Friday, 15 November 2013

Chicago Joe and the Showgirl (1990)

Chicago Joe and the Showgirl is a 1990 film based on the criminal activities of one week in October 1944 conducted by Karl Hulten, a GI who had deserted in London and the 18 year old waitress Elizabeth Jones. Their crime spree claimed two lives and almost killed a third, and became known as 'The Cleft Chin Murder' shocking the war torn nation and resulted in the George Orwell essay, 'The Decline of  the English Murder'

Sadly this is an all too tepid attempt from director Bernard Rose and writer David Yallop and recapturing some of Dennis Potter's stylised seediness for the big screen. Perhaps unsurprisingly really, as Potter was an absolute one off, bona fide genius.

Somewhat frustratingly though, all the ingredients for this to be a success - including the twin hot properties of old bum face himself Kiefer Sutherland and Emily Lloyd in the lead roles - seem to be there, but they just struggle to reach the surface. On the whole I lean towards blaming the director, Rose, though I'm wondering if my decision to do so is tempered by the knowledge I've gleaned from reading Emily Lloyd's recent autobiography Wish I Was There, which I've previously posted a review of here. In a frank and revealing manner Lloyd opens up about her overnight success and the sudden decline she endured, as well as her mental health issues. It was during this film's gruelling shoot that she attempted to take her own life for the first time by overdosing on pills. When Rose received the news he was less than sympathetic and demanded she return to the set ASAP. Later when he demanded she dance for 8 hours for the film's stunning and impressive jitterbug scene, her mother - visiting the set - suggested Lloyd had done enough and was tired, to which Rose told her to 'fuck off'.  A real charmer, eh? Before this, Bernard Rose (later to direct Candyman) made a name working with puppets for films like The Dark Crystal, this explains a lot as he seems to expect his living breathing actors to work the same as puppets.

Bizarrely, the film doesn't even fully depict the facts of the pair's crimes; with their first murder - the running down of a nurse cycling down a country lane and her subsequent robbery - excised completely. Instead the film focuses on the murder and robbery of the taxi driver with the distinctive cleft chin (where the crimes got their name) albeit via casting an actor, John Junkin, without one, and the attempted murder of a young girl who accepted a lift from them.

Sutherland and Lloyd play the pair as two dangerously daydreaming Walter Mitty types and each give a good account. Sutherland is a deserter passing himself off alternately as an officer and hero to his girlfriend played by Patsy Kensit and, to Lloyd and his spiv friend played by Keith Allen, as one of Al Capone's boys, here in the UK to take over British outfits and extend Chicago's arm after the war. Of course, he was neither. Lloyd meanwhile is a dancer and showgirl who dreams of being a big time movie starlet. She lives her life precariously though film noir and gangster flicks which she watches religiously at the local cinema and its that passion that Sutherland taps into, bringing out a cruel and kinky blood lust desire that had previously lay dormant within her. It's another star turn from a young actress who sadly, due to personal and professional mishaps, never got the breaks after very promising beginnings. Her characterisation here is one not too dissimilar to that in Wish You Were Here albeit one far more dangerous, easily led and equally easy in manipulating others. Her natural ability shines throughout and her descent into finding murder a turn on is morbidly chilling and sickening.

It's not all bad, the period evocation is very good and the scenes in which this fantasy world Bonnie and Clyde prowl the dead of night streets of a blitz wrecked London (snatching glimpses between the destruction of copulating GI's and young girls) treating it as their own perverse playground are tantalisingly good, but it's sadly not enough to lift the production completely out of the average.

In summary, as an exploration of the seamier side of British life, it is one to file away with films like Dance With A Stranger, Scandal and Let Him Have It depicted in the Potter vein of the similar Pennies From Heaven - just don't expect it to be as good as those productions.

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