Paris Blues (1961)

 United Artists


“Paris Blues” was Paul Newman’s second picture with Martin Ritt, who would become the most influential director of his career (“Hud”) and his fourth 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 an Oscar nomination.  For some reason, critics at the time complained about the “unreality” of its characters and the shallowness of the plot, claiming that there was no real drama.

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.




Paul Newman

Joanne Woodward

Sidney Poitier

Louis Armstrong

Diahann Carroll

Serge Regiani

Barbara Laage

Andre Luguet

Marie Versini


Aaron Bridgers

Guy Pederson

Maria Velasco

Roger Blin

Helene Dieudonne





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,