…and then they all went to the seashore. – Ilya (Melina Mercouri)
We recently watched several movies, three of which were sent to me as gifts by readers (I picked up the last one on a double-feature disc at Big Lots for $3). If you’re interested in seeing other reviews I’ve done in the past two years, take a look at my filmography page.
Never On Sunday (1960) Ilya is the most popular whore in Piraeus, the port of Athens; she entertains the sailors by swimming near the ships, and every Sunday she has an open house with music and food for her friends and clients. She loves her life until she meets Homer Thrace, a moralistic American busybody who views her as a symbol for the decline of Greece and sets about trying to “save” her, with his efforts bankrolled by a local landlord who would love to see Ilya out of the business so she stops trying to organize the other whores in a rent strike against him. My description cannot possibly do this movie justice; you just have to see it for yourself. It’s one of those films that just makes you feel good, and unlike most American films on the subject it does not end with the “rescue” of the “fallen woman”, but rather a declaration that Ilya and her life are just fine as they are. Highly recommended!
New Orleans (1947) This movie is worth seeing for the performances by jazz greats including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, “Kid” Ory and Woody Herman, but it could’ve been so very much better than it was that I just can’t give it a good review. First of all, though the first half of the movie takes place in Storyville, the face and fate of the District is whitewashed (both figuratively and literally). The film tries to make it seem as though the District was mostly casinos and music clubs with prostitution as but one seedy component (that the other businesspeople look down on); in reality the music and bars revolved around the brothels. Here, the District is closed down by local pressure from “society” snobs; in reality, most New Orleanians were happy with the system and the pressure was externally applied by the prudish Secretary of the Navy. And though the story should’ve been about the inhabitants of Storyville it’s instead a sort of “Lady and the Tramp” thing where a Yankee opera singer falls in love with the “scoundrel” club owner. And though I love the song “Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans”, once or twice would’ve been enough.
Pretty Baby (1978) This movie, which presents a far more realistic view of life in Storyville than New Orleans does, is a perfect example of how much more repressive and anti-sexual our culture has become; there is simply no way it could be made in the United States today. 12-year-old Brooke Shields is Violet, the daughter of a prostitute who was born and raised in a brothel; though her virginity is auctioned off at the end of the first act it’s made clear that she was working before that, though “only for French” as her mother (Susan Sarandon) tells a client. And does this life “destroy” her or make her into a pathetic, empty husk of a girl? Nope; her life is normal to her, and her loss of virginity a rite of passage which is celebrated by the whores and the other kids alike. The beauty of the movie is that it is neither judgmental nor glamorized; director Louis Malle presents the events dispassionately and leaves the viewer to make his own judgments about the relative morality of the people and events depicted therein. All in all, a much better film than I expected, and if Brooke Shields had continued to develop her acting skills from the extraordinary promise and screen presence she displays here, she would’ve become a superstar rather than a relatively minor actress.
Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970) The 4th Hammer Dracula film begins with an extended scene in which three respectable gentlemen visit an exclusive brothel and meet the disinherited son of a nobleman who dabbles in black magic, but appears to mostly use it for supporting himself by playing pimp. The three have a sort of secret club dedicated to experiencing every exciting, forbidden thing they can think of, and the pimp promises to show them a black mass but in reality tricks them into reviving Dracula from the powder into which he crumbled after his destruction at the end of Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. As in most of the Hammer Dracula outings, Christopher Lee has so few lines he probably memorized them in ten minutes and the plot is as full of holes as a Swiss cheese; furthermore, the ending of this one is almost completely inexplicable. But as usual, the sets and costumes are gorgeous, the women more so, and the sexual undertones are…well, if you like Hammer films, you already know.