Blu-ray Review: The Flawed, Fascinating JUST A GIGOLO
Out on June 29th here in North America, Shout Factory releases --- to my knowledge --- a rarely-seen David Bowie film on Blu-ray, Just a Gigolo. Bowie stars as Paul Ambrosius von Przygodski, a Prussian solider whose been injured in the very last battle of WWI, just as it has come to an end. (What luck!)
After healing up in a French hospital, where they celebrate then get upset because he’s not French, Przygodski returns home to Berlin. There, he finds his family laid low. His aunt and mother --- who’ve turned their home into a boarding house --- are shocked to learn that he’s not dead, as reported. He’s also come home with a rather large pig he’s somehow acquired, chased through the streets by hungry citizens.
Additionally, Przygodski’s mother (Maria Schell) works in the Turkish baths (far less acceptable to society back then) and his father (played by Rudolf Schündler), is a catatonic, paralyzed vegetable in a wheelchair. Aspiring actress and gorgeous neighbor from childhood Cilly (Sydne Rome) seduces Przygodski, then leaves him for better opportunities in terms of a wealthy, older suitor and far-flung roles in Hollywood.
All of this is played to an off-kilter, comedic effect, and then the film shifts tone to the more dramatic.
Essentially, Przygodski is tossed aside not only by his new would-be girlfriend, but also by a crumbling society that has no jobs or use for him, save for humiliating and low-paying work. Actor-director David Hemmings’ Captain Kraft comes back into the picture and attempts to lure Przygodski into his shadowy right-wing group; not only is the older man Przygodski’s former commanding officer, but as you probably guessed, he’s a proto-Nazi.
Not long after toying around with the movement, Przygodski finds himself in the embrace of an absolutely stunning Kim Novak (Vertigo), who plays widow Helga von Kaiserling. Przygodski is somehow unsatisfied by being a kept man by an insanely attractive, available, and rich woman, and leaves for… other pastures, in a farfetched move.
It’s then that he catches the eye of a pack of tuxedoed male escorts in the Eden Bar, and is recruited by the mysterious and alluring Baroness von Semering. The older woman is played by then-recluse and Hollywood legend Marlene Dietrich (The Blue Angel, Morocco), who was coaxed to come out of retirement for two days of shooting for a reportedly $250,000.
In addition to having a fear of germs, Dietrich had a real bone to pick with the Nazis (as one should) and the country that fostered them, even though it was her childhood home. She had always longed to work with a German crew again, but would not leave her home in Paris to shoot in Germany. As a result, her scene with Bowie was filmed in Paris, his reverse shots filmed in Berlin, then matched in the edit.
By the end of the movie, Przygodski is of course disillusioned and his life crisscrossed again with Kraft and his cronies in an ending that proves the banality of evil.
Throughout the film, a pair of women are interspersed now and again, walking and chattering about events. These ladies serve (in my opinion) as the eyes of the rest of the world, watching what Germany becomes as it heads, destitute from devastation after the Great War, into its radical nationalization to power-hungry, angry arbiters of genocide and destruction.
Similarly, Bowie's character is quite passive in a role not unlike his alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth. I like to think that his disillusioned Przygodski was also representative of many of the men and women of Germany at the time, albeit the ones who simply stood by and watched as their country fell into outright fascism. I don't know if this was the screenwriter's intention, but it certainly can be read that way.
Somewhere, floating around, there’s an original 147-minute cut of Just a Gigolo, and I’m not sure where to find that. I’ve heard that this 105-minute version presented on this Blu-ray release isn’t as good as the original, but the film remains a fascinating look at history and culture in a tumultuous transition.
At times, the picture can be grainy, the blacks crushed, the edges of the frame faded. I wish the film had been better restored. That said, these aren’t dealbreakers, and the sound is quite good. This is a film from 1978 that probably hasn’t been cared for in terms of storage, after all, which is too bad.
The Making of Gigolo with Producer/Writer Joshua Sinclair and Assistant to the Director Rory Maclean
Audio Commentary with Rory Maclean
The interviews with Sinclair and Maclean on the making of the film are pretty interesting; they mostly delve into the insane rabbit hole of a process in procuring Dietrich. The included booklet expands on that story, as well as on the film’s critical reception and its aftermath. Most critics panned it, and even Bowie distanced himself from the film and director’s somewhat unprofessional behavior on a concert tour doc that was scrapped.
But as I said before, Just a Gigolo is fascinating in a historical and sociological context. For this alone, and for the quite interesting cast, the Blu-ray release is worth scooping up. Add it to your home collection via preorder by heading over to Shout Factory here.
Just a Gigolo
- David Hemmings
- Julius Brammer
- Irving Caesar
- Ennio De Concini
- Ted Rose (story)
- Joshua Sinclair
- David Bowie
- Sydne Rome
- Kim Novak
- David Hemmings