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Saint Jack

****
1979

‘…a brilliant character study of a reprehensible man who is also a decent human being…’

There’s been a couple of flickers of interest from people about the ‘why can’t I see this film?’ category; this tag gets added if a film isn’t on any of the main streaming services, and occasionally a link is provided if the film is on You Tube or Daily Motion. This is tough on film-makers, who presumably are losing out financially by not having their film behind a pay-wall, but the thinking is that the exposure, temporary as it might be, might at least engender enough interest for a re-release or even a restoration.

Both would be desirable for Peter Bogdanovich’s best film, 1979’s adaption of the novel Saint Jack. Reputedly, Orson Welles gave the book to Cybill Shepherd, who got the rights as part of a legal win over Playboy magazine; Hugh M. Hefner produces. In the late seventies, an adult-themed film like Saint Jack was still deemed to have potential at the box-office, although poor distribution kept Paul Theroux’s adaptation of his own book out of mainstream theatres. Ben Gazzara gives a huge performance as Jack Flowers, an ex-pat who runs a Singapore brothel, and turns to an auditor (the great Denholm Elliot) for help, only to find himself out of his depth when the CIA get involved.

Saint Jack is a brilliant character study of a reprehensible man who is also a decent human being; this is a story where the moral messages are not cut and dried. George Lazenby, Rodney Bewes and Joss Ackland round out the cast as ex-pats; Saint Jack dares to point the finger at American and British behaviour abroad, and comes to unsavoury conclusions about human nature.

The gap between the public perception of this film and its quality is remarkable; a portrait of a hustler’s hustle, it’s every bit as good as Mean Streets or Taxi Driver, but the lack of violent catharsis seems to have relegated it to the dustiest drawer in film history.

See it while you can.

 

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  1. and comes to unsavoury conclusions about human nature

    What a shocking conclusion! Humans can act badly, even REALLY badly? What would we do without movies?
    There goes my weekend of dreaming of utopia 😉
    Damn hollywood, spoiling my dreams.

    I guess I’ll have to go eat pizza until I pass out. This world is a bill of goods that I was just sold. My new dream is to be a curmudgeon and write rants and nasty comments and generally be a poop head until hollywood gives me my dream back!

  2. Amazed this isn’t readily available. Great film. Gazzara and Elliott exactly the kind of actors you need in a film like this. I remember it having a good bit more depth than you might expect at the time, but i think it had problems even then getting a distribution deal so maybe they were never resolved.

  3. Bringing up the ever present question: What makes a great story? Do we simply want polished ethical protagonists doing good deeds, or do we want flawed real people who–like ourselves–are capable of limited poor morals and slipshod choices? I have read that the best stories are those that we’re a little bit ashamed of.
    Could this thing even get made today, in our age of super heroes and uber sensitivity to offense?

    • Great comment. This film would not get made today. It has the depth of a novel. It does not virtue signal. It deals with a dishonest character, but treats him honestly. It’s a crime that serious cinema has denigrated to the point it has. Look at this year’s awards films. Do any of them challenge or engage the way this does? Today’s film-makers take the easy way out, lest someone object on social media. The fact that you can’t actually see this film on Prime or itunes is a scandal in itself.

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