After a couple of major studio flops, Peter Bogdanovich returned to his 1960s filmmaking roots with this Roger Corman-produced low budget film. Easygoing expatriate Jack Flowers (Ben Gazzara) makes his living in early-1970s Singapore legally and illegally looking after the needs of American and British businessmen, such as the mild-mannered William Leigh (Denholm Elliott). With his gift for putting clients and girls at ease, Jack opens a successful brothel, but pressure from local mobsters soon puts him out of business. Ever the survivor, he starts working for the shady, Cuban-cigar-smoking Eddie Schuman (Bogdanovich) as a pimp for GIs on breaks from Vietnam. But Jack’s conscience starts to dog him when Schuman hires him to take compromising pictures of a visiting Senator (George Lazenby). Adapted by Bogdanovich, Howard O. Sackler, and Paul Theroux from Theroux’s novel, Saint Jack offers a pimp with a heart of gold, who is less an ugly colonial American abroad than an outsider trying to make the best of a bad situation.Shooting on location in Singapore, cinematographer Robby Müller lends an appropriately gritty look to the matter-of-fact narrative. With restrained and forceful performances by Gazzara and Elliott, Saint Jack was something of a succès d’estime for the embattled Bogdanovich, winning the Italian Journalist Award for Best Film at the 1979 Venice Film Festival. While not a box-office success, it remains an affecting and unsung character study of a man’s desire to forge a reasonably honorable life in a dishonorable profession.
From a interview in The Guardian:
Q1: I lived in Singapore for a few years and there are many stories there of Saint Jack and how you told the Singapore government that you were doing one thing and did something else with the movie. Could you tell the truth about what happened with that, please?
PB: Well, what happened was… the book, Saint Jack by Paul Theroux, was banned in Singapore, because they did not want to cop to the fact that Singapore was a city where American soldiers came, during Vietnam, for R&R, which really meant getting girls and so on. And they didn’t want to admit that that happened. So the book was banned. And when I decided to make the movie, we travelled around most of Asia looking for a place to shoot it besides Singapore, because we knew we couldn’t shoot it there. But Manila, Hong Kong, wherever we went, it wasn’t as good as Singapore, obviously, because that’s where it took place. So we decided we would shoot it in Singapore after all, but we couldn’t tell them that it was Saint Jack because they never would have let us. So we told them we were shooting a movie called Jack of Hearts. And one afternoon, I dictated to my Chinese secretary a totally different plot, about a guy who comes from Buffalo to Singapore to open a nightclub or something. Actually he wants to open a whorehouse. I talked it out and described all the scenes – it was complete fiction, it was kind of a cross between Pal Joey and Love is a Many-Splendoured Thing. Quite terrible. But this is what we handed out to everybody, and nobody knew we were shooting Saint Jack at all. I was there for six months. Got back to Los Angeles and – remember Roderick Mann? – he came over to do an interview with him, and like an idiot I told him the truth. And of course, he printed it, it was a good story, and well… Headlines in Singapore: “Bogdanovich tricks Singapore”. Vicious editorials and the picture, of course, was banned in Singapore. Though I am told there are bootleg copies there. So that’s what really happened. It was sort of fun to do it that way, though, I have to admit.
Language(s):English dual audio with commentary