“Saint Jack” (1979)

A not unsung, but barely sung, Peter Bogdanovich movie, taken from Paul Theroux’s novel and shot by Robby Müller in the streets and bars of 1970s Singapore, before it got Times Squareified. That sweaty, tawdry atmosphere is one of its long suits, as is Ben Gazzara’s technique-free performance as a hustling ex-pat pimp with a yen to operate his own whorehouse. Saint Jack’s attitude is unabashedly adult, both in its unsensational treatment of sex workers and its placing front and center Gazzara and Denholm Elliott (playing a visiting businessman becalmed by Jack’s lifestyle), mature leads whose species of manhood disappeared with the Korean War. (Depp and DiCaprio might pass as their sons but never their peers.) Gazzara has no big star-turn speeches. Instead he relaxes, blending in with the scenery and a rich array of non-professional actors; his easy, uncooked, fragrant vibe is a world apart from The Killing of a Chinese Bookie’s triangulated anguish, the difference between a blunt instrument and a paper airplane. Saint Jack’s quietly anarchic sense of humor also rates a mention: an amateur sex-show is choreographed, appallingly, to Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”— the last time James Bond’s producers allowed their music to be used in someone else’s movie.


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