Pete Kelly's Blues is arguably the most stylish of director/star Jack Webb's theatrical features. Beginning with a brilliantly evocative pre-credits prologue, wherein we see how WWI vet Pete Kelly (Webb) came into possession of his precious trumpet, the film traces Kelly to his 1927 gig at a Kansas City speakeasy. Most of the film concerns Kelly's efforts to keep his "Big Seven" aggregation together, his off-and-on romance with socialite Ivy Conrad (Janet Leigh), and his frequent confrontations with mob boss Fran McCarg (Edmond O'Brien). The Richard L. Breen screenplay is full of the deliciously hyperbolic allusions, similes, and metaphors that characterized Webb's radio version of Pete Kelly's Blues, while the musical score is graced by the jazz artistry of such greats as Ella Fitzgerald and Teddy Buckner. Peggy Lee, cast as a mob mistress who is rendered an imbecile after falling down a flight of stars, deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination for her performance. Likewise superb is Andy Devine, cast against type as a corrupt, brutal Kansas City detective, and Lee Marvin as Kelly's best pal. Disney art director Harper Goff, who'd been performing miracles on Webb's TV series Dragnet, brilliantly sustains the smoky zeitgeist of the Prohibition era. Pete Kelly's Blues was later spun off into a TV series starring William Reynolds as Kelly.
by Hal Erickson synopsis
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