The movie world today is mourning the loss of Sir Richard Attenborough, who died over the weekend at age 90.
Born in Cambridge, England, Attenborough was that rare film talent capable of excelling both behind and in front of the camera. In the former capacity, he took home Best Director honors for “Gandhi” and won acclaim for directing such titles as “Chaplin,” “Shadowlands,” “Cry Freedom,” “Oh! What a Lovely War,” “Young Winston” and “A Bridge Too Far.” In the latter, he turned in indelible performances in a number of Hollywood hits, including “The Great Escape,” “Flight of the Phoenix,” “The Sand Pebbles” and “Jurassic Park.”
Long before carving his niche in Hollywood, however, Attenborough was a screen regular presence in Britain. His screen acting credits there date back to 1942’s “In Which We Serve” and include the excellent adaptation of Graham Greene’s “Brighton Rock” and “Dunkirk.”
Attenborough also played a pivotal role in Basil Dearden’s “All Night Long,” a 1962 title that remains among the best British jazzfilms ever produced.
Set over the course of a single night in a sleek jazz club carved out of a waterfront warehouse (the passion of a jazz-loving millionaire played by Richard Attenborough), it reworks Shakespeare’s “Othello” for a culture of musicians and singers and nightclub showbiz dealings. Iago here is America drummer Johnny Cousin (Patrick McGoohan), whose plan to leave the band of jazz royalty Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris) and led his own group pivots on signing Rex’s wife, retired singer Delia Lane (Marti Stevens), as his headliner. And that means breaking them up: planting doubts, fertilizing with liberal amounts of b.s. and watching the suspicion and mistrust and jealousy blossom (helped by a manipulated tape recording designed to seal the deal).
Set against an all-night jam session (featuring the likes of Dave Brubeck, Charlie Mingus and Johnny Dankworth), Dearden sets the narrative rhythms to the music and uses fluid camerawork to keep the momentum through the limited locations. He keeps a good beat here … and directs the actors to a snappy rhythm. There’s not much subtly to the performances but the elegance of the camerawork, the machinations of the plot and the fun of seeing these musicians performing onscreen keeps the film involving. And, most interestingly, the film never addresses race in the issues of the mixed couples, directly or indirectly. This cosmopolitan culture thinks little of race or class; they pay attention to talent. And, of course, success.