Sometimes an idea that looks good on paper just simply doesn’t come together. Such was the case for the David Hemmings film Just A Gigolo, a 1978 effort that starred David Bowie as a German World War I veteran turned high class gigolo in a veteran-populated brothel that also serves as a proto-Nazi underground haven operated by Marlene Dietrich. Yet the production was plagued on many levels, and even though Dietrich came out of retirement for the role, the film was an outstanding flop, an embarrassment to all involved, and a misstep hardly mentioned in overviews of David Bowie’s otherwise outstanding career. Indeed, he called it “My 32 Elvis movies all rolled into one,” and he was disappointed that he never got the chance to work with or even meet Dietrich as promised; her scenes were filmed in Paris, while the film was shot in Berlin.
In spite of the films numerous and inescapable flaws, the musical soundtrack fares much better. Even though disco was all the rage, the musical world was also experiencing a revival of the music of the 20s and 30s, and Just A Gigolo tapped into that scene, utilizing well-established jazz era revivalists Manhattan Transfer, The Ragtimers, and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra. Their contemporary takes on songs of the era make for pleasant listening, and even with the knowledge of the terrible movie it’s for, that debacle doesn’t detract one bit from the delight they offer. Even the incongruous album closer, a disco cover of Louis Prima’s medley “Just A Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody” by The Village People, doesn’t feel too terribly out of place.
Yet the soundtrack also feels like a terrible missed opportunity, considering the two big names attached to the film. Marlene Dietrich does appear, singing a breathy version of the title track, but that’s her only appearance. The song itself is offered a number of times here, including an instrumental version, brief interludes extracted from the original, and a version that features a choir. These are lovely, of course, but it would’ve been nice to have dipped into her illustrious back catalogue from the era the movie represents. David Bowie is also inexplicably absent, but he did write “The Revolutionary Song,” which is credited to The Rebels and quite bizarrely divided up here into four parts. This song has a very nice Brecht/Weill vibe to it, although Bowie only sings back up. Interestingly, a full version of the song was released in Japan as “David Bowie’s Revolutionary Song,” and it would have been nice to have it here.
Just A Gigolo was to be the final film appearance of Marlene Dietrich and Kim Novak, and it’s a shame that such a good premise and cast resulted in such a mediocre film. (It’s available on YouTube, and you can watch it here, as I did after listening to the soundtrack. You’ve been warned.) Yet like so many mediocre films, you cannot fault the terrible movie’s excellent soundtrack, as it is a fun, delightful listen, even if it could have offered so much more.