Review: ‘Lady Sings the Blues’

Individual opinions about Lady Sings The Blues may vary markedly, depending on a person's age, knowledge of jazz tradition and feeling for it, and how one wishes to regard the late Billie Holiday as both a force and a victim of her times. However, the film serves as a very good screen debut vehicle for Diana Ross, supported strongly by excellent casting, handsome 1930s physical values, and a script which is far better in dialog than structure.

Individual opinions about Lady Sings The Blues may vary markedly, depending on a person’s age, knowledge of jazz tradition and feeling for it, and how one wishes to regard the late Billie Holiday as both a force and a victim of her times. However, the film serves as a very good screen debut vehicle for Diana Ross, supported strongly by excellent casting, handsome 1930s physical values, and a script which is far better in dialog than structure.

Basis for the script is Holiday’s autobiog Lady Sings the Blues, written with William Dufty only three years before her death in 1959 at age 44. Given that the script and production emphasis is on Ross as Holiday (and not on Holiday’s life as interpreted by Ross), it still requires a severe gritting of teeth to overlook the truncations, telescoping and omissions.

Holiday’s personal romantic life herein is restricted to Billy Dee Williams as Louis McKay, her third husband. Williams makes an excellent opposite lead, and Richard Pryor registers strongly as her longtime piano-playing friend who eventually is beaten to death in LA by hoods who want him to pay for the dope he procured for her.

1972: Nominations: Best Actress (Diana Ross), Original Story & Screenplay, Costume Design, Art Direction, Adapted Score

Lady Sings the Blues

Production

Paramount. Director Sidney J. Furie; Producer Jay Weston, James S. White; Screenplay Terence McCloy, Chris Clark, Suzanne De Passe; Camera John Alonzo; Editor Argyle Nelson; Music Michel Legrand; Art Director Carl Anderson

Crew

(Color) Widescreen. Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1972. Running time: 144 MIN.

With

Diana Ross Billy Dee Williams Richard Pryor James Callahan Paul Hampton Sid Melton

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