Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Walk on the Wild Side (1962)

Walk on the Wild Side is the story of Dove Linkhorn, a poor Texas farm boy (played by Laurence Harvey, a truly bizarre piece of casting) who travels to New Orleans to find his One True Love again. On the way he encounters Kitty Twist, a thief and runaway (Jane Fonda in a very very early screen appearance). When he gets to New Orleans he finds that his One True Love (played by Capucine) is working in a brothel, Th Doll House, and his poor honest Texas heart is broken. But still he is determined to save her from her life of luxury and give her the life he just knows that she really wants, as the barefoot and pregnant wife of a poor dirt farmer in Dogpatch (or whatever the name of the dreadful little hick town he came from was). He’s even prepared to forgive her, as long as she gives up her wickedness and goes back to the Dust Bowel with him where she’ll be away from temptation. It goes without saying that that she isn’t working as a whore out of financial necessity but because she is sunk in wickedness and sin. He’s read his Bible and he knows this. There is an obstacle in his path however – the lesbian brothel owner who also loves her (played with scenery-chewing relish by Barbara Stanwyck). He finds an unlikely although not very reliable ally in Kitty Twist, who is now also working at the brothel.

The miscasting of Harvey dooms the film from the beginning, and Capucine’s acting (or non-acting) doesn’t help. Stanwyck and Fonda do their best to rescue something from the wreckage. Fonda is particularly good – selfish but likeable, immoral but essentially decent, and funny and entertaining. It’s probably worth seeing if you’re a fan of either Barbara Stanwyck or Jane Fonda. Otherwise it isn’t quite bad enough to make it as a camp classic, but it’s much too bad to make it as anything else and the moralising is tedious. On the plus side it looks good (although the costumes seem completely wrong for the 1930s) and the New Orleans atmosphere is good, and there’s some OK jazz on the soundtrack. It was directed by Edward Dmytryk, and based on a novel by Nelson Algren.

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