Teenage Wildlife

Just A Gigolo

Review by Ramona


OK, since nobody else has grabbed the golden opportunity to give the quick and dirty low-down on Just a Gigolo, I take on the solemn duty of doing so until somebody else comes along to do a better job (don't worry, I won't let the year I spent as a film major seep in too much).

Just a Gigolo is no longer in print, but I managed to wrangle a copy from my less than savory "connection". And since I don't actually have the copy right before me, I'll try my best to remember what actually happened in the film. I'd just like to say that I have every right to be disjointed in my recollection because the film itself was heavily reedited by the director David Hemmings after its almost universal panning by the critics. If it made little sense in its first edition, it makes even less in the reedited version. (I've heard that the longer, German version has scenes involving a French military hospital as well as a kind of running commentary by two women which helps to explain what is going on, something which my version lacks.)

So what exactly is Just a Gigolo?

Just a Gigolo marked David Bowie's second major cinematic performance after having finally gained his musical notoriety and legion of groupies. It's a 1979 (what was then) West German production directed by David Hemmings (best known perhaps as the young photographer who shot swinging chicks in Antonioni's Blow-Up). It chronicles the dashed hopes, fall from grace, and impeccable fashion sense of Paul Ambrosius von Przygodski (Dave) in post-WW I Berlin.

So what's the film about?

Now, what really can be said about a movie which Dave himself has likened to his equivalent of his 32 Elvis movies all rolled up into one? Well...I for one happen to love it! Not in the same way that I love TMWFTE; my appreciation for Just a Gigolo is on an entirely different level. Contrary to popular belief, the movie isn't really as godawful as the critics have made it out to be; it's not High Art, but it does have its redeeming qualities. Among these are some truly priceless examples of Bowie dialogue (forgive me for any misquotes here, since I'm working from memory), including:

And it just goes on and on.

Not only is there great dialogue, but you get some stunning visuals as well, including:

OK, but what's it about?! The story, you idiot, the story!!

The story opens on the very last day of WW I. Paul is shown walking dramatically thru a snow-covered battlefield as gunfire and random explosions go on all around him. He never flinches once. He meets up with Captain Kraft (Hemmings), who bitches about how things are on the front line. It's revealed that Paul comes from a long line of distinguished Prussian military men. Kraft is only so-so impressed. During their conversation the Germans in the trenches begin celebrating, since it's just been announced that the war is over. Kraft turns to Paul and, appealing to the boy's (Dave is playing a very young man at this point in the film) patriotism for the Fatherland, convinces him to run out into the No-Man's-Land, where he is wounded in battle (even though technically the war had just ended).

At this point, I've been told that there are scenes of Paul recuperating in a French military hospital. I've never seen them, so I can't verify them.

At the point where my copy of the film does start up again, we're shown a very sad-looking Paul indeed. Evidently some time has passed, and he has fallen on some hard times. He sneaks onto a train to take him back to his beloved Berlin.

Upon returning to Berlin, Paul, with a large pig that he has "borrowed" somewhere along the line, makes his way back to Mütti's (Maria Schell) house. But, horror of horrors, his Mütti's house is not the same. What was once the proud home of the aristocratic Przygodskis is now a house for *ahem* working girls. Eva (Erika Pluhar), one of the most successful of these girls, reveals to Paul that her profession does have its advantages.

Things never really improve for Paul. After his pig "mysteriously" disappears, he learns that, times being what they are, he'll have to help out the family. He'll have to actually work. After a less than satisfying stint as a walking advertisement for alcohol, Paul realizes that it's time for a change.

Through the magic of movies, Paul once again meets up with Kraft, who has become quite the little Fascist and has convinced Paul to join his little band of merry men as they plot to once again restore the rightful place of the Fatherland. Paul plays Kraft's little game for a while, but they eventually have a falling out.

At around this point Helga enters the picture. She is the young, sultry widow of one of the last great military men of Germany, and Paul is in awe of her. She seduces him during her late husband's funeral, and soon after Paul finds himself sitting pretty in her house. This too doesn't last long. Helga is just too "flighty" for the sombre Paul (she had the audacity to ask him to dance with her), and soon he finds himself back at his Mütti's.

Meanwhile, Paul's childhood sweetie Cilly, a cabaret performer, is making quite a name for herself. Paul attends one of her shows just before she's discovered, and is more than a little uncomfortable at her decadent performance. Nevertheless, he does end up going home with her to the mansion of her fiance the Prince (Curt Jürgens), where they play a game of doctor/patient like they used to in the old days. The very next morning, Cilly is offered the Opportunity of a Lifetime by way of a major Hollywood contract, and she ups and leaves right then and there without saying goodbye to Paul. Paul, hurt by Cilly's abrupt desertion and embarrassed at being found in the bathtub by the Prince, goes home to his Mütti.

Paul gets into the habit of frequenting the old club where Cilly used to play. He is approached by a dashing young man who has a "proposition" for Paul. Paul figures what the hell and follows him and the two elderly (and obviously wealthy) women who are with him to a swanky hotel on the good side of town. In the hotel, Paul is presented to the Baroness von Semering (Marlene Dietrich, in her last role; the idea of working with Dietrich caused Dave to accept this role, but funny enough the two never met on the set [their scenes were merely edited together]) who, after praising Paul's military prowess, recruits him into her army of gigolos. Paul half-heartedly accepts the money that has been paid for him, and he goes off to "dance" with the wealthy matron who has purchased his services for the evening.

Eventually, Cilly returns to marry the Prince. During the wedding reception, Kraft and his boys "crash" the party. I never really understood this scene very much, but I figure it was a way of showing how much stronger the Fascist party had grown. It also gives Paul an opportunity to finally reject Cilly when she once again throws herself at him.

Paul's new profession has him sitting pretty (and looking damn good in a tux) when who should show up one night but Helga, now married to über-wealthy (and older than dirt) South American aristocrat. She buys Paul for the night, and in the course of the activities (which Helga's new old husband has been watching, since that's really all he can do anymore...), Paul, preserving what little dignity he has left, leaves Helga in bed and goes down to have a drink in the bar.

Paul sips moodily at his drink when the Baroness shows up and gives her rendition of the title track (the same one later covered by David Lee Roth). Her performance must've depressed Paul even more because he gets up and leaves.

Now comes one of the more confusing parts of the movie. Somehow Paul ends up getting gunned down by Kraft's boys, who decide to make a martyr out of Paul for their cause. The deck him out in full Nazi regalia, and the film closes with Paul's father (who has been sitting comatose in his wheelchair throughout the entire movie; he's supposedly in a state of permanent shock after finding out that Germany lost WW I) turning to look at his son in his coffin with a tear in his eye.

OK, what's the point?

Need there be one? Like I've said before, I don't think this movie is particularly monstrous. Mousy-haired Dave looks very good throughout, and it's a credit to his ability as an actor that he could keep such a straight face thru most of the film.

Reviewed by Ramona


All pictures contributed by Trin.

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This document last updated Tuesday, 25-Apr-2000 20:24:46 EDT
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