Paris Blues (1961): Martin Ritt’s Jazz Movie, Shot in Paris, Starring Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Joanne Woodward, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington

 The plotless jazz movie Paris Blues was Paul Newman’s second picture (after Long Hot Summer in 1958) with Martin Ritt, who would become the most influential director of his career (“Hud”).

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Paris Blues
ParisBlues UnitedArtists.jpg


It was Newman’s fourth movie with his wife-actress Joanne Woodward. 


A rather simple story about jazz musicians in Paris benefited from on-location in the City of Lights and a wonderful, interracial cast that also included the great Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll. 

The legendary musicians Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington also appeared in the picture. 

The movie was a follow-up to Newman’s smashing performance in The Hustler, for which he deservedly won Best Actor Oscar nomination.  Critics at the time complained about the “unreality” of its characters and the shallowness of the plot, claiming that there was no real drama.

While the original novel and first draft of the script were primarily about interracial romance, UA demanded that aspect be changed, claiming (without any base) that the American public was ready for it yet. Years after the release, Sidney Poitier stated “Cold feet maneuvered to have it twisted around, lining up the colored guy with the colored girl.” and that United Artists had “chickened out and took the spark out of it.”

For his part, Newman was attracted to the project because of the appealing cast and site, and also because of the light way in which it treated the racial angle.

The story centers on two ex-patriot American jazzmen, Ram Bowen (Newman) and Eddie Cook (Poitier) who live in Paris.  Ram is seeking a serious musical career, whereas Eddie enjoys the tolerant atmosphere and the freedom from the racial tensions that prevail in the U.S.  The men perform at a Left Bank club owned by Marie Seoul (Barbara Laage), who is having a casual affair with Ram.  Michel Duvigne (Serge Raggiani), a gypsy guitarist who is a narcotics addict, and Wild Man Moore (Louis Armstrong), a trumpeter, are among their friends. 

Soon Ram and Eddie meet American tourists Lillian Corning (Joanne Woodward) and Connie Lampson (Diahann Carroll), who are visiting Paris on a two-week vacation in a subplot reminiscent of “Three Coins in the Fountains,” about American girls seeking fun and diversion in Rome.

As expected, a romance develops between Eddie and Connie, and Lillian and Ram.  Ram, determined to remain in Paris and pursue a classical career, is reluctant to give up his freedom and return to a second-rate career in the U.S.  For his part, Eddie lacks Ram’s ambition and despite his aversion to racial discrimination back home, he determines to return and marry Connie. 

When an impresario criticizes Ram’s concerto, he is discouraged and almost gives up and returns to America with Lillian.  Eventually, though he decides that he must put his abilities to the test in Paris via persistent creative efforts in composing, no matter what the cost, and bids Lillian farewell at the railroad station.


Oscar Alert


Oscar Nominations: 1

Scoring of Musical Picture: Duke Ellington


Oscar Context

Ellington lost out the Oscar to the team of the Oscar-winner “West Side Story,” Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, and Irwin  Kostal.



A Pennebaker Production.

Executive Producers, George Glass and Walter Seltzer.

Producer, Sam Shaw.

Directed by Martin Ritt.

Screenplay by Jack Sher, Irene Kamp, and Walter Bernstein.

Adaptation by Lulla Adler.

Based on a novel by Harold Flender.

Photographed by Christian Matros.

Music by Duke Ellington.

Second Unit directed by Andre Smagghe.

Art Direction, Alexander Trauner.

Film Editor, Roger Dwyre.

Sound, Jo De Bretagne.

Production Manager, Michael Rittener.

Assistant Director, Bernard Farrel.

Location scenes filmed in Paris.

Running time, 98 minutes,Directed by Martin Ritt
Produced by Sam Shaw
Written by Walter Bernstein
Irene Kamp
Jack Sher
Lulla Rosenfeld (adaptation)
Based on Paris Blues, 1957 novel by Harold Flender

Release date: September 27, 1961 (USA)

Paul Newman as Ram Bowen
Joanne Woodward as Lillian Corning
Sidney Poitier as Eddie Cook
Louis Armstrong as Wild Man Moore
Diahann Carroll as Connie Lampson
Barbara Laage as Marie Séoul
André Luguet as René Bernard
Marie Versini as Nicole
Moustache as Mustachio the drummer
Aaron Bridgers as Pianist
Guy Pedersen as Bass Player
Serge Reggiani as Michel “Gypsy” Devigne
Emilien Antille as Man with alto sax in jazz cave when Armstrong enters
Roger Blin as Fausto the moor
Charles Bouillaud as Luggage carrier in train
Michel Dacquin as Guest at Devigne’s party
Hélène Dieudonné as The Pusher
Michel Garland as Club 33 customer
René Hell as Man with dog in the park
Jo Labarrère as Club 33 customer
Jack Lenoir as Club 33 waiter
Frank Maurice as Luggage carrier on the platform
Niko as Ricardo
Michel Portal as Musician
Claude Rollet as Club 33 customer
Albert Simono as Guest at Devigne’s party
André Tomasi as Club 33 bartender
María Velasco as Pianist
Dominique Zardi