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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

SAINT JACK (1979)

After making the Hollywood A-list on three early hits, Peter Bogdanovich found hubristic comeuppance (the sort charted by pal Orson Welles in THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS/’42) with three career-cratering flops. Hence, after time off for bad behavior, this exotic, indie-flavored, low-budget character study (about a high-riding Singapore pimp) was something of a shot at cinematic redemption. Assuming you can swallow the bemused, if tone-deaf idea of a ‘good’ pimp (Rick in CASABLANCA, whom he’s drawn on, wasn’t half so noble*), this wised-up unsentimental education is a tremendously appealing entertainment. Ben Gazzara, more mobile & alert than usual, runs what you might call a ‘clean’ brothel, it’s the society around him that’s breaking down. All made even worse by the fast decline of U.S. military investment in Vietnam. And while there’s only so much bribery can cover, there’s also a limit to how low Saint Jack will stoop to survive. A fine contingent of British actors hover round the Singapore bars like leftovers from some Somerset Maugham story (with Denholm Elliott beyond praise as an accountant making once-a-year visits), but most of the cast are non-pros, a little tough to understand, but bringing verisimilitude with every patterned shirt. Bogdanovich’s simplified filming style, much aided by Robby Müller’s atmospheric/fuss-free lensing, is transformed from his Hollywood classicism, perfect for his subject. And if he never did go three-for-three again, Bogdanovich had some worthwhile stops in his uneven future projects. (Look for the restored edition of this on Scorpion.)

DOUBLE-BILL: *Also in ‘79, Sean Connery tried on the Rick Blaine/Humphrey Bogart/CASABLANCA/’42 mantle in Richard Lester’s CUBA.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: You don’t much see these ‘second line’ posters anymore.  (see above - click to enlarge)   The studios used to rush them out when films got critical raves but no biz.  Now, second runs (heck, second weeks!) are a thing of the past for underperformers.

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