Saint Jack (1979) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

Two thumbs up from Scoop and Tuna. If you are a mainstream plot-and-action guy, this may not be for you, but if you like a more thoughtful film, and enjoy character and atmosphere, this is a good one.

A comeback for Peter Bogdanovich. An interesting film. Produced by Roger Corman, but lavish by Corman's standards. Shot on location in Singapore. After the successes of his early career, Bogdanovich had three consecutive failures before this film: "Daisy Miller", "Nickelodeon", and the legendary stinker "At Long Last Love". Thank God he jettisoned Burt Reynolds and Cybill Shepherd (Bogdanovich's girlfriend), and moved on.

Tuna's comments in yellow

Peter Bogdanovich got his start with Roger Corman, and made three successful films in a row. He became sought after in Hollywood, and made three flops in a row. All three were projects that he cared deeply about, and he decided to stop making films until he could figure out how he had lost the knack. After three years, he decided to get back to basics -- the basics he had learned from Roger Corman, and get as far away from Hollywood, both geographically and artistically as he could. He was aware of the book "Saint Jack" by Paul Theroux.


Bridgit and Lily Ang did a sex scene together. There was fairly substantial additional male nudity (full frontal from two men) and a bit of incidental female nudity from unnamed extras.
As luck would have it, the bunnymag people owned the rights to the book, just as Bogdanovich and his significant other, Cybill Shepherd, were suing PEI over an unrelated issue. They were given production rights to the book as part of the settlement, on the condition that PEI get a production credit. Shepherd's company also wanted a credit, but it was Roger Corman who funded the film and provided all of the support. Shepherd wrote the initial draft of the script.

The story, Saint Jack, is about Jack Flowers (Ben Gazzara), a pimp in Singapore in the early 70's. He treated everyone, prostitute, customer and competitor alike with respect, and was well liked. He realizes his dream of opening his own house against his friend's advice (the Chinese wanted 100% of that business). When some gangsters trash his business and run off all of the girls, he goes to work for a sleazy CIA agent (played by Bogdanovich) running an R&R center (US Government funded whorehouse for GIs)). He is no longer living the life he wants, and when he is asked to get compromising photos of a gay democratic senator so the administration can blackmail him, he is tempted, and goes as far as to take the photos, then decides to do the moral thing, and throws the photos into the canal. While the film is about pimps and prostitutes, there were almost none in the book, and in the initial versions of the script. They were folded in later.

The Singapore government banned the book Saint Jack, as they had a revisionist view of the American whorehouse part of their history. Bogdanovich wrote a 30 page treatment called Jack of Hearts to show the folks in Singapore. It wasn't until after the film was in the can that the government found out what they really shot. Bogdanovich is not allowed into Singapore to this day. This was the first film ever shot in Singapore, was done in 6 weeks of shooting, and made full use of the local scenery. 100% of the film is shot on location. Most of the roles were played by local amateurs. Bogdanovich feels that he made exactly the film he wanted to make. Worldwide, movie goers agreed with him. Critics everywhere love it. It was not popular with mainstream US viewers.

This character driven drama is low key, and has almost no exposition. What seems at first like a slow pace and thin plot is really rich in subtleties, political overtones, and fascinating characters. The scenics in Singapore are exotic and appealing. Unfortunately, nearly every location used in this film has now given way to high rises and "progress." If you don't mind thinking when you watch a film, this gem is a must see.

Scoopy resumes:

After Jack loses the House, he just struggles to change his life for the better, maybe even get enough to leave Singapore. The sleazy American gives him a chance to make $25,000 in one score by setting a client up with a male prostitute, then getting blackmail pictures of them together. Jack does it, but as he walks to trade the pictures for the money, he realizes that he's lost something inside of himself that he can't afford to lose, so he tosses the pictures into a canal, and just walks off through the streets as the credits roll.

When I first saw this film, I was in my 20's and I thought it was rambling and didn't have a tight enough script. I was disappointed by it, after having read some good reviews.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 1.78:1

  • Full-length Bogdanovich commentary

  • The usual bios, and a trailer

Now, I still think it's rambling, but I enjoy the characters and the Singapore atmosphere so much that I don't mind the razor-thin plot at all. Gazzara is just terrific as the genuinely compassionate and ethical man who finds himself in a profession better suited to harder, colder individuals. He really created a consistent and interesting character, ala Bogart's Rick in Casablanca, and you could really see why people liked him so much. The minor characters and supporting players are also charming and offbeat and real, and I enjoyed the way Ben interfaced with all of them. It's a character study, and the characters are genuinely interesting.

Maybe it's easier to relate to movies about the sense of loss when you've experienced more loss yourself.

The Critics Vote

  • Maltin 3/4, Ebert 4/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.3,
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a B-.

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