Casablanca in the Far East (Time capsule of Singapore)
Yishen Kuik | 12/29/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
""Saint Jack" is a character movie, revolving around Jack Flowers (Ben Gazzara), an American hustler trying to make his fortune in 1970s Singapore in small time pimping. He dreams of building a fortune by running a brothel himself and returning to the States to lead a life of luxury. Savvy but not unsavory he strikes up a friendship with the character played by Denholm Elliot, a genial and decent auditor who travels to Singapore every year. (Elliot's character is not unlike his role in the Indy Jones movies, except less bumbling)
Bogdanovich does a wonderful job of weaving the web of relationships around Jack - the girls, the hotel owners, the madam and the expatriate Americans and English who form Jack's clientele. Through their interactions with Jack, we get a rich character sketch of a fundamentally decent and loyal man beneath the worldly and pragmatic exterior. Not unlike Bogart in Casablanca.
The setting of Singapore in the 1970s deserves a mention because it is as much a star of the film as Gazzara. This film was shot without the permission of the Singapore government and is still banned in Singapore for it's not necessarily flattering portrayal of the country. But it is a surprisingly successful attempt to capture the look and feel of Singapore in that lost era - in that transition stage after its days as an exotic colonial outpost visited by the likes of Somerset Maugham but before it cleaned up and catapulted into wealth. For this alone the movie is something of a rare gem, both in craft and content. Singaporeans who lived through the 70s will recognize the remarkable authenticity. "Casablanca", which merely offers a caricature of Casablanca, doesn't even come close in this regard.
Ultimately, the background of the Vietnam War comes into the picture as Jack is offered the opportunity by the CIA to run a brothel for the R&R activities of US soldiers on leave in Singapore. The movie weaves in deeper issues here which are not as clearly communicated as in the book (are they ever?). The soldiers are not altogether themselves - psychologically damaged as it were. In a scene where a CIA operative and Jack survey the frolicking soldiers and comment that they are leading the happy lambs to the slaughter, the more sinister nature of the R&R operation is made clear.
The anti-war theme continues as Jack is offered wealth, and the opportunity to leave Singapore to return to the States that it confers, if he assists in photographing an anti-war US congressman (played by George Lazenby - incidentally an early striptease scene in the movie plays to Shirley Bassey's "Goldfinger" as a tongue in cheek reference to Lazenby's role as Bond 10 years prior) in a compromising situation. The moral dilemma of going against the greater good by hobbling the anti-war effort versus obtaining one's personal desire to leave Singapore is again, redolent of "Casablanca".
There is no Ingrid Bergman to provide glamour and no French police chief to provide comic relief, but "Saint Jack" offers a more satisfying Bogart in Gazzara - a "Casablanca" for the real world and all it's complexities."
Character study with a great character actor
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 10/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Saint Jack is unique among Peter Bogdanovich's films in that it is more than any other focused on a single character, Jack Flowers, played by the great character actor Ben Gazzara. What comes out in the film is that living in Singapore, Flowers gets to strut his stuff as an American, taking advantage of the totally loose environment of Singapore in the 70s to run a fancy whorehouse. He knows and calls many native residents by their first name, wears Hawaiian shirts most of the time, looks relaxed and doesn't even flinch much when his place is ruined.
Befriending William Leigh, one of the several Brits who hangs out in this strange metropolis, Flowers is both amused and touched by Leigh's conventional stiff upper lip "Brit-ness". As Flowers encounters Singaporean thugs, young, horny American soldiers (the setting is the early 70s during the VietNam conflict when Yanks were given a respite in Sin City aka Singapore), dissolute Brits (it seems all they do is drink, sing, and complain), and his beloved hookers, he keeps his calm--one thing Gazzara is great at portraying--and banters with the best of them.
