|Index||5 reviews in total|
I saw this film at the home of some senior friends of mine who have a satellite dish. They both are in their eighties, but lived in New York City at the time of the events which take place in the movie. We all found the film entertaining, lively, well-written. My friends vouched for its accuracy as to what really happened. There's a bit more drama, more suspense, than the title alone suggests. Well worth your time.
"Cafe Society" is a really good movie about the 50's that shows an underside to the squeaky-clean image that we normally associate with the Eisenhower era. It's sort of like "L.A. Confidential" and if you liked that movie you will definitely like this one. The movie captures a time and place where people were sexually liberated and, yes, there was some excessive behavior. Perhaps it was a foreshadowing of what was to come in the 60's. All the performances were good but Lara Flynn Boyle is a total standout. Hard to believe she went from this through "The Practice" and ended up in "Men In Black II" in less than a decade. For those of you who care about such things, there is an oral sex scene featuring her that pushes the boundaries for an R rated movie. Like I said I hope this gets a DVD release at some point because it clearly deserves one.
Cafe Society (1995) is a very good neo-noir, one that's not in Grant's
book. The 2016 film of the same title is not a remake. A German review
on IMDb tags it as neo-noir and explains why. The film is available on
YouTube in 10 parts. This was originally a low-budget Showtime
It tells the story of Mickey Jelke (played by Frank Whaley) and the cafe society prostitution circa 1952 in New York. Much of the trial transcript is available, and it confirms that Jelke was more or less a political target of moralistic officials looking to score points about vice. The McCarthy era seems to fit right in to this, along with the repressed sexual mores of the time. The film does a very good job of recreating the night club and party feeling, along with the denizens of the famous clubs. At times it injects real newsreels that elicit the feelings and memories of anyone familiar with those times and places.
John Spencer plays a press agent who is really a pimp for the call girls. Jelke's relationship with Pat Ward (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the focus of the film. Did she set her sights on this rich playboy and trap him, or did he act as her pimp? We are in real life femme fatale territory. An undercover cop played by Peter Gallagher completes a triangle of sorts. After awhile, he can't stomach his own duplicity and seeing the prosecution inflate the charges against Jelke.
The trial transcript reveals detailed and complex relationships that no film can capture 100%, but this one within its limits manages to convey this complexity and the feeling of it quite well. It sheds light on the wider social and political milieu, and this is a quite common virtue of the later neo-noirs.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The undoing of "Cafe Society" is its sex liberal frame. DeFillita
interprets the facts of this NYC sex scandal through his lens. To a sex
liberal there is literally no such thing as immoral, or coerced sex
because women, by nature, are sex, and want more sex with more men. So,
any criticism of or attempt to regulate sex is viewed as hypocritical,
moralistic, puritanical, bourgeois, and constraining. And women's
refusal or rejection of sex is deflected as sexual repression,
uptightness, and misplaced guilt that the liberal player is only to
eager to liberate. Thus, the male institutions of prostitution, and
pornography thrive because the sex liberal makes a mockery of any
concept of consent.
"Cafe Society" is sexist--and unconvincing, because it subscribes to, upholds, and promotes this masculinist view. The set-up is this: the hero is attractive, romantic, boyishly naive, and questionably male; the women who populate his world are screaming caricatures; the legal system that "victimizes" him is hypocritical and corrupt. The point is the manufacturing of sympathy for a rich playboy who pimps and batters his fiancé. Only a sex liberal would want to push the envelope this far.
The deadly center of "Cafe Society" is Mickey Jelte's porn collection, hidden behind a velvet curtain in his stylish pad. It acts as an ideological center for Mickey and his pimp friends--and yes also indicates his charmingly shy, boyish nature. He even naively shows it to Pat Ward on their "first date" which signals her women's true nature, initiating her seductive strip. Pornagraphy means depiction of a whore. But it is at Jelte's famous parties that there is a literal joining of this collection to a bevy of Mickey's hired whores--"Can you send a few horses down to my stable for a few bachelors," who gyrate in their underwear as mounds of flesh, in prelude to providing willing receptacles for his buddies.
