Just a Gigolo has a terrible reputation, in part because Bowie, who starred in the movie, trashed it. Among other insults, he said it was his “32 Elvis Presley movies contained in one.” For this reason, I never really sought it out until recently. Now that I’ve finally seen the film, I can say that it’s not nearly as bad as I was expecting. But it still isn’t very good.
Bowie plays a German veteran of the First World War, returning to Berlin and having trouble finding meaningful work. Eventually he becomes a gigolo. Along the way, he meets a fellow-former German officer who becomes a mid-level leader of the nascent Nazi movement. The Nazis try to recruit Bowie’s character (whose name is Paul), but Paul demurs. Eventually, at a seemingly random moment in the movie, Bowie’s character is killed by a stray bullet as Nazis battle Communists in the street. The Nazis scoop up Paul’s dead body, dress the corpse as one of their own and display him at a wake as a Nazi martyr. That’s pretty much how it ends.
The main problem with this movie is that it’s boring. The pace is slow. The continued, looming presence of the Nazis, who aren’t even identified as such at first, could have been foreboding, but that’s not how it plays out. The Nazis are mostly depicted as bumbling and pathetic, until they’re not. Maybe that was the point— in a broken society, the dregs can eventually rise to become dangerously powerful. Bowie’s character is the personification of the German version of the lost generations. He’s beautiful and wanted, but after the war he is aimless and can’t find a way to be productive. His death is ultimately as meaningless as his life, until really bad guys inject some twisted meaning into it after the fact.
If I’m making Just a Gigolo seem profound, it really isn’t. It doesn’t know if it wants to be a black comedy or a poignant drama, of, for that matter, a musical. Wait— a musical, with David Bowie? Well, almost. There are actually several songs and a few dance performances, and indeed, Bowie contributed a song to the soundtrack. But Bowie doesn’t sing in the movie, and the song he contributed is one of his most infamous, if lesser known. “The Revolutionary Song” is basically Bowie singing “la-la-la” against music that otherwise would have been part of the soundtrack without any vocals at all. Marlene Dietrich, in her final role, sings the song, “Just a Gigolo” and it’s horrible, but Bowie sings nothing. There was definitely a missed opportunity to work in a scene where Bowie sings something.
Speaking of Dietrich— she appears in two scenes with Bowie, except Bowie and Dietrich filmed their parts in different countries. They never actually met.
The setting and look of the movie evokes Cabaret, but it doesn’t really contribute anything worthwhile that Cabaret didn’t do already.
For all the downside, “Just A Gigolo” has one thing going for it— Bowie. Bowie’s performance is not especially memorable, but he’s in almost every scene, and this is 1978 Bowie. It’s hard not to just keep staring at him.
That said, this is not a good use of Bowie. Overall, neither the role or the movie as a whole is very compelling. Again, it’s not as bad as I was expecting, but that was a low bar.
Rating: One out of Four Bowies
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤👨🎤👩🏿🎤 Four Bowie movies reviewed thus far
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤👨🎤 Three Bowie movies
The Prestige (2006)
👩🏻🎤🧑🎤 Two Bowie movies
Into the Night (1985)
👩🏻🎤 One Bowie movies
Just a Gigolo (1978)
Hooked to the Silver Screen is my series of commentaries about movies in which Bowie appeared. The name of the series comes from a line in the song, “Life on Mars.”