American Gigolo is a 1980 American neo-noir crime drama film written and directed by Paul Schrader and starring Richard Gere and Lauren Hutton. It tells the story about a high-priced male escort in Los Angeles who becomes romantically involved with a prominent politician's wife while simultaneously becoming the prime suspect in a murder case.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Paul Schrader|
|Produced by||Jerry Bruckheimer|
|Written by||Paul Schrader|
|Music by||Giorgio Moroder|
|Edited by||Richard Halsey|
|Distributed by||Paramount Pictures|
|Box office||$52.7 million|
The film is notable for establishing Gere as a leading man, and was one of the first mainstream Hollywood films to include frontal male nudity from its main star. It is also notable for its Golden Globe Award-nominated musical score, composed by Giorgio Moroder, and number-one single "Call Me" by Blondie. Schrader considers it one of four similar films, which he calls "double bookends": Taxi Driver, bookended by Light Sleeper, and American Gigolo bookended by The Walker.
Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) is a male escort in Los Angeles, whose job supports and requires an expensive taste in cars and clothes and affords him a luxury Westwood apartment. He is blatantly materialistic, narcissistic and superficial. He takes pleasure in his work from being able to sexually satisfy women, especially older ones.
Julian's procurer, Anne, sends him on an assignment with a wealthy old widow, Mrs. Dobrun, who is visiting town. Afterwards, he goes to the hotel bar and meets Michelle Stratton, a California state senator's wife, who becomes obsessed with him. Julian's friend Leon sends him to Palm Springs on a "substitute" assignment to the house of Mr. Rheiman, a wealthy financier. Rheiman asks Julian to have sado-masochistic sex with his wife Judy while watching them. The next day, Julian berates Leon for sending him to a "rough trick" and makes it clear he declines kinky or gay assignments. Leon warns Julian that the wealthy, older women he serves will turn on him and discard him without a second thought.
As Julian begins to have a relationship with Michelle, he learns that Judy Rheiman has been murdered. Los Angeles Police Department Detective Sunday identifies Julian as the prime suspect. Though Julian was with Lisa Williams, another client, on the night of the murder, she protects her marriage by not providing an alibi for Julian.
Julian discovers evidence about the murder. He realizes that he is being framed and grows increasingly desperate. His clothes become rumpled, he goes unshaven and drives a cheap rental car (after painstakingly searching his Mercedes and finding Judy's jewelry that was planted in it to frame him). He neglects to pick up an important client for Anne that he had been scheduled to escort, angering Anne and causing her to shun him. Julian warns Michelle that he is in trouble and, hoping to protect her, he tells her to leave him alone.
Julian concludes that Leon and Rheiman are the ones trying to frame him and that one of Leon's other gigolos was the murderer. Julian goes to confront Leon, telling him the truth and trying to clear his name. Leon refuses to help him and remains implacable. In a fit of rage, Julian pushes Leon from the apartment balcony; although Julian immediately regrets his action and tries to save him, Leon nevertheless falls to his death. With no one to help him, Julian ends up in jail, helplessly awaiting trial for Judy's murder. Michelle reconciles with Julian by telling the police that she was with Julian the night of Judy's murder, sacrificing her reputation and marriage to save him.
In alphabetical order:
- Frances Bergen as Mrs. Laudner
- Carol Bruce as Mrs. Sloan
- K Callan as Lisa Williams
- Patricia Carr as Judy Rheiman
- Carole Cook as Mrs. Dobrun
- David Cryer as Lieutenant Curtis
- Brian Davies as Senator Charles Stratton
- Richard Derr as Mr. Williams
- Bill Duke as Leon James
- Hector Elizondo as Detective Joe Sunday
- Richard Gere as Julian Kaye
- Lauren Hutton as Michelle Stratton
- Nina van Pallandt as Anne
- Tom Stewart as Mr. Rheiman
- Robert Wightman as Floyd Wicker
Christopher Reeve reportedly turned down the part of Julian Kaye despite being offered a fee of $1 million, before Richard Gere became attached to the role. Reeve was offered the role by Barry Diller at Paramount Pictures but writer/director Paul Schrader didn't want to cast him and telephoned Reeve's agent trying to persuade him not to read the script. Gere said in 2012 that he was drawn to the role because of its gay subtext.
