That Terrible Jazz (2014) – By Philip Smolen

Tough Philly PI Sam Sellers (Ephraim Davis) has been hired by nightclub owner and part-time friend Nicky (Timothy J. Cox) to find out what happened to club musician Wynn Dumont (Gyasi Howard). Sam starts asking around and comes across some suspicious characters, including Wynn’s girlfriend Bethany (Elizabeth Alksne), his bandmates (Thomas Schmitt, John Rifici) and ex-band member Jimmy Calder (David A. Rodriguez). Each of them looks like they have something to hide, so Sam knows he’ll have to dig deep to find out what happened to the missing saxophonist.

“That Terrible Jazz” is a 16 minute short film from first-time writer/director Michael Falconi and it’s a brave attempt to re-create the tough-talking gritty PI movies of the 1940s and 50s. Falconi gets some of the details of those classics right (clothing, tough dialogue, gorgeous b&w photography), but loses some of the illusion he carefully creates when scenes are filmed outside and we can plainly see modern vehicles passing by. He also fails to give us enough back story on both Sam and Wynn to make us care about them. You get glimpses of the pain Sam been through, but not enough to know why he’s slumming as a PI. Even worse, Wynn is only in the first scene, so he remains a total enigma.

Admittedly, it’s tough to cram enough details into a 16 minute short, but one or two nuggets of information would have gone a long way to making the film more fun. As it is, “That Terrible Jazz” is diverting enough, but fails to fully stand up to the classic Hollywood PI film noirs that it’s trying to emulate.

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