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'Round Midnight (1986) - Plot Summary Poster

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Summaries

  • A troubled, but talented musician flees the US to escape his problems, finding refuge and support in Paris.

    Will S
  • In 'Round Midnight, real-life jazz legend Dexter Gordon brilliantly portrays the fictional tenor sax player Dale Turner, a musician slowly losing the battle with alcoholism, estranged from his family, and hanging on by a thread in the 1950's New York jazz world. Dale gets an offer to play in Paris, where, like many other black American musicians at the time, he enjoys a respect for his humanity that is not based upon the color of his skin. A Parisian man who is obsessed with Turner's music befriends him and attempts to save Turner from himself. Although for Dale the damage is already done, his poignant relationship with the man and his young daughter re-kindles his spirit and his music as the end draws near.

  • It's worth pointing out that 'Round Midnight was based loosely on the life of Francis Paudras, a friend of many jazz luminaries. Among those who took up residence with him were Bud Powell and Bill Evans. He was also the author and compiler of the tome, To Bird With Love. The 11 CD collection of Bud Powell that he put out (almost all recorded in his home) gives us a glimpse of Bud like never before. He took his own life at 62 in his castle in Antigny, after an illness, and a most interesting life.


Spoilers

The synopsis below may give away important plot points.

Synopsis

  • Foreshadowing in black and white. It's night. Dale Turner (Dexter Gordon), in what looks like a cheap hotel room, is standing with his back to the camera, looking out at the city lights. Voice from off-screen: 'Is it in the same room where Hershell died?' Dale replies: 'I don't know, Francis. The same raggedy drapes. Crummy wallpaper. They all look the same. All I remember...it was a Friday...the last time I saw Hershell.'

    New York City, 1959. From black and white to color. Hershell (Hart Leroy Bibbs) is lying in bed in the same hotel room. Dale and Hershell reminisce about playing jazz together. Dale tells Hershell he's going to Paris that night. 'No cold eyes in Paris.'

    Voice over: 'If you'd seen Dale and Hershell play together, Francis, its something you'd never forget. It was so new and so different, and yet so close. Maybe it was all those memories that made Dale leave for Paris that Friday morning. Maybe what he saw in Hershell's eyes was too frightening and too familiar.'

    Dale arrives in Paris. Buttercup (Sandra Reaves-Phillips)-friend and de facto business manager--takes him to his hotel room. In the hallway, Dale is stopped by Ace (Bobby Hutcherson), a vibraphone player who spends his days in his bathrobe, cooking. Ace waits until Buttercup is out of sight and says: "I got a little something for you.' And slips a small bottle into Dale's jacket. 'Better than Harlem!' In his room, Dale drinks straight from the bottle, then throws up. There's a knock on the door and he hides the bottle behind the sink. Buttercup tells him to get some rest. He's going to have to play tonight. Later that day, the bottle is empty.

    At the Blue Note nightclub that night the piano player, Eddie Wayne (Herbie Hancock) welcomes Dale to the band and to the audience. Band members rise as Dale walks onstage with his tenor saxophone. They play 'As Time Goes By'. Madame Queen (Liliane Rovère), the night club owner, observes Dale is sitting down as he plays and says: 'At least he could stand when he plays.' Ben (John Berry), the club manager, replies, 'He could be on his back and he'd still be great.' The tune ends to rousing applause. Later, at the bar, Dale extends his glass to the bartender but is ignored. 'I must be invisible in here'. Buttercup comes in and collects Dale's money from Madame Queen. She gives Dale a peck on the cheek.

    Outside the Blue Note, in a driving rain, Francis (François Cluzet) is stooped down, listening to the band through a cellar-level window. A passer-by asks for money. Francis angrily pushes him away. If he had five francs he'd be inside. The band finishes its set and Francis is exhilarated with what he's heard. Back at his apartment, Francis' daughter, Berangere (Gabrielle Haker), is waiting up for him. Annoyed, he instructs her to go to sleep, then sits on the side of the bed next to her: 'He played like a god, that Dale Turner.'

