chapter  9
American Gigolo (1980)
ByH. N. LUKES
Pages 22

Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980) begins by making Julian Kay look irresistible. When the opening credits appear over Richard Gere’s character driving down the Pacific Coast Highway in his Mercedes convertible, accompanied by Blondie’s song ‘Call Me’, who wouldn’t want to be him or have him? As Roger Angell states in his New Yorker review of the film, ‘Inescapably, irresponsibly (we feel terrible about it, really), we find ourselves beginning to have the wrong thoughts about him: This cat has really got it made!’ (Angell 1980: 107).1 The impropriety of Angell’s thoughts are ostensibly moral: Julian is a prostitute. Yet narrative focus on the hooker with the heart of gold is nearly as old as narrative itself and had, in fact, provided a touchstone of 1970s US cinema with the Academy Award winners Midnight Cowboy (1969) and Klute (1971). Rather, it is American Gigolo’s combination of this prostitute’s affluence, heterosexuality and historical context which is wrong. Angell’s anachronistic evocation of the 1950s and 1960s playboy, hailed under the aegis of ‘this cat’, signals that Hugh Hefner’s idealized bachelor has disturbingly morphed into a paid playmate for women.