Love is rarely historic, and history is only occasionally romantic, but affairs between famous figures hold an irresistible fascination. Louisiana Gov. Earl Long’s 1959 affair with stripper Blaze Starr may not be well documented in social studies textbooks, but it’s certainly a colorful enough subject for a movie. Unfortunately, the handsomely mounted Blaze takes its cues from such other fact-based fictions as Great Balls of Fire! and delivers a big-name love story that trivializes the past.
In the title role, relative newcomer Lolita Davidovich is overly reserved, an unsteady mixture of sweet innocence and worldly refinement that rings false. Luckily, Paul Newman carries the ball as the governor, throwing himself into the blustery part with gusto. A wily old goat, this unregenerate womanizer meets his match at a New Orleans strip joint when he recognizes an independent-minded kindred spirit, who also happens to possess a prodigious bosom. Smitten by the famed ecdysiast, Long imperils his career for the sake of love.
As in his previous (and more entertaining) film, Bull Durham, writer-director Ron Shelton approaches ribald sexuality with mature wit. Given the sensual obsessions of its central figures, the film deftly eludes lewdness. Despite some nudity, the bedroom and runway scenes are too lighthearted and jocular to be prurient. Historical details are likewise muted. Starr grew up in West Virginia hoping for a singing career and was conned into becoming a stripper; the corrupt but good-hearted populist was forced into a mental institution while in office, yet still managed to run for Congress — and win.
Although not widely endorsed by critics or moviegoers, Blaze has dark-horse appeal on video: Newman is always worth watching, and the rewind button gives viewers a way to catch up with the cast’s Louisiana drawls. B-