Johnny Cousins plays more than just the drums; he orchestrates a performance of emotional percussion, where love is transformed into adulterating violence. Basil Dearden’s odyssey is a melting pot (and another kind of pot) of Shakespearean tragedy and swinging London jazz, a prescient melodrama where biracial relationships are accepted without question and Big Business seeks to consume artistic merit.
Dearden sets his film amid a single apartment with the exception of the opening and closing shots, creating a wonderful atmosphere of beneficent socialism that slowly turns to a choking claustrophobia. The film’s rhythm is a seemingly live improv jazz score played within the confines of the narrative, as legends such as Charles Mingus and Dave Brubeck (playing themselves) take center stage for their share of close ups. The wonderful cast includes not only many other great musicians but Richard Attenborough and the eclectic Patrick McGoohan. But make no mistake; McGoohan steals the film as the Iago counterpart Johnny Cousins, his rimshot dialogue setting the tone and disrupting emotional harmony. McGoohan’s intensity burns like napalm, every word a weapon: he makes a simple act of walking up the stairs an act of defiance…or attrition.
Cousins seeks to destroy the familial bond between Rex and Delia for his own diabolical profit, preaching the fine art of self-destruction. The final act moves with clockwork precision, as Rex abandons his marital throne to jealousy’s conceit, where Cass and Delia pay the brutal price. But it’s Johnny who is fatally damaged, not only losing his marriage but more sadly, losing himself.
Final Grade: (B+)