21 July 2000 | jlabine
Another Brilliant Little Sleeper!
"Saint Jack" is an amazing little film. Just when you figure that Peter Bogdanovich was only capable of making Hollywood efforts rather than his once indepedent film maker roots (ie; "Targets" and "Last Picture Show") he surprised his fans with this little film. Not since Cassavetes, has a director pulled such an honest and Oscar worthy performance from Ben Gazzara. For me, Ben's role as Jack Flowers is one of the most colorful of American Cinema's characters. His character is shaded with the same quirks that you would expect from such an actor as Bogart. The film begins with Jack Flowers running a prostitution racket in late 1960's Singapore, with dreams of opening the grandest of whore houses. What may seem like a typically seedy character for cinema, turns out to be one of the most sensitive portrayals that indears rather than repulses. His rather cynical, humourous, honest and lazy approach to life is at times comendable and charming. But after his dream is realized (he does get his whore house!), things start falling apart. It's at this point that his integrity is questioned with the newer business routes he ventures into. The second half of the film is slightly dispairing due to the fact that he no longer has a sense of dream, but only a sense of escape from the world he has created. You get the feeling that people of his disposition are not trully suited for the occupation of pimp. One of the highlights of the film is the friendship he builds with William Leigh (Denholm Elliott). Both are outsiders of Singapore, yet still live there, due to the fact that they're too much of an outsider in their country of origin. The friendship reminds me that of Bruno Ganz and Dennis Hopper in "The American Friend". Both are in countries not their own, but "Saint Jack" retains a friendship of innocence. One will die in both. I imagine that Peter Bogdanovich was influenced to a degree by Hugh Hefner (of Playboy fame), in which he (as well as Jack Flowers) is also in the industry of female objectification. Yet both are still looked upon as fairly descent men. It's no surprise to me that Hugh was also responsible for some of the production along with B-movie producer Roger Corman. Another character (of female objectification in cinema history) that plays a great influence in the film as well...is James Bond. The use of music, epecially the Goldfinger soundtrack (heard while two Singaporean prostitutes are gettin' busy), the theatre poster for the film resembles a James Bond like poster, and the casting of George Lazenby (ironically as a Senator with homosexual leanings) from "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" fame, lend an overwhelming thought that secretly Bogdanovich wanted to make a Bond film. But this may have also been a way of justifying Jack Flowers own arguable career choices of that of our own moral decissions in entertainment enjoyment. Also, comparing to a time (late 1960's) when we (as America) sent troops to Vietnam (another theme in the film), Jack comes off looking quiet harmless, and smelling of flowers (pun intended). But what really makes this film so charming is the warmth that Ben Gazzara radiates in this film, and how it's small scale of a budget offers such a big heart. It's heaviness in topic is always brought off with humour and sensitivity. Highly recommended on all counts! It's a pity that not more people know of this film, and that's great loss to the film watching public. Maybe Bogdanovich will make something as interesting in the future? I give it a 10!