I read it and I thought, 'This is a character I don't know very well. I don't own a suit. He speaks languages; I don't speak any languages. There's kind of a gay thing that's flirting through it and I didn't know the gay community at all.' I wanted to immerse myself in all of that and I had literally two weeks. So I just dove in.
John Travolta became interested in the part and briefly acted in it before getting "cold feet" and being replaced by Gere. This is not the only role that Travolta has turned down only to be taken by Gere: it had happened with Days of Heaven (1978) and occurred again when Travolta was offered the lead in An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Chicago (2002). Paul Schrader had threatened to sue Travolta if Richard Gere wasn't cast in the film knowing full well that Travolta had his eye on the script of another Paramount production Urban Cowboy (1980). Gere's brief nude scenes marked the first time a major Hollywood actor was frontally nude in a film. According to Gere, the nudity was not in the original script.
It was just in the natural process of making the movie. I certainly felt vulnerable, but I think it's different for men than women.
Julie Christie was originally cast in the role of Michelle Stratton but her departure was precipitated by Gere's replacement of Travolta. By the time Gere had returned to the project, Lauren Hutton had already been hired. Meryl Streep was also offered the part of Michelle but declined because she did not like the tone of the film.
Schrader called Pickpocket (1959) by the French director Robert Bresson an influence on the film; the composition of the final shot homages the film, as does the final dialogue. Schrader later provided an introduction to the Criterion Collection DVD of Pickpocket. On the film's ending, Schrader writes: "At the end of American Gigolo, I wanted to perversely plunge my lizardy protagonist into icy Bressonian waters, so I lifted the ending of Pickpocket and gave it to Julian Kaye. A grace note as unwarranted as Christ's promise to the thief on the cross". Schrader re-visited many of the themes of American Gigolo in his 2007 film, The Walker and says the idea for that film came about while wondering what would have become of the Julian Kaye character.
The film is widely credited to have established Giorgio Armani in Hollywood because the Italian designer's clothes are featured prominently in Julian Kaye's wardrobe. When John Travolta agreed to star in the film, Armani provided him with many outfits to wear as Julian Kay. When Travolta walked off the project, Schrader hired Richard Gere; Travolta was a svelte six-footer, whereas Gere was much shorter and more muscular, so Armani's wardrobe did not fit and the designer's team had to make new clothing for him.
The film's musical score was composed by Giorgio Moroder, who was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score. The main theme song of the film is "Call Me" performed by Blondie. The song was written by Moroder and Blondie vocalist Debbie Harry, and became a huge worldwide success in 1980. It peaked at number one in several countries including the US and the UK, and became the highest-selling single of 1980 in the United States. In 1981, the song was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Moroder and Harry further shared a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing, "The whole movie has a winning sadness about it; take away the story's sensational aspects and what you have is a study in loneliness." Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune also awarded 3.5 stars out of 4 and called it "an honest, compelling drama that sheds a little light in some beguilingly dark places." Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote in a negative review that writer-director Schrader "is awfully good at establishing inarticulate, unknowing, self-deluding characters, but he's much less effective when it comes to shepherding these characters through the contingencies of the melodrama that is supposed to ennoble them or, at least, to reveal their unsuspected moral resources." Variety faulted the film for an "evasiveness at its core," finding a "moral and emotional ambivalence" in Gere's character "which makes caring about his predicament and ultimate fate difficult." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times was also negative, calling the film "such an improbable tissue of fantasies and dime-novel borrowings that from moment to moment it seems to be making fun of itself, although the joke is disguised perfectly." Roger Angell of The New Yorker wrote that the film "presents a humorless, Penthouse kind of sex, all dolled up with expensive 'real' settings, foreign cars, hi-fi sets, and designer clothes, but barely alive at its glum, soft core."
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