    Dale is back in his room. Buttercup enters and Dale asks fir a new reed (mouthpiece for his sax). She replies, 'Can't you blow through, everybody else does,' then, 'Well, I'll get it, 'cause you been good.'

    At the Blue Note, Dale is at the bar after a set. He asks for a drink. The answer is 'no'. Outside, Dale spots Francis in the shadows of a bar across the street, and goes over. 'Hey man, can you buy me a beer?' Francis buys him a beer. He tells Dale that when he was in the army he wanted to hear Dale's music so much he went 'over the wall' and got ten days in jail.' Dale replies: 'You got enough dough for another beer?' Dale invites Francis into the Blue Note and introduces him as 'an old jail buddy of mine.' Francis enjoys a front row seat. The band finishes for the night and the members are paid, except for Dale. Ben pays Buttercup Dale's money. Francis notices Dale's humiliation.

    Another night at the Blue Note. Francis is watching Dale onstage. Dale dabs at his face as a tear rolls down his cheek. Back in his apartment, Dale tells the story of his time in the army-all Negro unit; all 'pink' officers. One day 'this captain' found a photo of his wife who was lighter-skinned and much prettier than his. The officer made a 'funny' remark, and he, Dale, hit him over the head. Ended up in the cowpoke stockade, where the officers played 'drum paradiddles on my head...for some time...Yeah, I got lucky. I found this Jewish doctor from New York. Wow. Without him it would have been a catastrophe. He got me out of the army...Bebop was invented by the cats who did get out of the army...'

    Francis, a struggling artist and filmmaker, is experiencing problems with his client, and with Berangere's mother.

    One night, newspaper in hand, Francis delivers devastating news to the band. 'Hershell died last night.' Later, Dale is in an alley near the Blue Note, playing. He confesses he can't play the tune, can't remember the words to 'Autumn in New York'. Francis sings the words to him. Dale plays the tune later that night. Francis is in the audience. Berangere is at home alone, watery eyed, and looks at a photograph--of her mother, Francis, and herself, smiling at the camera.

    Ben offers Dale a coke, which he says is a 'free' rum and coke, for being superb. Later, Dale asks an American fan for five dollars, and disappears. Francis looks for him. A young woman finds Dale passed out on the street. Francis arrives at the police station just as Dale is being put into a paddy wagon. Francis screams at the police to let him go. A struggle ensues and Francis is restrained. The police eventually release Dale, and Francis takes him home in a taxi. 'You're not right! Shit! You're Dale Turner! You play too good for this shit!' Back at his hotel, Buttercup and Francis takes Dale back up to his room. Buttercup: "What am I gonna do with you? Just like a baby. Gotta watch you every single minute.' When Buttercup leaves, Francis demands Dale have dinner at his apartment the following night. Eight o'clock.

    Dale is at Francis' place for dinner. Francis adds water to the wine, which Dale notices later in the evening. As Berangere is clearing the table, Dale says: 'You act like my little girl.'

    Francis walks Dale to his hotel and when he returns home, Bebop is playing loudly on the gramophone. As he enters, Berangere cowers on her bed as if bracing for a blow. Francis sits on the bed next to her. She gets up to turn the gramophone off, but he takes her hand and holds her close.

    Back at the Blue Note. The band finishes their set. Dale pockets the tip left by a couple at a nearby table, and goes to the bar across the street. He orders two red wines. Later that night Francis hunts him down at a hospital. Not trusting Dale to be on his own, he returns to the apartment he shares with Berangere, and puts Dale to sleep in his bed. He pours two bottles of wine down the sink. The following morning he asks Berangere not go to school and to watch Dale instead.

    Francis meets Berangere's mother, Sylvie (Christine Pascal) , in a restaurant. He needs '8,000' for key money. He and Berangere need a larger place. 'Dale Turner is living with us!..I want him to compose again. He's terrific. If I'm anything today, its on account of guys like him. I'm working twice as hard: I'll do anything for him. Nobody inspires me like him. I want the greatest sax player to live decently.' Sylvie replies. 'For us three the apartment was always fine...I never inspired you?' 'Will you lend it, yes or no?' 'No.' Francis screams at her, pounds the table, and storms out of the restaurant.

