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09 March 2010

Ballad In Blue (aka Blues For Lovers) (1965)

Set photo of Ray and director 
Paul Henreid at the Dublin Gaiety
Theatre on or around June 9, 
1964 (coll. J. Dufour).
The songs performed in this film are*:
  1. Let The Good Times Roll
  2. Hit The Road Jack (with school class choir)
  3. That Lucky Old Sun
  4. Unchain My Heart (David Newman - ts)
  5. Hallelujah I Love Her So (partial)
  6. Light Out Of Darkness ("arranging" sequence)
  7. Don't Tell Me Your Troubles (partial)
  8. I've Got A Woman (partial)
  9. Careless Love (partial)
  10. Busted  (partial)
  11. Talkin' 'Bout You (partial)
  12. Light Out Of Darkness
  13. What'd I Say
From Variety,
Jun. 24, 1964.
Storyline: Charles, while on tour in London, visits a school for the blind and in the process befriends an eight-year-old fatherless blind boy named David. Sensitive to the boy's position, Charles proposes to have David examined by a skilled surgeon in Paris who might be able to restore his vision. David's mother, perhaps overcompensating for David's disability, has grown accustomed to her position as caregiver and is adverse to Ray's proposal. This position not only threatens the emotional development of her child, but also her relationship with her lover, a jazz musician/composer.

Light Out Of Darkness was the intended title of the film.

Picketing at Ardmore Studios, Bray.
Ray later said the film was underfinanced, and got too little promotion. The film opened in London in February 1965 and in New York (titled Blues For Lovers) around December 31st, 1965. In Europe it received some distribution in regular movie theaters in the mid and late 1960s. I've also found several tv broadcasts, everywhere in Europe, mainly in the 1970s. 20th Century-Fox Film picked up the American distribution rights in September 1966. I know of one brief review in The Afro American of 28 January 1967 (here), and found a few traces of U.S. theater distribution and TV broadcasts, but it seems as if the film never got proper attention in the U.S.

From Cleveland Plain Dealer, 17 September 1966.
The story may seem corny, but never gets overly sentimental. Director Paul Henreid (of Casablanca fame) knew how to tell a story on celluloid. Ray's acting is "stiff, but not entirely without merit", as a film critic remarked. The music is fantastic, and the photography of the music scenes is great (don't miss the shot of Edgar Willis in the What'd I Say clip below).
Ray Charles' right hand Joe Adams - who had acted before - played the role of Fred. Leroy Cooper's biographer Susan Cross informed me that the orchestra members never were paid extra for their contributions to the film.
The concert parts of the film don't look as if Ray was lip sync'ing the tunes. Possibly, the instrumental parts (possibly only the 'brass tracks') of the tunes (except #2) were recorded before the shooting. It looks as if Ray sang his parts 'on camera' (maybe only supported 'live' by his rhythm section).
In 1964 Ray's UK promoter Henri Goldgran told NME's Ian Dove that "Background music will be by Ray, either solo or with a trio or the whole orchestra. It has all been prerecorded in Dublin" (NME, June 5). Have any of the prepared or final recordings survived in the RPM vaults? And what happened with the rushes of the song-parts that were edite-out of the film?
From Variety, Aug. 26, 1964.

Unfortunately, the film music never made it to any kind of regular record release. Light Out Of Darkness was released on the album Country And Western Meets Rhythm And Blues (aka Together Again) in 1965.
Joël Dufour found a Taiwanese album (Ballad In Blue, Haishan HS 356) where the editor used all original ABC studio versions of the tunes, but took the Atlantic-originated tracks Let The Good Times Roll (amputating the sax solo from the beginning of the track) and Talking About You (including some dialogue!) directly from the film's soundtrack.
There is also a French ABC/Vega album (ABC 100.000) Ray Charles - Chansons Du Film Ballad In Blue) from May 1966, containing the original recordings of the songs.

Scenes on location were shot in or near Dublin, London and Paris. The studio scenes were filmed at the Ardmore Studios near Bray (Ireland), around June 9, 1964 (also cf. this).
Most of the street scenes were shot in London (including the exteriors of David's home (nowadays the Lloyds Club, at 42 Crutched Friars, in London). The French lunapark, background of the bumper car scene, was in fact the Buttersea Fun Fair near London. 
A few traffic scenes and the marquee of l'Olympia in Paris provided the film with the couleur locale of the film's second concert in that city. I assume that none of the other sequences was filmed in the French capital.
In reality both the 'first concert' (implicitly situated in London) and that 'second concert' in Paris were filmed at Dublin's famous Gaiety Theatre - the film's art director just 'dressed' the most recognizable decorative elements of the venue for the latter. I assume that most of the other interior scenes (except for e.g. the school scene) were shot at the Ardmore Studios.

The French pseudo soundtrack.
Shooting at Gaiety, Dublin.
Starring: Ray Charles (as himself), Tom Bell (Steve Collins), Mary Peach (Peggy Harrison), Piers Bishop (David). Directed by Paul Henreid. Cinematography by Robert Huke. Written by Burton Wohl. The production company was Alsa Films. Produced by Herman Blaser. Executive Producers: Alexander Salkind & Michael Salkind. For more credits see this.

Personnel:
Musicians: Oliver Beener, Roy Burrows, Floyd Jones, Phil Guilbeau - trumpets; Fred Murrell, Jim Harbert, ?Curtis Miller?, Keg Johnson - trombones; David Newman, James Clay - tenor saxophones; Dan Turner, Harold Minerve - alto saxophones; Leroy Cooper - baritone saxophone; Wilbert Hogan - drums; Sonny Forriest - guitar; Edgar Willis - bass. Raelettes: Pat Moseley Lyles, Margie Hendricks, Gwen Berry, Darlene McCrea.**
Film, Black & White, 95 (?) min. VHS B000255800.
DVD: Lions Gate, 12 January 2010, ASIN: B002TVQ49E.
DVD: Network, 2014; ID 7957061.

For more set photos, stills, and production details, check the Chronology 1964 page.

* Almost all online sources that specify the songs of the soundtrack are corrupt. I have seen a 87-minute version; in some of my sources a rendition of the song Cry is also listed. In the liner notes of Country And Western Meets Rhythm And Blues (aka Together Again) (ABC/Paramount 520, August 1965), it was stated that the song Please Forgive And Forget was also produced for Ballad In Blue (but it wasn't part of the soundtrack). ** These, and many other, details were kindly shared by Joël Dufour.

Trailer:

 Film (warning: too many interstitials!):

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