After a two-year absence, Peter Bogdanovich is back. Not hack— Saint Jack is no mordant masterpiece, no profound and wrenching scream of despair—but, at least, back behind the camera, which is where he belongs. Two years may not seem a long time in these days of meticulous movie-making, when many important directors take months just to order a coffee, but Bogdanovich is a ’70s avatar of the energy and craftsmanship of the old Hollywood. He must be forever on the move: shooting a film as he rewrites a
second and lines up a third. It’s good to have him once again feeding his habit— and ours—for well-made movies with engaging characters and a fine feeling for time and place.
If Bogdanovich were grinding out movies at the half-dozen-a-year rate that some of the best directors of the '30s approached, Saint Jack’s modest, old-fashioned virtues would stand out in greater relief. The movie’s time and place: Singapore in the early ’70s. The engaging characters: Jack Flowers (Ben Gazzara)—a small-time, big-hearted hustler who dreams of running his own
whorehouse—and the eccentric Americans, Englishmen and Orientals he does business and pleasure with. The movie ambles along episodically, propelled mostly by Gazzara’s earthy wit—until the climax—when Jack must resolve a moral dilemma that, because we have gotten to know him, is no dilemma at all. In this movie the good guys wear gaudy print shirts.
Huzzahs, as you have guessed, are not exactly in order for Saint Jack and Peter Bogdanovich. This time, a simple welcome back will have to do.
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