Just a Gigolo is one of those late 70s movies that got lost in the rights mess of the last few decades. Originally exhibited by Columbia Pictures in the US, a lot has changed in the last 43 years. Mainly the cult of academics and cast members that called it a flop are now softening on the film. Is it great? No. But, it’s a surprisingly mature look at the time in German society between Wars. Plus, you get Marlene Dietrich singing again.
Serving as David Bowie’s second film role following his debut in The Man Who Fell to Earth, it was an interesting choice. Just a Gigolo places Bowie in a role that he could’ve gone full Bowie. But, he plays everything a step back. A lot of people initially thought that this was done as a favor to Hemmings. The director was supposed to help a documentary of Bowie’s 1978 “Heroes” tour.
Playing a World War I Prussian soldier, Bowie plays a man in search of purpose. Even when he gets wounded at the end of the War, he gets mistaken for being someone else. As he recovers and returns to Germany, he finds what he knows is gone. So, he ends up joining a male brothel owned by Marlene Dietrich. Seeing as how Dietrich narrowly escaped the Nazis in reality, she refused to return to Berlin to film her scenes.
Marlene Dietrich would film her scenes as inserts for Bowie to act against at a later date. Some would insist this was because the legendary star hated Bowie, but there’s nothing to back that up. You can tell from vintage interviews that Bowie really wanted her there to run questions about the movie. But, that’s a lot of what hurt Just a Gigolo. So many great ideas at play, but little real execution.
There is a lot going on in this quiet little movie and I feel the years haven’t been kind to it. That’s not to say that Just a Gigolo aged poorly, far from it. It’s just that when a movie premieres and then gets a 42 minute cut…you can’t expect the result to fare that well with audiences. I’m not saying that there was a way to make audiences related to a German war vet that is against the Nazis and Commies, but also won’t commit to going full man whore.
Throughout this summer, I’ve been studying multiple cuts of various movies. It’s not anything more than an exercise in seeing how the slightest cuts or additions warp films. David Hemmings had been directing films before Just a Gigolo, however I see the reason why he switched to directing American TV in the 1980s. Seriously, the guy who played Dildano in Barbarella directed a ton of Magnum PI and The A Team among other shows.
In Ruther’s book “Heroes”, Bowie stated that Just a Gigolo was him doing all of his Elvis movies at once. If you’re not familiar with what he’s referencing, it’s a slam about how Hollywood never could figure out what role to put Presley in during an era. This film features Bowie at war, in romance, dealing with family drama and then having to play a semi-pacifist. That is a lot to do in under two hours.
Many people will get upset that Just a Gigolo isn’t arriving on Blu-ray in its original cut. Well, I don’t think that cut exists in a format that can be restored anymore. Arrow is running into the same problem with their efforts to bring Legend into the 4K era. It’s a new film preservation issue that is emerging as this new century goes into higher and higher resolutions. No more is it just protecting the films of the Silent Era, we’re now having to save neglected films from just 40 to 50 years ago.
Shout Factory and Fabulous Films finally brings this Bowie cult classic to Blu-ray. The fact that we’re getting a Just a Gigolo commentary from the surviving creative talent is amazing. Plus, you get a featurette and trailer. I truly wish that the 1080p transfer wasn’t so washed out. But, that would require a restoration that I’m sure nobody is willing to pay for in 2021. Still, I’d recommend a purchase for Bowie and cult 70s cinema fans.