Film review – Blind Date (Blake Edwards, 1987)

What do you get if you cross the director of Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Pink Panther, one of the sexiest women of a generation, the film debut of one of the most bankable actors of all time and a soundtrack by one of the most celebrated film composers in film history?

A steaming pile of cinematic turd, that’s what.

It’s a rare occurrence to find a film with a run time of just 95 minutes that somehow feels like it drags on. But Blake Edwards has managed it with ‘Blind Date’, a turgid effort if ever you’ve seen one.

Bruce Willis does his best as an ambitious and hardworking career man named Walter Davis. Walter must attend an important dinner with his colleagues, boss and the Managing Director of an important business partner from Japan. However, Mr Yakamoto has very traditional values and Walter is advised to take a date to the meal. In desperation, he calls up his friend Ted (Phil Hartman), who recommends he takes his wife’s cousin Nadia, played by the usually irresistible Kim Basinger.

It’s unusual that a rom-com tries to put a shocking twist or genre-challenging break to the norm. Blind Date doesn’t even attempt to change this. The humour derives from the fact that Nadia can’t take her drink and Walter is advised not to let her have even a sip of alcohol. Of course, Walter forgets this and Nadia instantly becomes wild, causing absolute mayhem at the dinner and leading to Walter losing his job.

By the end of the night they are being pursued by Nadia’s maniacal ex-boyfriend and Walter ends up in prison. It feels like a spoiler but the entire plot is played out in the tag line on many of the posters. Plus it is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year so it’s hardly new news.

One of the most remarkable choices is to recolour Basinger’s hair brown and cover up her eyes with a dreadful fringe. This is one of the pin-ups of the 1980s, known for her beautiful blonde hair and striking blue eyes. Here, she loses one and has the other covered up, with no obvious reason for either choice.

Bruce Willis, here billed second to Basinger, is clearly still finding his feet as he made the transition from American sitcom Moonlighters – and that dreadful pop career – to Hollywood A-lister. It’s hard to imagine that by the time this film was released he was already filming Die Hard. Noticeably, Fox Plaza, tbe building that starred as the Nakatomi Towers in that film, can be seen half-built in the background of a scene at Walter’s office.

Remarkably, Madonna was originally cast to star as Nadia in the film. She turned it down because director Blake Edwards refused to accommodate her wish to cast Sean Penn, at the time Madonna’s husband, as Walter. Of the incident, she said, “I was supposed to have approval of… the leading man, but they didn’t tell me they’d already hired Bruce Willis.” In my opinion, this film would have been even worse had the pair been involved, and viewers need only seek out 1986’s ‘Shanghai Surprise’ for evidence of exactly how bad it could have been.

Even Henry Mancini’s score feels bland and half-hearted, which is disappointing from the man who brought us ‘The Pink Panther Theme’ and ‘Moon River’. I do note that a better film could have made me see the score differently.

Fans of The Simpsons will take great pleasure in hearing Phil Hartman produce his best Troy McClure voice when he’s describing Nadia over the phone to Walter. It’s unmistakable and one of the few positives that helped me get through the ordeal.

It’s a film that has been largely forgotten by everyone who saw it and everyone involved with the film. Forgetting it is something I’ll be trying to do too, as quickly as

Too Late Blues (John Cassavetes, 1961)

I’m growing tired of the Masters of Cinema releases. Time after time they release excellent transfers of classic forgotten cinema, more often than not films I’ve never heard of before, put a lovely package together and release it for about the same price as going to the cinema. It’s sickening. Unfair almost.

Elaborating on my first point – my wife and wallet are growing sick of the Masters of Cinema releases. I personally can’t get enough of them.

Too Late Blues has largely been considered a failure, not least by director John Cassavetes. His major studio debut, released following the hugely successful Shadows in 1959, the film is infamous for its compromises, which cover everything from the music to the script and even the main cast. Watching it now it is hard to see what the controversy is about.

I was particularly taken aback by Bobby Darin’s performance. I’m of a generation that knows him almost exclusively for his huge signature tune “Beyond The Sea”, and less so for “Splish Splash”, which is now unfortunately associated with the “falling in the garden pool” segments on You’ve Been Framed.

Bobby Darin finally takes time to play his piano between baths

Bobby Darin as Ghost in Too Late Blues

Playing Ghost, the leader of a struggling jazz band, Darin toys with the frailty of a damaged ego whilst putting on a front for his love interest and fellow aspiring musician Jess (played by Stella Stevens). He plays it with charm and integrity and it’s a fantastic performance in one of his early film roles.

Cassavetes ensures his stamp is made on the film by carefully throwing in one-liners that subtly defend his fear he’d be viewed as selling out by fans of his debut. At one point, a line is delivered that points to the “mixin’ up of the races” as one of the sins of jazz musicians. The fact this is delivered by an idiotic ruffian is a clear indicator that Cassavetes did not agree with the statement and was using the line as a critique of the copious Hollywood films about the thriving mixture of inspirations and culture that was the 1950s jazz scene, but which all centred on exclusively white musicians (Young Man With A Horn and Pete Kelly’s Blues are good examples of this). Indeed, the very subject matter of Too Late Blues is a man struggling with artistic integrity and what he sees as selling out. It’s an intelligent compromise and the fact it made it past the studios sort of proves his point.

Stealing the show above everyone else though is Everett Chambers, who plays the artists’ agent Benny Flowers. Reminiscent of Joe Pesci at his most evil, he perfectly plays a man riddled with jealousy. His efforts to sabotage his acts’ careers in order to keep them in his control are trumped only by the efforts he puts into ensure Ghost and Jess never become a couple, so desperate he is to end up with the girl himself. This reaches breaking point in a highly memorable bar-room brawl, which he orchestrates to perfection whilst seemingly never getting involved. It is a shame that this would prove to be one of the few roles that Chambers completed before transferring to a very successful career in television production, as he shows every pointer of being an excellent actor.

The promise shown in the opening act of the film are never really delivered on, and this is probably because of pressures from the studio upon seeing the progress as it was made. That said. it is a worthy addition to the continually excellent Masters of Cinema collection and well worth the monetary and emotional investment.

Too Late Blues is out now in the UK on Blu-ray and DVD dual format release, courtesy of the Masters of Cinema collection.