Lady Sings the Blues

"Good"

Lady Sings the Blues Review


Billie Holiday experts have lots of quibbles with Lady Sings the Blues, but this melodramatic biopic has plenty of emotional payoffs, even if they're slightly obscured by the triumph-and-tragedy clichés of the heavily fictionalized screenplay.

Credit Miss Diana Ross for her guts. In this, her first screen performance, she tosses all vanity aside, kicking things off by wearing a straitjacket and writhing around on the floor of an asylum (that writhing earned her an Oscar nomination). What has brought Billie Holiday to this lowly state? The flashbacks will tell us.

We next see Ross as a teenage Billie, a rape victim who's been tossed out of her Baltimore home and forced to take a job as a maid -- and a working girl -- in a Harlem brothel. It's there that she meets the in-house Piano Man (Richard Pryor), who encourages her to sing her way to success. That she does, but it's not an easy road. She racks up three marriages, although the only one depicted in the film is to gambler Louis McKay (Billy Dee Williams), and eventually heads off on a tour of the South with a white band. This being the '40s, she finds herself the victim of terrible racism, and drink and drugs are her ticket to a sort of inner peace.

Surrounded by people who seem to want to help her, Billie only gets worse as the years pass, and it's not until she finds herself in the straitjacket that she realizes it's time to find a path to redemption... if it's not too late.

Of course, music plays a major role throughout the film, and Ross sings many Billie Holiday classics along the way. She doesn't dare to try to impersonate her. Instead, we get the typically nasal Ross delivery but with much more gravitas than she musters in the typical Motown pop hit. Ross and director Sidney J. Furie seem to feel that the slower the song, the more serious the mood, so at times the film seems to be grinding almost to a halt. Ross doesn't look anything like Holiday either (she's far too pretty), but she leaps over these hurdles with a measure of grace and talent that she has never again shown on screen.

Billy Dee Williams is equally good, transforming from smooth-talking ladies' man into a caring if somewhat overwhelmed husband. As for Pryor, it's a shame he didn't take or couldn't find other serious roles. The guy could act, and Piano Man's own tragic arc is painful to witness.

Many people who crossed Billie's path over the years -- Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Teddy Wilson, and more -- don't show up in Lady Sings the Blues. Historians don't like that, but this isn't history. It's a tragic love story that follows the rise and fall and rise and fall of forceful personalities who lived tough lives that in the end didn't last all that long. The movie ends on an up note, but Billie Holiday was dead by 44.

The DVD includes a commentary by Furie, Barry Gordy, and Shelly Berger, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and deleted scenes.



Lady Sings the Blues

Facts and Figures

Run time: 144 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 12th October 1972

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 75%
Fresh: 9 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Sidney J. Furie

Producer: , , James S. White

Starring: as Billie Holiday, as Louis McKay, as Piano Man, James T. Callahan as Reg Hanley (as James Callahan), as Harry, Sid Melton as Jerry, Virginia Capers as Mama Holiday, Yvonne Fair as Yvonne, as The Madame

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Free State of Jones Movie Review

Since its true story is still so timely after some 150 years, we can forgive...

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

Deepwater Horizon Movie Review

This reunion of actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg feels like a natural successor...

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children Movie Review

Ransom Riggs' bestselling novel is appropriately adapted into a movie by Tim Burton, the gothic...

Get Back Movie Review

Get Back Movie Review

Roger Appleton's documentary 'Get Back' looks into the music scene that come out of Liverpool....

Imperium Movie Review

Imperium Movie Review

First-time filmmaker Daniel Ragussis takes an unusual approach to this thriller. Since it's based on...

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

The Girl With All the Gifts Movie Review

Like a 10-years-later follow-up to 28 Days Later, this small British thriller takes a refreshingly...

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

The Magnificent Seven Movie Review

Director Antoine Fuqua brings his usual fascination with violence to this remake of the iconic...

Advertisement
Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

Bridget Jones's Baby Movie Review

As it's been 12 years since the last Bridget Jones movie, expectations aren't too high...

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years Movie Review

A-list director Ron Howard worked with the surviving Beatles to assemble this engaging documentary, which...

Blair Witch Movie Review

Blair Witch Movie Review

It's been 17 years since The Blair Witch Project shook up the cinema and created...

Anthropoid Movie Review

Anthropoid Movie Review

Outside the Czech Republic, few people know about Operation Anthropoid, a spy mission in 1943...

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

Kubo and the Two Strings Movie Review

From Laika (The Boxtrolls), this is one of the most beautiful, sophisticated animated films in...

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

Captain Fantastic Movie Review

An offbeat comedy-drama with a timely kick, this charming family road trip takes on some...

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Hell or High Water Movie Review

Sicario screenwriter Taylor Sheridan delivers another fiercely intelligent, engaging story that maintains high suspense while...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.