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  Ballad in Blue Blind Faith
Year: 1964
Director: Paul Henreid
Stars: Ray Charles, Tom Bell, Mary Peach, Dawn Addams, Piers Bishop, Betty McDowall, Lucy Appleby, Joe Adams, Robert Lee Ross, Anne Padwick, Monika Henreid, Brendan Agnew, Vernon Hayden, Leo McCabe, The Raelettes
Genre: Drama, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Ray Charles (as himself) is in London to play some concert dates and entertain his fans, but he also finds time for good works as he visits a school for the blind. Being sightless himself, he is only too happy to hold an impromptu concert for the children, as they enthusiastically join him on the choruses of Hit the Road Jack, but one little boy, David (Piers Bishop) is not so willing to accompany his classmates. When it's time to go, Ray is shown out by his assistant Fred (Joe Adams) but not before they get to talking to the boy's mother Peggy (Mary Peach)...

Yes, there was a film where Ray Charles starred in rather than appearing as a guest artist, although it wasn't much of a stretch for him because he simply had to show up, recite his lines, and generally appear to be a solid, decent chap. When he wasn't revolutionising popular music or flying planes while high on heroin, Ray was, according to this, a very charitable fellow, as he is only too happy to look after those less advantaged than he is, so he takes David under his wing after a fashion, and teaches Peggy a lesson in parenting in the process. The point is that while you should do all you can to assist the disabled, you should allow them to stand up for themselves as well.

That was the idea director Paul Henreid, best known for being the noble freedom fighter side of the love triangle in Casablanca, was wishing to put across in a film which looked to all intents and purposes like one of those earnest dramas emerging from the United Kingdom at this time, except this had a music megastar in it as an angelic figure to wave his magic wand and set the world to rights. So what you had was a rather stern lesson wrapped up in a wish-fulfilment fantasy, and hard to take entirely seriously for one reason or another. Certainly you could take the music seriously as every so often there was a break in the narrative to allow Charles to take to the piano once again, and these scenes were the best in the picture.

What was not such a blessing was the unfortunate presence of Bishop, here in the supposedly heartstring-tugging role of the blind boy but demonstrating such meagre talent in the acting department that his amateurish line readings were an active distraction. He even ruins one concert sequence because Henreid chose to superimpose his phizzog over the shots of Ray pounding away on the keyboard, making it hard to enjoy the music when David's oblivious features are looming large in the frame. Anyway, he does serve one useful purpose in that he's the catalyst for his mother getting her act together and allowing him his independence (how old was he? Six or seven?!).

Along with that growing confidence in her boy, Ray also guides her too casual boyfriend Steve (Tom Bell) to a better life as well; Steve is also a pianist, or Bell mimes to an actual pianist on the soundtrack at any rate, so the soul star offers him a job and in spite of his slack ways, he accepts, thereby bringing him closer to Peggy for that happy ending (her husband having died a few years before, this just piles on the heartache, I can tell you). Peach's main claim to fame is not for a role she played, but one she didn't as she was meant to take over from Diana Rigg on The Avengers, but she missed out when they chose Linda Thorson instead. As for this, Ballad in Blue remains a footnote in the careers of all concerned, especially Charles whose best known film appearance was in The Blues Brothers, but if he is understandably not the most natural of actors, he did have presence, especially when Henreid stages the numbers with black and white jazzy flair. Just a pity the vehicle which top-billed him tended to elicit unintended giggles.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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