    Dale is at Francis' apartment with a new reed. Berangere is with him. The doorbell rings. An envelope for Francis. As Dale begins to play, Berangere opens the envelope. A check for 300,000 francs made out to Francis from Sylvie. Berangere reseals the envelope and leaves it on a table.

    Francis and Dale are checking out of Dale's hotel room. Buttercup intersects them. 'Checking out without saying goodbye, huh?' Dale asks for his passport.

    Francis' new apartment. Dale's voice over gives a summary of the evolution of jazz from Swing to Bebop. Swing bands were 'straight timing', seventh chords. Then with the Basie band, there was Lester Young, sounded like he came out of the blue, was playing the color tones--sixths, ninths, major sevenths, like W.C.. Then Charlie Parker came along and experimented with elevenths and thirteenths, and flat fives. 'I was going in the same direction.' You just don't go out and pick a style off a tree. The tree is inside you, growing naturally.

    Back at the Blue Note. Dale has disappeared again. Madame Queen to says Francis, 'Tell him it's the last time.' Francis searches for Dale. The next morning, he's at a hospital and asks a nurse about a black American, Dale Turner. He's told there's no Dale Turner there. A young black woman, cleaning the floors, overhears the conversation. She runs after Francis as he leaves the building, and tells him where he can find his friend-in the same hospital complex, but at another building.

    Francis finds Dale being interviewed by a psychiatrist. He opens the doorway a crack and listens. Dale says he's tired. He can sleep, but there are the 'dreams.' Dreams about music-playing the saxophone, sound, expanding the music, more, and more. There have been nights where he's been working and playing, and at the end of the night he looks at his mouthpiece, and its all bloody. But he hasn't felt a thing. 'My life is music. My love is music. And its twenty-four hours a day. Do you understand?'

    In the taxi afterwards, Francis tells Dale that he was listening to his conversation with the psychiatrist. Dale asks: 'Was I good?' and smiles.

    Night. Dale is brought to Francis' home, drunk again. Francis puts him to bed. On the verge of tears, he looks at his idol, then looks away. From his bed, Dale peaks at his friend who is clearly in emotional pain. The following morning, Francis is sleeping. Dale brings him breakfast. 'Never again, man. Don't cry for me.' 'What else can I do. You're killing yourself.' Dale again promises to stop drinking. Francis says: 'You never stopped before.' 'I never promised anybody before.'

    At the Blue Note, Dale sips a glass of water. Francis is in the audience with Berangere sitting on his lap. For the first time, Dale stands as he plays.

    One of Francis' works-a poster for a film-is accepted by his client, and will be used all throughout Europe.

    Dale asks for a few francs to go get some cigarettes. He heads out and Francis follows from a distance. Dale sits at an outside table at a café and orders orange juice and some Pall Malls. Francis observes, unnoticed, from across the street, and smiles.

    Dale, Francis, Ben and Buttercup are at the Blue Note. Dale demands he be paid directly, like the other musicians. No more money to Buttercup. Ben says, that's not the deal they made with Goodley. Dale replies, either he is paid directly that night or he won't be back tomorrow. Ben replies he'll have to talk to Madame Queen.

    Dale is playing standing up. Later that night he returns to Francis' apartment, and waves a wad of francs. 'Tomorrow, a new wallet.' Francis replies: 'A big one!' The next day, Dale serves beef steak he purchased and prepared for Francis and Berangere.

    A 'light-skinned,' pretty, black woman appears at the apartment: 'Hello, Long Tall.' Dale replies, ' I dreamt you were coming to Paris.' She kisses him on the lips. Darcey Leigh (Lonette McKee) joins the band on stage that evening and sings 'How Long Has this Been Going On?' At dinner, Darcey and Dale reminisce about old times. Darcey: I always thought we'd keep each other company. Dale: We have. Darcey holds his hand and bites her lip, and says: Dale, do you have any regrets? Dale: Only one...I had big eyes to play with Count Basie's band. But he told me one band leader in the band was enough. Darcey: Maybe it was for the better, huh?

