American Gigolo (1980) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • A Los Angeles male escort, who mostly caters to an older female clientèle, is accused of a murder which he did not commit.

  • Julian makes a lucrative living as an escort to older women in the Los Angeles area. He begins a relationship with Michelle, a local politician's wife, without expecting any pay. One of his clients is murdered and Detective Sunday begins pumping him for details on his different clients, something he is reluctant to do considering the nature of his work. Julian begins to suspect he's being framed. Meanwhile Michelle begins to fall in love with him.

  • Julian Kaye is a high end Los Angeles based male prostitute, his clientele comprised almost solely of older well appointed women. He does well financially with all the material trappings of wealth. He got his start working for Anne, who largely taught him the ropes of the business. While she still procures some of his clients on a 60/40 split, Julian drums up most of his own business on a 100 percent take, that business either by word of mouth or prowling the upscale hotel bars for lonely foreign female tourists, he fluent in six languages to be able to make those contacts. Despite Anne's objections to him going freelance, he went this route to have some control in what he still sees as a somewhat personal matter of with who he sleeps. He does not do gay business and stays away from quick tricks and kink, which is why he is so peeved upon finding the kink wants of clients the Rheimans, this job which he does as last minute replacement as a favor for a pimp acquaintance named Leon. It is during one of his cruises through a hotel bar that Julian meets Michelle Stratton. Despite she not being the potential client he thought she was as she is a married local waiting for a friend as opposed to a lonely foreign tourist, she nonetheless searches him out later for sex. They begin a relationship, for her he being someone to fill the physical and emotional void in her own marriage to her largely absent husband. Julian later discovers that her husband is Senator Charles Stratton, with the emotional void in their marriage being that he treats her more as a political prop than a wife. Julian's life starts to go sour when Judy Rheiman is found viciously murdered during what appears to be one of those rough sex acts the Rheimans requested from him. A suspect in the murder, Julian admits to one of the investigators, LAPD Vice Detective Joe Sunday, that he did have rough sex with Judy Rheiman in a previous encounter, but that he was with another client at the time of the murder. As discretion is part and parcel of the business, Julian's wealthy client, Lisa Williams, fails to corroborate his alibi, while Julian slowly begins to believe that someone is trying to frame him. With news spreading as to Julian's involvement in the murder, he becomes an untouchable property. While Julian goes on a desperate search for who is framing him and why so as to save not only his livelihood but his life, Michelle, who is beginning to have true feelings for him, has to decide how far she will go to help him at the risk of her own standing in the community, with Julian conversely having to decide how much he is willing to have her risk of her life to help him.



The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Julian Kay (Richard Gere) is a gigolo ; a young man who makes a living as a wealthy ladies' escort. His official pimp/employer, Anne (Nina Van Pallandt) realizes that he is her star prostitute despite not being faithful to her. A small 'chauffeur' gig is planned for the next day, but Julian looks more interested in getting a higher percentage of the profits than in the practical contact details. After bargaining some more, Julian leaves and refuses to suntan with other two girls (Michele Drake and Linda Horn). We learn that Anne has been carefully preparing a highly-paid job with a Swedish woman who is about to arrive in Los Angeles.

    Julian trains at home to keep fit when a gay pimp, Leon James (Bill Duke) calls to ask him to act as a sub for an urgent gig to be played the next day in Palm Springs, some 110 miles // -2 hrs drive from LA. Julian, reluctant, finally accepts for 90% of the fees agreed with client. Leon chokes but has no other choice than greedy Julian... Julian does his chauffeur gig for a rich widow. He looks forward to meet the lady again for more and so reports to Anne afterwards. Sometimes Julian tries to find his own clients, so he makes a pass at Michelle Stratton (Lauren Hutton), who is sitting alone at a high-end restaurant. In the ensuing conversation, Michelle sees Julian for what he is, although he claims to be only hired as a guide, a translator or a chauffeur. No deal is closed that night, and Julian leaves alone.

    Later in Palm Springs, Tom Rheiman (Tom Stewart) wants Julian to beat his wife Judy (Patricia "Patti" Carr) while making love to her from behind. Although Julian does not like that kind of jobs (S&M and bondage), he's already been paid, and he's already there, so it's understood that he complies.

    Two nights after that, Julian learns in the papers that Judy Rheiman was assaulted and killed in Palm Springs . Later, he goes with Lisa Williams (K Callan) at Sotheby's Parke-Bernet to choose the bric-a-brac needed to redecorate her mansion. They have fun and laugh together. There is then an incident when Julian pretends to be gay in front of a casual, embarrassing acquaintance of Lisa (Faye Michael Nuell) and he almost breaks a valuable porcelain into pieces in the attempt to get quickly rid of the lady. Right after that, Julian and Lisa leave the place laughing.

    Michelle appears at Julian's apartment. Many people know who he is and where he lives, so she only had to ask. At first, he says to her that he doesn't work in his own apartment, but she talks to him and they end up going to bed together. Afterwards, Michelle talks about how her marriage to politician Charles Stratton (Brian Davies) is void of love or emotion. He advises her to start thinking about herself, because it looks that the only reason for the marriage to stay together is because it would be damaging to Stratton's political career.

    The next day, LAPD Detective Sunday (Hector Elizondo) arrives at Julian's apartment in L.A. to question him about the death of Judy Rheiman in Palm Springs. She was killed, and Julian says (quite arrogantly), that she was with Lisa Williams choosing the decorations at the time of the crime. Detective Sunday leaves without arresting Julian, but warns him not to leave town for he may return to ask more questions.