So Mickey's porn collection is revealed to be a control center for male domination. His women do what the photos instruct them to do, become the pictures, and become the sex. They smile, they want it, they do it. They are a pool of girls for sex, parties, and clubs. As Ray Davione makes clear "They're already in pictures. I put them in business." They are referred to as chicks, mice, and stray dogs who are headed back to the gutter once used up. And all women in the film vanish, if not by this sleight of hand than by outright stereotype. The bossy rich mom, who suckles her son and withdraws his money over his trampy Pat; the line-up of raunchy female fans in the Manhattan Criminal Court building who greet wronged Mickey with greedy eyes and scorchingly red lips; the horrible caricature of Dorothy Kilgallen who stands for the dirty, prosecuting press, of "ranting righteousness" who has the nerve to call Mickey a "pin-sized punk" and a "hapless little hero" in "elevator shoes;" and the city's top madam Erica Steele, a pastured slut now effectively impersonating a male role.
Then there's Pat Ward who, given the actual historic material, should have been the film's courageous protagonist. Instead, she gets stuck inside the sex liberal script where her poor Ave D background, the rape by her father's boss, her lost child, get passed over as she is. Yes, she is permitted to evoke a wee bit of sympathy, but only because that filthy DA's office uses her (which also deflects from the director's sweet guy hero's use and abuse of her). But it's her desperation, isolation, and hope of love that makes her accept a ring that gives Mickey literal ownership of her body. Pat says to Kale: "I'm going to go to work for awhile. He and Davione know a lot of men who like to be with pretty girls and wouldn't mind paying for the privilege." But Mickey's game is up even sooner "Do you really think I would marry you? You're a prostitute." So what Greenbaum's rape did to Pat at age 16, Mickey's pimping and battering did to her at 18: they repudiated her life, setting up her repeated attempts at suicide. So that in her star prosecution witness role she continually blames herself: "I will tell every girl not to make the same Mistake I have." And later says "I'm the most famous whore in New York City now."
The actual Pat Ward was an aspiring actress (born Sandra Wisotsky) who lived inside a similar plot but only up to the point at which she turns against Mickey. In reality, she told actor/comedian Martha Raye of her plight, and Raye reported it to DA Hogan. In one of her suicide attempts, she was rescued by the police, who broke her story to the press. During her trial she said "I am going to go away and bury myself" and this is what she did, and ended up dead before her 30th birthday.
So what we are left with is a male love fest, a milieu in which prostitutes both serve as proof of their owner's balls, and as the exchange item that creates the male bond. It's obvious that Mickey finds much more pleasure in the company of his antagonist, Jack Kale, and even with the hardened master pimp and cynic PR slime, Ray Davione, than he does with Pat Ward. And Mickey's bachelor club "the Cafe Society, Lmt" is a badge of manhood to him that wasn't achieved by his stint as a bugle boy in the army (in which his brother died a hero) nor by his 5'3" stature. All his scapegoat tears in the final scene show no remorse--nor any hatred for the 1000 pimps he's serving for. (not 40 years, but 21 months)
DeFellito makes his movie's point plain: "What's worse pimping for one woman, or manipulating public for moral correction?" Could any statement be more in line with sex liberals--or man's oldest oppression?
Not a lot to say about this one. I had taped it from cable some years ago, probably because it had Lara Flynn Boyle in it. I suppose it was a direct-to-video release. It does not seem to have been seen widely, with only 3 comments and 280 ratings. It is very professionally done, with nice sets and costumes, good photography, and unobtrusive direction. It also sports a good cast, with good performances by Miss Boyle, Frank Whaley, and John Spencer. Honorable mention to Anna Levine and Cynthia Watros. But every single character was intensely unlikeable. That's not necessarily a fatal flaw for a movie, but it turned out that way in this one. The cast and crew could not overcome the script.
|External reviews||Plot keywords||Main details|
|Your user reviews||Your vote history|