Saint Jack (film)

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Saint Jack
Directed byPeter Bogdanovich
Screenplay byHoward Sackler
Paul Theroux
Peter Bogdanovich
Based onSaint Jack
by Paul Theroux
Produced byRoger Corman
StarringBen Gazzara
Denholm Elliott
Joss Ackland
James Villiers
Rodney Bewes
Mark Kingston
George Lazenby
CinematographyRobby Müller
Edited byWilliam C. Carruth
Playboy Productions
Shoals Creek
Copa del Oro
Distributed byNew World Pictures (US/Canada)
Orion (foreign)
Release date
  • April 27, 1979 (1979-04-27)
Running time
112 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$2 million[1]
Box officeless than $1 million (US/Canada rentals)
$3 million (foreign)[2]

Saint Jack is a 1979 American drama film directed by Peter Bogdanovich based on the 1973 novel Saint Jack. Ben Gazzara stars as Flowers in the film. The film also features Denholm Elliott and Lisa Lu.


Jack, a likeable, freewheeling American pimp in Singapore, goes to the airport to pick up a British accountant for his Chinese 'boss', whom he only associates with to cover his real business, pimping, from the authorities. He takes William, an uptight and nervy English accountant, to his hotel, then to a bar where British expats mingle. He meets a john, who he takes to a brothel, together with William, who only really wants a game of squash. Returning, they are chased by Chinese triads, who resent Jack. The next day they find one of Jack's Chinese friends has been murdered, as a warning. As the plot unfolds, Jack is revealed to be a man of moral fibre and good character, who is struggling to plot the course of his life in Singapore, where his expat buddies are invariably drunk and disorderly. The arrival of William, a man of simple tastes who longs to get back home to a quiet retirement in the English countryside, brings about an epiphany for Jack, who is faced with a moral dilemma when asked to help blackmail a prominent US senator.


Film adaptation rights[edit]

Cybill Shepherd sued Playboy magazine after they published photos of her from The Last Picture Show. As part of the settlement, she got the rights to the novel Saint Jack, which she had wanted to make into a film ever since Orson Welles gave her a copy.[3]


Saint Jack was shot entirely on location in various places in Singapore in May and June 1978. Places featured in the film include the former Empress Place hawker centre (now demolished) and Bugis Street. The local authorities knew about the book, hence the foreign production crew did not tell them that they were adapting it, fearing that they would not be permitted to shoot the film. Instead, they created a fake synopsis for a film called Jack of Hearts, (what the director called "a cross between Love Is a Many Splendored Thing and Pal Joey"[1]) and most of the Singaporeans involved in the production believed this was what they were making.

Saint Jack was the first film with a gay Singaporean sub-plot complete including full frontal male nudity and the first to have a Singaporean trans woman nude scene.[4]

Australian actor George Lazenby, best known for playing James Bond, was cast in a key support role. It was one of Lazenby's few prestige projects outside of James Bond.[5]


The film was banned in Singapore and Malaysia on January 17, 1980. Singapore banned it "largely due to concerns that there would be excessive edits required to the scenes of nudity and some coarse language before it could be shown to a general audience", and lifted the ban only in March 2006.[6] It is now an M18-rated film.

Saint Jack was re-released in North America on DVD in 2001.

Box Office[edit]

The film was a box office disappointment in the US and Canada, earning less than $1 million. It performed better outside those countries, with a gross of $3 million.[2]

In an interview with The New York Times on 15 March 2006, Bogdanovich said: "Saint Jack and They All Laughed were two of my best films but never received the kind of distribution they should have."[7]

Filmink argued "A trashier version of this story – one directed by, say, Steve Carver... probably would have been more lucrative. I’ve never read Corman admitting that in an interview, but I bet he felt it."[8]

Critical reception[edit]

Roger Ebert gave the film a four-star review. In praise of Gazzara's performance, he writes: "sometimes a character in a movie inhabits his world so freely, so easily, that he creates it for us as well. Ben Gazzara does that in Saint Jack." He goes on to say: "The film is by Peter Bogdanovich and what a revelation it is, coming after three expensive flops. But here everything is right again. Everything."[9] Stanley Kauffmann of The New Republic described Saint Jack as "otiose and odious".[10]


  1. ^ a b Lee, Grant. (Aug 10, 1979). "Bogdanovich's Picture Show". Los Angeles Times. p. e16.
  2. ^ a b Koetting, Christopher T. (2013). Mind warp! : the fantastic true story of Roger Corman's New World Pictures. p. 161.
  3. ^ Mann, Roderick. (May 21, 1978). "The Upside-Down Views of Cybill Shepherd". Los Angeles Times. p. n37.
  4. ^ Slater, Ben (2006). Kinda hot: the making of Saint Jack in Singapore. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Ed. ISBN 9789812610690.
  5. ^ Vagg, Stephen (May 17, 2024). "Top Ten Corman – Part Four, Connections with Australia". Filmink.
  6. ^ Suk-Wai, Cheong (29 March 2006). "Saint Elsewhere". The Straits Times. p. 5.
  7. ^ Ibid. (A search of The New York Times' archive on 29 March 2006 failed to find the text of the interview.)
  8. ^ Vagg, Stephen (19 May 2024). "Top Ten Corman – Part Six, Arty Efforts". Filmink.
  9. ^ Ebert, Roger (2007). Roger Ebert's Four Star Reviews--1967-2007. Kansas City: Andrew McMeel Publishing. p. 666. ISBN 978-0-7407-7179-8. Retrieved 21 September 2017.
  10. ^ Kauffmann, Stanley (1979). Before My Eyes Film Criticism & Comment. Harper & Row Publishers. p. 150.

External links[edit]