The question really is, Why? It's never actually answered, but we do have a lot of fun encountering these various people and seeing what Singapore looked like back then (it's changed so much, says Bogdanovich in an intriguing interview included with the DVD, that you wouldn't recognize it now if you knew it from back then). Flowers makes his way through it all unruffled, joking, shrugging off tragedy when it occurs, until, near the end, it hits home and he sobers up--for a short time. And then it's back to being Saint Jack, the go-to guy for all high rollers, gotta-have-fun people, and those who just want to drift through life.
This is a lot more than a travelogue; it's a way of life that has sadly passed us by in our current terrorism-wired world, and for that--combined with the fascinating portrait of a bygone era in a city that no longer exists as it did--it's definitely worth seeing."
Overlooked marvelous movie
Vadim | 10/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In fact at some moment after veiwing the film for the 15-th time one starts to notice that Gazarra is in effect playing a role, one notes with critique that "this could have been done differently" and "that could have certainly been done better". But tell me what movie will pass this "perfection" test after 15 reviews? In fact there are too few films that are worth numerous re-veiwing and Saint Jack is one of the few.The movie is balanced, slow-pace and absolutely nostalgic for the 60-s and the old world order. Especially for those who were in South-East Asia in the 60-s and early 70-s.DVD sound seemed a bit strange - as if from a different source. Pic quality is O.K.This is truly a once a rare stuff that was absolutely impossible to get 3 years ago (I had been actually looking for it and the best I could get was a second-hand 13 years-old VHS tape on an e-auction - untill they made a DVD earlier this year)"
Crystal clear memories and fuzzy DVD
Frits Bos | Chicago, IL United States | 03/08/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Who knows why a movie makes an impact? I traveled a lot in SE Asia during the period that the movie depicts and I was thrilled to once again "visit" the Singapore of my memories: the markets, the alleys, the old neighbourhoods and the old, faded Raffles. I was thrilled to roam these locations once again with Ben Gazzara. The music by Satchmo actually drove me into a buying frenzy to re-acquaint myself with his fabulous music, so moody, so atmospheric, so perfect in this movie. Yes, yes! My memories weren't all wrong, I remembered this movie for good reason. It is indeed one of these overlooked special movies that you can watch many times over and enjoy every single time. Very similar in fact to traveling to Singapore on numerous trips. I remember clearly that I thought that Ben made a huge mistake when he let his ladyfriend walk out - "stupid" was her last comment. Ah, it was the right thing for the movie, but being a romantic at heart I was hoping for a happy end. I will defer to the "professional" reviews of this movie - I agree with them.Now, the reason why I rate this DVD only 3 stars. I thought that the picture quality was at times poor - looked occasionally like a poor copy of an overly used movie-reel - and on a number of occasions there was very abrupt cutting. Was that the case with the original? I don't recall and I don't know. It just was rather jarring. And, somehow, I didn't feel that the soundtrack featuring Armstrong's marvelous music was up to par. This is DVD and the music should be of appropriate quality. So, I got this uncomfortable feeling that this DVD looks and sounds like a low budget conversion. Maybe it is a curse that sometimes memories are crystal clear and unfortunately this DVD features some fuzziness and nicks and scratches."
Fascinating Morality Tale
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 01/24/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Prostitution being the world's oldest profession it was only a matter of time before the pimp reared it's ugly head. Opportunity arises in Singapore for Jack Flowers, expatriate failed American writer, to add nobility to the world's most dishonored profession next to the lawyers and politicians. If it were only that simple. Despite running a brothel where the girls and the patrons admire and respect you the local competition uses less than subtle efforts to shut down your operation. Then the U.S. military acquires your services to provide R and R for the boys getting a momentary respite from the Vietnam quagmire. Even that doesn't feel clean. Director-writer Peter Bogdanovich has fashioned a compelling morality tale in a place where morality wouldn't seem to exist. The sweltering seediness of Singapore is captured perfectly here. Gazzara offers a complex reading of the affable Jack who begins the film apparently confident in the choice's he's made only to evolve into a man uncertain of his actions. Good supporting turn by Denholm Elliott as a British accountant who forms an unlikely but totally believable kinship with Jack."