Saint Jack. 1979. USA. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Screenplay by Howard Sackler, Paul Theroux, Bogdanovich, based on Theroux’s novel. With Ben Gazzara, Denholm Elliott, Joss Ackland, James Villiers. DCP. 112 min.
Twice in the 1970s, Bogdanovich went abroad and returned with a masterpiece: In 1973, the director traveled to Rome and Switzerland to make a brilliantly sensitive adaptation of Henry James’s Daisy Miller, and later that decade he headed to Singapore to make his rawest and grittiest: Saint Jack. Ben Gazzara stars as Jack Flowers, an American expatriate who fancies himself the courtliest, most accommodating purveyor of a whorehouse on the island nation. Just as Bogdanovich relished photographing European cities in Daisy Miller, Saint Jack pulsates with a Westerner’s delight in discovering the East. The location photography by Robby Muller and use of local nonprofessional performers contribute to the rich atmosphere, but Bogdanovich’s moral vision keeps the film in focus. Despite his disreputable profession, Jack proves his ethical bona fides when he declines to fulfill his part in a blackmail scheme proposed by a US government official (played, with villainous relish, by Bogdanovich himself). –Peter Tonguette