the title song. Cab Calloway was also much more talented than permitted to be here. I saw him as “Sportin’ Live” in the post-WW II revival of “Porgy and Bess.” We get a too brief taste of the great clarinet player, Barney Bigard, and an anachronistic appearance by Ella Fitzgerald singing “Beale St. Blues.” The film provides a good definition of the blues as an authentic American musical and poetic form. This one, almost 50 years old now, has aged well. It makes one regret that more African-American based and performed films were not made when these great stars were available.”

“In the hands of a bolder director, this could be a better-remembered film. It was Allen Reisner’s second film, and he’d only do one more in a career that was dominated by television work. There are a few nicely expressive shots (W.C. and his father regarding each other through the lattice of the organ’s music stand) but the material often feels like it could soar higher. And it feels like someone should have tried to coax a better performance out of Cole. Still, the movie is worth checking out, especially for the music and for Eartha Kitt”

“After several years of only seeing the last hour of this movie, I finally watched the whole thing on Netflix Streaming. Nat King Cole plays the famous composer W.C. Handy and he’s not bad. I especially was touched when his character’s blindness caused him to bump into things. And non-musicians Juano Hernandez as his father Reverend Charles Handy and Ruby Dee as girlfriend Elizabeth, respectively, certainly hold their own when sharing scenes with singers Pearl Bailey and Eartha Kitt. Cab Calloway also effectively conveys his role as a hustling businessman though unlike the others, he doesn’t do any singing which is too bad. The actual story is probably more colorful than what was presented here but it wasn’t bad for what it was. And how enjoyable to see not only Ms. Bailey and Kitt do their thing but also Ella Fitzgerald and Mahalia Jackson, too! And of course, Nat King Cole looks cool every time he’s at the piano warbling Handy’s tunes. It was also interesting to see Billy Preston as a young boy at the beginning as the child Handy and such musicians like Barney Bigard, Teddy Buckner, George “Red” Callender, Lee Young, and George Washington sitting in the band. Really, all I’ll say now is St. Louis Blues is worth seeing for the number of musical icons in one film that are presented here. ”

“I really enjoyed this movie. And it was really nice seeing my all-time favorite singer, Mahalia Jackson, use her acting skills. Also, Pearl Bailey was very funny in this film- the protective aunt, as I would call her. Eartha Kitt was great and very believable- she really played the part! Nat “King” Cole, to me, still seemed a little shy on camera, but I was told that he was a shy individual. Young Billy Preston did very well with his acting and he “tore up” that organ- as he is already known for doing. There just aren’t any words that I can use to describe my feelings for this video, except for it’s awesome, great, and fantastic!”

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