    Julian keeps on seeing his clients. For example, Mrs Laudner takes him to a political party where the main guest is Stratton. He greets him and his wife, pretending not knowing her (and vice-versa). When Julian inquires about gossips concerning the Strattons, Mrs Laudner says that Michelle is very sad. As Michelle keeps on meeting Julian whenever she can, something which gets noticed by her husband, Julian starts being followed by a political aide of Stratton. Julian decides to face the beat and talk to Stratton directly. Charles Stratton tries to buy him up with $5,000 to stop seeing his wife, which Julian refuses, as he has started to feel really interested in Michelle. Stratton warns him about the good graces of his small HiSo supports to end soon, if he persists to see Michelle.

    Another day or two later, Sunday follows Julian to his usual shoeshine parlor. He says there were handcuff marks over previous handcuff bruises on Judy's wrists, meaning Julian lied when he said he never handcuffed her during the gig done for Leon. Since Lisa Williams had said to the detectives that Julian left her at 7:00 pm in the evening, not later, and basically denying that they had a sexual relationship together, Sunday states there was enough time for Julian to drive to Palm Springs back and forth plus commit the crime... Julian has to go to the police station for a line-up, but the witness is not sure about him being the person who went to Judy Rheiman's home earlier that day. Julian feeds a protestation from a fellow inmate obliged to participate in the line-up. Later, Sunday and Lt. Curtis (David Cryer) talk with Julian again at the LAPD. Sunday laughs at the situation, because in his previous visit Julian had given him some advice to be more attractive to ladies and he is trying to improve his overall appearance. Julian stays free after the key witness could not formally identify him during the line-up.

    Julian starts to get worried. He needs an alibi for the night of the crime. Next, he goes to the Williams' house, but Lisa doesn't want to acknowledge that she ever met him: the police has been to her home with a restraining order against Julian. Mr. Williams (Richard Derr) also appears, and he coldly dismisses Julian saying that on the night of the crime Lisa was with him all the time.

    Julian meets Leon at a gay disco and asks him to give him an alibi, what he finally seems to agree. Leon even suggests that Rheiman is the real culprit, as he is a 'freak'.

    The police search Julian's apartment during his absence, leaving it in a total mess.

    Later, Julian meets Michelle in a botanical park; she must leave for two months in Europe on her husband's orders, until the polls are over. Julian states the news are hard to stand.

    Once back home, Julian recognizes Leon's blonde boyfriend (Gordon Haight) leaving quickly the garage in his vintage Porsche 911. Julian gets really paranoid and he creates havoc in his apartment to find the jewels who have been said stolen at the Rheimans' in Palm Springs and are still missing. He finally finds them hidden in his luxurious car - a car he had to tear to pieces in order the find the jewels. He grabs the plastic pouch and decides to leave quickly for downtown, where he rents a plain Ford Pinto to pursue his quest for help.

    Julian calls Anne for help and accepts a short notice rendez-vous at the Perino's. Calling Jill (Jessica Potter) at his reception, he learns that the police are sitting there waiting for him and that Michelle tried to meet him urgently. Showing dirty and jacketless at the Perino's, he is told off by the maître d'hôtel (Harris Weingart) because of his untidy look. There, Anne does not want to know anything about him: Julian forgot about picking the European lady at the airport, destroying a big deal arranged months ago. Anne gets really mad at him, and she does not want to work with him again nor help him through. As she has always been disappointed with Julian, who got clients on his own, and worked for other bosses sometimes now it's her opportunity to let him go. Julian, who had told Jill about the place he would be, notices Michelle at a table near. They meet shortly in the restroom and Julian requests from Michelle that she forgets everything about him, since he is framed and lost.

    Julian stalks Leon in the red light zones, but to no avail. He waits until the dawn near his home and finally sees him arriving along with his blonde BF. He shows up at Leon's flat, is granted access while his blonde boy hides then leaves discreetly; Julian argues again about the alibi he needs now. But Leon states that some things from the Rheiman's house, linked to the murder, have appeared at Julian's apartment and have being seized by the police ; that the 'bitch' from Palm Springs reviewed definitely her eyewitness report about Julian having been seen at the Rheimans house... So that Julian is obviously the ideal culprit and thus will fall alone.

    Julian throws the jewels pouch at Leon who ignores the thing. Julian tries to explain the case: blonde boy may have killed Judy Rheiman during a hardcore gig, then the husband arranged with Leon to frame him. Leon does not say anything. Julian offers to work for Leon the way he wants, to break in new boys, do any tricks... As this doesn't work, he offers to pay Leon a lot of money, but Leon says that the person who's framing him will always rise the bet higher than him. As an answer to Julian's "why me?" question, Leon reveals he was precisely the lonesome, self-centered and toe-crushing guy ideal for the role. Leon then asks Julian to leave while he greets the blonde boy from the balcony. In an ensuing rage, Julian runs after him, pushes him so Leon ends up falling down the balcony; but he is grabbed at the latest moment by Julian who holds tight Leon's legs - but his feet slip out of his boots and he falls many floors below. Julian stays stunned in Leon's apartment, all his hopes to escape the frame being lost. Since a maid who happened to be around testified that Julian tried to pull Leon to safety, he goes to jail on the sole charge of Judy Rheiman's murder.

    There is a lot of media interest on Julian's case, as his profession has been disclosed. Michelle visits Julian in jail to inform him that she is willing to give up everything to be with him. Feeling that all has been lost, Julian asks Michelle not to see him again. However, Michelle pays for Julian's defense who changes his old-time lawyer (Peter Turgeon) for a new one (William Dozier).

    However, Julian will not be freed until Michelle finally faces Lt Curtis. The detective already knows that she's paying for Julian's defense lawyer. She says that doing so, she wants to show Julian's innocence, because she was with her that night of the crime. In the final scene, Michelle has already revealed her secret, and media immediately has set camp in front of the Strattons', so she cannot go back anyway. Although they are still talking through a glass, it's implied that Julian will soon be freed and that they will be together.

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