Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
"Never trust a man who says 'Trust Me,'" warns mother before Blaze Starr leaves her tiny
rural home in the South. Not only is it good advice, but the girl is a fast learner and soon
has mastered the distinction between a nightclub stripper and a lady, even if circumstances make
not to be too public about it. Blaze is an entertaining true (?) tale of love and politics
in Louisiana circa 1960, and was written and directed by Ron Shelton of Bull Durham fame.
It's a charmer that has the necessary overheated strip-club ambience when needed, but ends up
as an endearing love story about a pair of idealized Show People - she on her runway, he on his
barnstorming political jags. The only nagging drawback: Old politico Earl Long can't have looked
as handsome as Paul Newman, no matter how bedraggled he tries to make himself. And we also have
to wonder if the real Blaze Starr was quite the noble princess that this movie makes her out to be.
A young woman (Lolita Davidovich) with no real singing talent strikes out on her
own and is "discovered" in a diner by promoter Red Snyder (Robert Wuhl). He gives her the name
Blaze Starr and starts her off as a stripper of the tease & leave'em happy variety. Migrating to
New Orleans, she becomes the object of lust for the eccentric governor Earl Long, brother of the
assassinated Huey Long of the depression era. Although she has to be hidden from the press, Blaze
emotional aid and eventually a staunch supporter of her political boyfriend - even when his
opponents try to have him committed to stem his progressive ideas about racial equality.
Paul Newman kept making interesting movies when he started getting long in the tooth, so to speak.
Still one very handsome man and arguably a more mellow better actor after his years of experience,
the swagger of
Hud still remains, now joined with
enough gravity to carry a complex role without effort.
In Blaze, Ron Shelton hands Newman a part that requires a lot of overacting - Earl Long is a
slightly-progressive man in a very backwards part of the country who uses plenty of old fashioned
attention-getting behavior. The Civil Rights Movement is underway and
Long's attempts to integrate hospitals as a start toward some kind of equality is seen as political
suicide by his good-old-boy backers. Not a young man, his antics (storming the state legislature,
punching out opposition foes) aren't exactly on the level.
Long's liberalism works in Shelton's favor by giving Blaze a P.C. attitude in a setting
ideas about racial equality can't have been commonplace. By showing Long as somewhat ineffectual and
motivated more by personal intransigence than personal commitment, Shelton avoids the usual trap of
movies that want to impose present-day ideals on less enlightened times.
The best thing about the picture is Lolita Davidovich (Gods and Monsters), a Serbian raised
in Canada and England who delivers a convincing Southern accent. Actresses who want to be taken
seriously no longer do nude scenes, and she manages the ones here with dignity and aplomb. As the
stripper who talks patter to "the boys" instead of putting on a pure sex show, Blaze Starr maintains
a certain dignity, the finer points of which are lost on the general public. When she and Earl start
their torrid love affair (commencing with a hilarious scene where he wears boots to bed for
"traction") it provides the perfect ammunition for his political foes. Pro-integration, shacking up
with a harlot, provoking controversy in public = crazy man.
I don't remember the details, but the tempest in the governor's mansion in Blaze reminds me
of a movie I saw long ago called Ada. It's about a governor (Dean Martin) with a wife who's
an ex-hooker (Susan Hayward). She helps him solve his political problems in a more flamboyant fashion.
Since Ada was released about the time of the events of Blaze, there's only a
superficial connection. Shelton handles the last chapters of his film quite well. Blaze gets her
defeated man in shape for a long-shot run at a congressional office. She's involved but her role as
"the great man's woman" is not exaggerated.
Blaze has a great sense of humor. It's less raucous than Bull Durham but is needed
to avoid becoming a farce or a girly show. Blaze shows up for dinner with the governor (he does
the cooking himself) in a scandalous dress and is openly insulted by the wives of his yes-men (one of
them, I believe, is the real Blaze Starr). Blaze's "heat" is compared to that of an animal when Earl buys
her a panther for a pet - it scares away the pesky reporters as well. An awful-looking
stuffed bobcat with a stupid taxidermy grin on its face proves itself good for a last-minute joke. To
remind us that the story events are real, some audio of the real Earl Long is heard over the end credits.
Touchstone's DVD of Blaze is a no-extras disc. It has an annoying promo up front but the
enhanced transfer is quite good and the audio excellent. Haskell Wexler's terrific cinematography of
the night streets in New Orleans is enjoyable all by itself. All in all, an entertaining package.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: April 19, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson