David Bowie’s Worst Movie

A critical and commercial bomb, David Bowie’s second feature role in David Hemmings’ Just A Gigolo is little more now than a footnote in the music superstar’s illustrious career. Set in a Post-World War I Berlin, Just A Gigolo is probably best known for having Marlene Dietrich’s last film appearance.

Patterned after the popular Cabaret which hit theaters in 1972, the black comedy’s uneven tone and famous cast produce disappointingly few laughs. Disjointed storytelling hurts Just A Gigolo’s satirical efforts, undercutting a mostly solid performance from David Bowie. The music icon would later disavow the failure.

Less than the sum of its parts, Just A Gigolo is mostly recommended for curious David Bowie fans

The 1978 film’s cast is astounding. Bowie stars in only his second lead role after his astonishing debut in The Man Who Fell To Earth. Sydne Rome, Kim Novak, David Hemmings, and Maria Schell are a few of his co-stars.

Dietrich’s last screen role is a doozy as the proprietor of a gigolo service for wealthy women. She also sings one song for good measure. While Just A Gigolo was filmed in Berlin, the biggest movie filmed in Germany since World War II, Dietrich’s scenes were filmed entirely in Paris. A clever bit of editing has Bowie and Dietrich’s characters meeting despite the two icons having never met in person.

After World War I, a soldier returns home to Berlin and struggles, now unsure of his place in society. Bowie is soldier Paul von Przygodski, a young man possibly suffering from lingering PTSD after his time in the trenches. Paul finds nothing is the same with his family. His family’s home has been converted into a boarding house, his father has slipped into a semi-comatose state, and his mother works in a Turkish bath.

A childhood sweetheart, Cilly (Sydne Rome) loves Paul but eventually ditches him when the prospect of becoming a Hollywood star lures her away from Berlin. His time in the army hasn’t prepared Paul for life after war and he only survives through a string of menial jobs. His former commander from the army, slyly played by David Hemmings himself, attempts to bring Paul into a growing local Nazi movement. Ultimately Paul becomes a gigolo, comforting lonely and older rich women.

Bowie helped contribute one song to the film, the rare “Revolutionary Song” which was issued in Japan. It holds a special place of honor for every Bowie collector as one of his most collectible records. The soundtrack is largely jazz and cabaret standards by a variety of performers like the Manhattan Transfer. Dietrich’s rendition of “Just A Gigolo” was her final singing performance.

Kim Novak has real fun playing a widow who lusts after Paul during his gigolo gig. David Bowie gives a respectable performance, though Hemmings places far too much weight on the inexperienced actor. The role would be difficult for a master thespian, much less a rock star masquerading as an actor.

Just A Gigolo isn’t as bad as you’ve read but it’s a curiously meandering movie that ebbs and flows with pitch-black irony and half-baked satire. The satire should produce a few wry smiles along the way. If you watch it expecting a moving drama set in the decadent ’20s of post-war Berlin, you will be sorely disappointed.

Less than the sum of its parts, Just A Gigolo is mostly recommended for curious David Bowie fans. Others may find more productive opportunities for their time than this middling farce.

Video

Just A Gigolo originally ran nearly 147 minutes, which hasn’t been seen in decades. It is heavily rumored the footage is locked away in David Bowie’s archives. This disc only has the “final” edit which runs some 105 minutes.

Shout Factory has licensed the disc from UK label Fabulous Films who seem responsible for the new HD restoration. It appears to be sourced as a telecine film transfer from adequate elements. The Hi-Def presentation resembles many transfers struck ten years ago – passable resolution and clarity derived from unrestored film elements. Definition is certainly serviceable but the movie badly needs a new color correction. The contrast could be improved.

The main feature is encoded in low-bitrate AVC on a BD-25. Grain reproduction is clumpy with black level problems. The 1080P presentation comes in at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which likely isn’t the original theatrical aspect ratio that should be 1.66:1. This was a European film production made in the Seventies, that framing makes far more sense.

The good news is the lack of blatant video processing and ringing. Hints of film debris pop up but the elements are in sound condition without major flaws. A rough but largely film-like presentation looks good enough for a flop which hasn’t seen home video in years. It’s definitely an improvement over DVD quality with real texture and detail.

Audio

The original monaural mix has limitations, heard in a lackluster 2.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack. Dialogue reproduction is a little spotty with a thin top-end. The music is slightly more robust but the dated recordings show their age. It’s a satisfactory but underwhelming sonic experience.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a white font.

Extras

Shout Factory has licensed the Blu-ray from the UK’s Fabulous Films, merely locking the disc to Region A. It does not appear Shout Factory had any hand in the film transfer or authoring this Blu-ray. A UK warning even pops up on a splash screen.

A nice 32-page booklet has production photos and notes from writer Joshua Sinclair.

The Making of Gigolo with Producer/Writer Joshua Sinclair and Assistant to the Director Rory Maclean (28:41 in HD) – A meaty, forthright featurette which has the two men in separate interviews spilling everything that went into making the film.

Audio Commentary with Rory Maclean – It’s hard getting a read on this honest but somewhat stiff commentary from David Hemmings’ personal assistant as the director filmed Just A Gigolo. It sounds like he’s reading from notes or his writing, not to mention pauses. Maclean opens up about his wild experiences during this project and his candid memories of everything going down behind the scenes. He has no illusions about the film being a masterpiece, discussing Hemmings’ working style as a director.

Just A Gigolo Original Theatrical Trailer (04:29 in HD)

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Just a Gigolo
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Movie

A post-war farce set in Berlin starring David Bowie which has Marlene Dietrich’s last film role is a curious mess with a few entertaining moments for fans.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 42 full resolution, uncompressed HD screen shots grabbed directly from the Blu-ray: