Saint Jack (1979): Bogdanovich’s Crime-Character Study, Starring Ben Gazzara

Blast from the Past

In sort of a comeback as a filmmaker, after several expensive flops, Peter Bogdanovich directed Saint Jack, a crime character study, based on the 1973 novel Saint Jack.

Grade: B+ (***1/2 out of *****)

Ben Gazzara shines as the star of the film, whose cast also includes Denholm Elliott and George Lazenby.

Jack, an American pimp in Singapore, goes to the airport to pick up a British accountant named Bill for his Chinese ‘boss.’ The boss is a cover for his real business, pimping, from the authorities.

He takes Bill to his hotel, then to a bar where British expats mingle.

Jack then meets a john, who he takes to a brothel, together with Bill, who only really wants a game of squash.

While returning, they are chased by Chinese triads, who resent Jack.

The next day they find one of Jack’s Chinese friends murdered, as a warning.

Cybill Shepherd sued Playboy magazine for publishing photos of her from The Last Picture Show. As part of the settlement, she got the rights to the novel Saint Jack, which she had wanted to make into a film after Orson Welles gave her a copy.

Saint Jack was shot entirely on location in Singapore in May and June 1978. Places featured are the former Empress Place hawker centre (now demolished) and Bugis Street.

As the local authorities knew about the book, the foreign production crew feared they would not be permitted to shoot the film. Instead, they created a fake synopsis called Jack of Hearts, (“a cross between Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Pal Joey”). Most of the Singaporeans involved really believed this was what they were making.

The film was banned in Singapore and Malaysia in 1980. Singapore banned it “due to concerns that there would be excessive edits required to the scenes of nudity and some coarse language before it could be shown to a general audience.” It lifted the ban in March 2006, and is now M18-rated film.

Saint Jack was re-released in North America on DVD in 2001.

In a 2006 interview with the New York Times, Bogdanovich said “Saint Jack and They All Laughed were two of my best films but never received the kind of distribution they should have.”

Cast

Ben Gazzara as Jack Flowers
Denholm Elliott as William Leigh
James Villiers as Frogget
Joss Ackland as Yardley
Rodney Bewes as Smale
Mark Kingston as Mr. Yates
Lisa Lu as Mrs. Yates
Monika Subramaniam as Monika
Judy Lim as Judy
George Lazenby as Senator
Peter Bogdanovich as Eddie Schuman
Joseph Noël as Gopi