Having lost the chance to prove himself in the army (World War I ended the day he arrived in the trenches), Paul (David Bowie) spends most of David Hemmings‘ Just A Gigolo adrift. The film, which takes places during the ’20s, looks at how hard some Germans took losing World War I. In Paul’s case, he no longer has a sense of purpose, and that doesn’t change as the years go by.
Filmed in West Berlin during the Cold War, Just A Gigolo has redeeming qualities and at least while watching it never came to the point that I felt antsy or like I was waiting for the film to end. In what other movie can you see Bowie carrying around a live pig? The opening sequence is wonderful, because it really plays into that otherworldly quality Bowie had, as his character walks around like he’s bulletproof, but then for the rest of the movie Paul is inconsistent, and the film’s light tone only half works, given what’s coming.
The cast is the selling point, but that’s nothing to sneeze at. There’s Bowie, of course, who had just starred in Nicholas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, but also major names like Kim Novak, Maria Schell, and Hemmings himself (who acts as well as directs the picture).
Even if Just A Gigolo was only memorable for being Marlene Dietrich’s final film that would be enough. Sure, it’s not ideal circumstances. While both of Dietrich scenes are with Bowie, they were never in the same room together. Dietrich’s scenes were filmed in Paris. She’s also wearing the same clothes in both scenes, but she sings, and it’s just as transportive as ever.
That Dietrich agreed to do the picture at all is a case of writer and co-producer, Joshua Sinclair, just going for it, because nobody believed she would say “yes” and the story of how he was able to convince her is a testament to his tenacity (Ennio De Concini also has a writing credit, but it sounds like he was only involved with the original screenplay).
Shout Factory’s release comes with an essay booklet, but a few of the pages and photos are repeats. It also seems like a page or two might be missing, from the point in Sinclair’s story when he travels to Portugal to meet Dietrich’s former agent. Between the booklet and hearing Sinclair talk about the casting process in a featurette called ‘The Making of Gigolo,’ you really get the complete story (and the best part is learning Dietrich received her lines on a piece of toilet paper because that’s all Sinclair had on hand).
The other essay in the booklet is by Graham Rinaldi, while Rory Maclean (who was Hemmings’ assistant) appears in “The Making of Gigolo” featurette and provides the commentary (though a lot of his remarks in the commentary are word for word the same from the featurette, including how he originally rejected the script because he thought it was derivative of Cabaret).
Just a Gigolo is available on Blu-Ray and DVD now from Shout! Factory.