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Saint Jack

Based on a novel by Paul Theroux, who adapted it for the screen with Bogdanovich and Howard Sackler, and features Gazzara as Jack Flowers, an American living in Singapore in the early 70s. Flowers is a shady character, a Korean War veteran and a small-time operator who takes care of American and English businessmen during their stays in the city. But he also has a more profitable sideline as a pimp: his dream is to run his own brothel, his own “house”. Ultimately he achieves this, though not without running into some trouble.

Saint Jack was produced by Roger Corman, with whom Bogdanovich worked on the film The Wild Angels (1966); Playboy tycoon Hugh Hefner was one of Saint Jack’s executive producers. But there’s nothing exploitative about the movie: a sequence where two prostitutes dance for one of Flowers’ clients to a recording of Shirley Bassey’s ‘Goldfinger’ is more surreal than seedy; and Bogdanovich shows real sensitivity in the scene where Flowers supplies prostitutes to a group of US soldiers returning from Vietnam, making you realise how disturbed these young men have become by their wartime experience.

There’s something admirably old-fashioned about Saint Jack. It was shot entirely on location in Singapore, on quite a tight budget – which lends it a documentary feel – yet it contains some marvellously stylised camerawork by German cinematographer Robby Muller. The sequence where we see Flowers running his house for the first time, for instance, reminds me of the party scene from The Magnificent Ambersons – Flowers wanders around his new brothel, effortlessly solving his clients’ little problems, and it’s here that he meets the shady Eddie Schuman (played by Bogdanovich). Their brief conversation, along with so much of the dialogue, is more like the snappy repartee you find in a movie from 1939 than one from 1979.

1h 52m
USA, Singapore
101 Distrabution

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