In a performance that feels like an extension of his role in The Killing of a a Chinese Bookie, Ben Gazzara gave one of his most happy-go-lucky turns in Peter Bogdanovich’s Saint Jack, the tale of an American hustler whose chaotic business it is to “satisfy the needs” of visiting businessmen in Vietnam War-era Singapore. (Among its other virtues, the film is an invaluable record of a city long since vanished under constant redevelopment, photographed by the great Robby Muller of Paris, Texas fame.)
“Saint Jack” Flowers’ philosophy: “People make love for so many crazy reasons, why shouldn’t money be one of them?” Gazzara plays Flowers as a breezy entrepreneur, a man preternaturally driven towards delivering the classiest brothel and the absolute best in carnal pleasures to GIs, ex-pats and other wayward souls lost amongst southeast Asia. The local mob demand their cut of course. And then there’s a shady CIA man who has his own agenda (played by the filmmaker).
Based upon the novel by Paul Theroux, Saint Jack marked the first of several critical comebacks for Bogdanovich after a couple of critical and commercial flops. He had obtained the rights initially at the behest of his friend Orson Welles, who admired the book. In a humanist return to form matching The Last Picture Show, the filmmaker gives Gazzara room to ride the line between savvy, charismatic huckster and moralistic citizen of the world.
Restoration courtesy of Shout! Factory and the American Genre Film Archive.
I discovered Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 film Saint Jack several years ago when I picked it up on video. The cover had a fantastic painting of its star Ben Gazzara – it looked like artwork for a James Bond movie. So I watched the tape and realised it was a great film. From then on I’ve always wanted to sponsor a screening, to introduce it to as many people as possible.
The absolution that Saint Jack offers us today is not only a refuge in a long-lost smoky street culture, but importantly, a refutation of the dominant narrative that insists that enforced progress is not only inevitable, but the best form of freedom for all.
William Gibson, Pop Matters
Aug 25 Only: Introduction from novelist Erik d’Souza (Death in Halfmoon Bay)
Ben Gazzara, Denholm Elliott, George Lazenby, Joss Ackland, James Villiers
Best Film Award, Venice 1979
Hugh M. Hefner, Edward L. Rissien
Peter Bogdanovich, Howard Sackler, Paul Theroux
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