All Night Long (1962)

All Night Long (1962)


Shakespeare has been retold, re-adapted, modernized; he has been edited for length and subject, retold to fit high school love triangles, Miami street gangs, and even animated lions. Ubiquitous as Shakespeare is, it should come as no surprise that someone along the line decided to retell Othello as a (then) modern tale of love and race among drunk and disorderly jazz musicians in 1960s London.

Basil Dearden’s All Night Long takes the plot of Othello and adds some needed jazz scoring. Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) is the leader of a major jazz ensemble that includes his passionate sax player Cass (Keith Mitchell) and brilliant drummer Johnny Cousins (Patrick McGoohan). Rex is married to Delia (Marti Stevens), a beautiful blonde chanteuse who quit her night job to be his wife. On the eve of their one-year wedding anniversary, music promoter Rod Hamilton (Richard Attenborough) throws the happy couple a big party, complete with fellow jazz musicians Dave Brubeck, Johnny Dankworth, and Keith Christie to keep the music and spirits flowing. Things are not well in paradise, however: Johnny Cousins wants a band of his own, with Delia at the head. To this end, he employs any nefarious means necessary to get Delia away from Rex and back in the spotlight.


There are two real stars in All Night Long, and the first is the music. The likes of Brubeck and Dankworth lend some serious musical talent to the proceedings, punctuating the backstage manipulations, petty jealousies, and passionate love affairs with piano solos and drum kicks. The non-musical lead actors do a credible job of miming their instruments, but give wide range to the real jazz performers to do what they do best. Even if the film was unsuccessful in other ways, the sheer virtuosity of the jazz would be enough to make me watch it all again.

The other star is Patrick McGoohan. His Johnny Cousins is the perfect Iago: a blend of malevolence and desperation, a pathetic sociopath incapable of loving anyone, including himself. Johnny makes his entrance with a slew of drum cases bearing his name, bruiting both his self-involvement and his desperation to be recognized as someone important. His manipulation of Delia, Rex, and just about everyone else at the party starts out as calculated and self-serving, but it soon becomes apparent that, like Iago, Johnny does what he does out of pure spite. McGoohan has never been one of my favorite actors, but his intensity is perfect for the part. (As, indeed, are his formidable drumming skills. It’s difficult to mime drumming chops, and as far as I could tell McGoohan was doing his own work).

One of the more interesting elements of All Night Long is the racial aspect – or rather, the lack thereof. Despite the setting of London in the early 1960s, the marriage of Rex and Delia does not seem to raise any eyebrows. Other musicians are critical of Rex for making his wife quit working (though he constantly reiterates that she made the choice herself), but no one remarks on the social difficulties of a marriage between a black man and a white woman. Johnny’s malevolence has no hint of racial motivation, as it does to some degree in Othello – gone are Iago’s racial epithets, replaced by Johnny’s painful inability to love. We should note that Dearden was also the man behind films like Sapphire (about a racially motivated murder in 1960s London) and Victim, both unflinching in their examination of British intolerance. Yet in All Night Long, there is much being said in no one saying anything.

All Night Long has its failings, however. The trope of marijuana causing people to behave violently and erratically was a recognizable one in the 1960s, but is pretty laughable in 2015. The jazz lingo employed by our (predominantly British) musicians falls harshly on contemporary ears, making some lines impossible to listen to without cracking a smile. Finally, there is the confusion of British actors playing Americans, with McGoohan especially having difficulty maintaining a clear-cut accent. While far from a deal-breaker, some elements of All Night Long have dated rather badly, making the film more a product of its period than a universal classic.

Basil Dearden is one of finest and least recognized directors coming out of Britain in the 1960s. Here he makes excellent use of an excellent cast, highlighting some of his favorite social issues without shining a spotlight too fully on them. Patrick McGoohan in particular gives a fascinating performance, as Johnny’s cruelty runs hand in hand with his pathetic psychology. Othello was never as swinging as this.

Victim (1961)


Basil Dearden’s Victim, from 1961, was one of the first British-made films to deal openly and explicitly with (male) homosexuality, and the serious prejudices faced by gay men in the United Kingdom. Couched as a potboiler mystery of sorts, Victim follows successful barrister Melville Farr (Dirk Bogarde), a closeted homosexual who becomes involved with the police following the suicide of a young man with whom he had a romantic (but asexual) relationship.  The source of “Boy” Barratt’s suicide are several photographs of him and Farr sent to him by a blackmailer who demands payment in exchange for the photographs. Discovering that a number of gay men have received similar demands, Farr decides that he’s going to discover who the blackmailer is. The film is complicated by Britain’s anti-homosexuality law, which criminalized homosexual acts between men. This meant that any man found “guilty” of homosexuality could be sent to prison. The blackmailer of the film has, in effect, the law on his or her side.

In Farr’s journey to discover the blackmailer, he comes into contact with a spread of the social classes, all of them containing men forced to live double lives. The film exposes the complicated feelings of both men and women about a taboo subject. Farr is closeted and married, his wife (Sylvia Syms) aware of his homosexuality but hurt when she discovers that he fell in love with Barratt. Her reaction is entirely natural, her love for her husband very real; she seems more betrayed by the fact that he desired someone else than by the fact that the someone else was a man. Nor is his love for her made light of – he does care for her, and is as concerned for her future as he is for his own.


As Farr discovers more and more men, some of his own acquaintance, who are being blackmailed, the perversions of the law against homosexuality are revealed. None of the men are willing to go to the police for a multitude of reasons, most of them coming down to fear of arrest and imprisonment. One older man remarks that he has been to prison four times for homosexual acts, and that he will not go back; if that means he has to pay to keep the blackmailer silent, then he will. Fear permeates the film, these men forced to live double lives in denial of their desires.

The standout performance of the film belongs to Bogarde as a man who has lived a life suppressing his most basic desires (there’s an implication that Farr has never actually had sex with men). Farr is not altruistic, and his unwillingness to communicate with the police means that more people are hurt. Farr’s bravery in potentially sacrificing his career and his liberty to bring the blackmailers to justice is further complicated when we learn that the incriminating photographs are not so incriminating – they could not have stood up in court as proof of a homosexual relationship. His pursuit of the case is a way of expatiating his guilt for ultimately rejecting Barratt, not to mention the role he accidentally played in the young man’s suicide.

If the film fails anywhere it is in the too explicit treatment of homosexuality. By daring to discuss the matter openly, it at times sacrifices subtlety, especially in the minor characters. The denouement feels somewhat forced, the revelation of the blackmailer a little too simple in terms of motive.

In the end, Victim remains a distressingly topical film. The homophobia expressed by some of the characters feels all too current when one considers that this was a film made 50 years ago. It was influential in raising discussion of homosexuality in Britain – and probably helped to take down the law that made it illegal. Although some aspects appear dated, Victim remains a powerful and moving look into the cruelty of a culture that requires people to repress a fundamental part of their being, or risk exclusion, ridicule, and even violence.