Saint Jack 1979 *****

saint jack

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 it’s 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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It Couldn’t Happen Here 1987 ****

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The sole cinematic entry for the Pet Shop Boys, It Couldn’t Happen Here was originally known as A Hard days Shopping, and it’s to director Jack Bond’s credit that the result is as idiosyncratic as The Beatles film. Plotting takes second place to a Fellini-style phantasmagoria of British seaside life, mixing past, present and abstract surrealism as it ropes in Catholic guilt via Joss Ackland’s sinister priest, comedic turns against a sea-side setting from Barbara Windsor and the late Gareth Hunt (‘Bit of a laugh, no harm done’) , and a ventriloquists dummy with a penchant for existential chat. Bond’s gift as a documentary film-maker lends a strange authenticity to the contrasted memories of childhood contrasted with Thatcher’s Britain, and the whole project is garlanded with hit songs, cleverly mixed.