“American Gigolo” was a transitional film for writer/director Paul Schrader. Pre-“Gigolo”, Schrader was primarily known as the writer of “Taxi Driver” and director of “Hardcore,” which unabashedly showed the nastier side of the inner city sex industry. On one level, “Gigolo” was as sleazy as “Taxi Driver” and “Hardcore,” but it’s the film where Schrader started to trade (in his words) “violence for style.” The style in question was appropriated from Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the set designer for Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1970 masterpiece “The Conformist,” and who served as visual consultant for “Gigolo” (as well as for Brian De Palma’s 1983 remake of “Scarface”). Arguably, this is the film that made Giorgio Armani a household name in America and was the film that made Richard Gere a star.
“Gigolo”‘s story is almost like the seamier flipside of “Pretty Woman,” which came out 10 years later. Gere plays Julian Kay, a high-priced gigolo catering to rich women in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Palm Springs. While he has risen high enough in the ranks of prostitution to not trick with men, it’s clear that this wasn’t always the case. Julian eventually finds himself set up for a murder he didn’t commit, but his alibi is one of his tricks, who is married to a local politician. He needs to find a way to exonerate himself, but his journey leads him down some very dark paths and finds himself increasingly in danger.
“Gigolo” is a film that manages to be extremely sleazy without being offensive. But despite its high style, it’s not what I would call classy or clean (I mean that as a compliment, by the way.) Schrader has acknowledged the debt of Robert Bresson’s 1959 film “Pickpocket,” even though they are very different films from each other. However, if you watch and like “Gigolo,” you should really check out “Pickpocket” (which is available to watch for free if you have a HuluPlus subscription). The endings of both films are very very similar.