The more I think about it, the more I want to see "Pete Kelly's Blues" again. This may be Jack Webb's real masterwork--or at least his bid at being taken seriously as an auteur. Written by Richard L. Breen and produced and directed by Webb who also starred in it, the film is tough, funny and filled with good music. It doesn't appear to be on DVD--anyone know about it's availability?--nor does it turn up, at least not with any regularity, on the usual channels. Is there something about Jack Webb and his estate that's gumming up the works? I haven't seen "Dragnet" or "30" or "The D.I." turn up either.

peggyleealbum And I wonder what the critical reception for "PKB" was at the time--was it negative and did this put Webb off from trying ever more ambitious works? Certainly the snoot factor against television and its new stars was riding high in the mid-fifties and Webb was television glory incarnate. So perhaps his film was poo-poohed..but "Pete Kelly's Blues", for which Peggy Lee was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress, should have paved the way for more ambitious things.

It was also something of a cottage industry for Webb. Apparently it began as a radio show which aired as a summer replacement show in 1951, then became the movie, then later a television series and of course spawned two albums which Webb produced--the above soundtrack featuring Peggy Lee and another called "Pete Kelly Lets His Hair Down". This later appeared as part of a compilation which Webb--a jazz fanatic--released, called "Just The Tracks, Maam". Which is further proof of my theory that Webb was, above all, a comedian at heart, one who enjoyed twisting the world to his own darkly humourous viewpoint and seeing who, if anyone, was hip to his game.

The below is not from the movie itself but a promotional clip featuring the great Ella Fitzgerald singing the title song with the full-tilt Warner Brothers orchestra.


  1. I saw this movie, and I am pretty sure it was on TCM, although possibly it was AMC back when we still paid attention to AMC. Anyway, I don't remember it being cut or anything. It was a very dark movie, with an interesting take on the essential selfishness of artists that the movie (not surprisingly) backs away from at the last minute. Peggy Lee was quite good; I can still remember her clutching that doll. And Lee Marvin was his usual scene-stealing self. The biggest problem I had was Webb's performance, but if I watched it with an eye toward your take on his "dark humor" I might think differently.

    It has several comment boards and a fair number of comments on IMDB so it hasn't been forgotten. But I have given trying to figure out what the hell criteria are being used to determine DVD releases (other than the ability to find a decent print). This one was put out by Mark VII Ltd and I have no idea who that is; perhaps the rights situation is iffy?

    I am loving the blog, by the way.

  2. Yes, I think I recall it on pre-commercial Bob Dorian AMC as well. To me, Webb only makes sense--as a performer, writer, conceptualizer etc.--if you assume his manner and method was essentially comic. I wonder why the films and older shows are tied up in some sort of legal bs. Mark VII, I believe, was Webb's own production company--supposedly the hands that come in frame belonged to Webb himself. Thanks for posting...

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