    Francis, Berangere and Dale are at the beach. Berangere finds a toy phone. Francis hands it to Dale 'It's for you.' Dale takes the receiver: 'Yeah, I can't come. I'm having too much fun' and hangs up. Its Birdland, he says, they wanted him to come back.

    Dale and the band are at a recording session. Francis is watching as the musicians prepare. Sylvie appears. Francis repays some of the money she's loaned him. Sylvie says she'd like to have Berangere back for a bit. Francis agrees and invites her to listen in as the band records. As Sylvie follows Francis to the engineer's booth, she and Dale make eye contact for the first time-a straight, emotionless exchange. 'Does he still inspire you?' she asks Francis. Francis is effusive about the recording session. He sits down and is transfixed by the music. Sylvie quietly slips away. As she's about to leave the building, Francis calls: 'Sylvie.'

    Francis, Berangere and Dale visit Francis' parents (Pierre Trabaud, Frédérique Meininger) for Berangere's birthday party. Berangere blows out the candles on her cake. They pass Dale a slice, but he is deep in thought, his mind far, far away. Later, walking along the Seine, Dale compliments Francis on his family--they seem to like to live in harmony--then he adds. 'Yeah, Lady Francis. I think it's about time for me to go home.'

    From the Seine to the East River. Francis accompanies Dale to New York. R.W. Goodley (Martin Scorsese) meets them at the airport and takes them to their hotel. He enquires about Buttercup. 'Buttercup is great. I tell ya, Buttercup is great!' Like Buttercup in Paris, Goodley has made all arrangements for Dale. From instant coffee and peanut butter ('I know you like that') to paying for all of Dale's expenses. 'And whatever comes to you, you don't have to worry about it, it comes to my office at the end of the week.' He offers Dale an advance. Dale gestures to Francis. Goodley throws the money on the bed next to Francis. After Goodley leaves, Dale says; 'S.O.S. Same old shit.'

    Francis leaves to check out the club. In the hallway he notices two guys quickly exchange a handful of cash for something that's cleverly hidden. One of the guys looks at Francis and walks away.

    Dale and the band at the club. Dale's daughter, Chan (Victoria Gabrielle Platt), arrives and is given a table at the front with Francis. Dale plays a tune he wrote for her. After the show Dale and Chan are at a late-night diner. Francis sits at another table. One of the guys in the hallway deal appears. Dale acknowledges him: his name is Booker (Arthur French). Booker compliments Dale's playing and leaves. Francis looks worried.

    Francis is back at the hotel. Booker is waiting outside Dale's room. He wants to see Dale. There's a brief struggle and Booker pulls a switchblade. When a hotel guest appears, he folds and pockets it. He walks away and says, over his shoulder: 'Tell Dale Booker was here. He wants something...he'll find it.'

    Back at the hotel room. Dale is sitting at the window, looking at the city lights. Francis asks if he was happy in Paris, then says: "Is this the same room where Hershel died?' 'I don't know. They all look the same.'

    Under the East River's Williamsburg Bridge, Francis tells Dale that he's going back to Paris. He's made two reservations. For tomorrow. There are two flights, at 7:30 and 9:30. Dale replies: 'If we're going, let's go early. Y'know, Lady Francis. There's not enough kindness in the world.' The following evening, Francis is waiting at the airport. He waits until the final boarding call. He returns to Paris. Alone.

    In Paris, Francis awakes with a start, sits bolt upright. His face glistening with sweat. He gets out of bed and sits in the living room. Hours later he's sitting in the same chair, staring at the walls. There are footsteps in the hallway. A letter appears under the door: 'Dale died Friday at Cumberland hospital - Goodley.' Berangere appears and Francis embraces her.

    Francis is with Berangere looking at black and white footage of Dale. Dale says: "I hope, Lady Francis, we live long enough to see an avenue named after Charlie Parker; Lester Young Park; Duke Ellington Square; and even a street named Dale Turner.'

    Years later, in an open air venue in front of a large crowd, Eddie Wayne and a large band open a concert with one of Dale's compositions, a tribute to their friend-- 'a great jazz musician' who was always doing things 'ahead of us'--Dale Turner.

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