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Saint Jack (1979)

By Lee Gardner | Posted

There's something so '70s about Peter Bogdanovich's Saint Jack--from the slo-mo 360-degree swivel pan of Singapore that opens the film to the bizarre list of Me Decade players involved (Paul Theroux co-wrote the script based on his novel, B-movie mogul Roger Corman produced, Hugh Hefner co-executive produced, and one-time 007 George Lazenby pops up in a small role). But the most '70s-esque aspect of Saint Jack--and its saving grace--is the title anti-hero, a middle-aged Italian-American hustler portrayed by an uncanny Ben Gazzara. Adrift in repressive/libertine Singapore, Jack Flowers' biggest dream is to open his own deluxe whorehouse. Underneath his veneer of cigar-chomping sleaze, Jack is a stand-up guy who's loyal and generous to his friends, especially fellow expat William Leigh (a pitch-perfect Denholm Elliot). But when Jack's big dream gets him in trouble with the local triads, a shady U.S. government operative (Bogdanovich, in an ill-advised turn) lures Jack into a level of pimping and exploitation that gets behind his bluff bonhomie and shakes up his dozing morals. "It's an old story, Judy," Jack says when his hard-bitten secretary (Judy Lim) tells him of another young girl "turned out" by someone she trusted. "New to her," she replies. Eminently quotable dialogue like that and Gazzara's overlooked performance make sitting through Bogdanovich's self-indulgence and heat-stroked pacing well worthwhile.

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