Films featuring the oldest profession

Profile photo of Kaisfatdad Kaisfatdad / Blog52 Comments

This is a companion thread to Tigger’s one on songs about members of the oldest profession.

How have they been portrayed in the cinema?

My guess is that there will be two kinds of films at quite different ends of the spectrum.

On one hand we will have a sentimentalized portrait of happy hookers, tarts with a heart and jolly bordelos.

On the other directors will be sensationalistically rubbing our noses into the miseries of STDs, trafficking, violence, exploitation and human misery.

The latter probably is nearer to my view of prostitution but I’m not sure how many of those kind of films I want to sit through.

Are there more nuanced perspectives?

Whores, rent boys, hookers,gigolos, pimps, brothels, trafficking: any interesting films on the topic of people who make their living by selling sex, please.

I’ll kick off with Saint Jack, a film featuring a pimp with a heart of gold which I enjoyed back in the day.


52 Comments on “Films featuring the oldest profession”

  1. Profile photo of Dodger Lane
    Dodger Lane

    Oooh sir sir, pleads for KFD’s attention.

    Actually happy hooker reminds me of a film with the same name, Xaveria Hollander (not her real name) which came out in ’75. I remember my mum taking us to the cinema to see The taking of Pelham 123 and this came on as a preview. It was very revealing.

    Pretty Woman; corny as hell but kind of watchable.
    Les Ripoux (came as Le Cop in England) with Philippe Noiret who lives with the warm hearted and retired tart and he corrupts his wet behind the ears assistant with a younger lady of the streets. It’s great fun.

  2. Profile photo of Rigid Digit
    Rigid Digit

    Trading Places
    Jamie Lee Curtis as Ophelia, the “tart with a heart” who offers salvation and support to a cruelly double-crossed Dan Ackroyd.
    Including one particularly memorable scene, which I’m sure any bloke has imprinted on their mind
    (No? Just me then)

  3. Profile photo of Gary

    My Own Private Idaho. The adventures of a couple of rent boys (are rent boys ever as good looking as River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves in their prime?) who journey to Italy. I thought echoes of/references to Shakespeare’s Henry V were really smart and well done.

  4. Profile photo of Rigid Digit
    Rigid Digit

    They never did make Carry On Pimping did they?

    Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor as the Working Girls, Hattie Jacques as the House Madam and Charles Hawtrey as the client who keeps returning day after day. Sid James appears as a Huggy Bear-style pimp, assisted by eager, but vague, henchman Bernard Bresslaw.
    Also starring Jim Dale as the uncomfortable first time visitor, and Kenneth Williams and Patsy Rowland as the local pressure group trying to close down Bangham Mansions .

          1. Profile photo of Gary

            I’ve no idea, to be honest. But I would imagine a woman of her beauty would be a far higher class of prostitute rather than a down-at-heel bar floozy in love with a total loser.

  5. Profile photo of Gatz

    Undercover prostitution. Two which come to mind where prostitution can only be hinted at are His Girl Friday (it’s implied that the runaway prisoner’s girl is a prostitute, but not explicitly stated) and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

    I haven’t read the source book for HGF but I understand that it is much plainer in the original text. As is Holiday Golightly’s practice of asking for 50 dollars for the lady’s room in Capote’s novella BaT. Part of the reason that Capote wanted Marilyn Monroe rather than Audrey Hepburn to play the role is that he didn’t thing audiences would believe in Hepburn as a good time girl.

  6. Profile photo of Locust

    The Last Detail, starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Hal Ashby in the 70s.
    Rather fine film IIRC where a young man is transported to a long prison sentence for a petty crime, the guys getting him there tries to cheer him up, which means paying a prostitute to take his virginity (or am I remembering this wrong? It was a while back I saw it)
    In the extremely depressing section you’ll find the Moodysson film about a victim of trafficking; Lilya 4-ever.
    Not a date movie…but if you prefer song and dance (and prostitution) there’s always Sweet Charity, the musical version of Nights of Cabiria above, directed by Bob Fosse and starring Shirley McLaine.
    Here’s a well-known song about it:

    1. Profile photo of Rosbif

      Lilya 4-Ever is a magnificent film, one of the most devastating I’ve ever seen. I was speechless and close to tears at the end. Not sure I could watch it again, mind.

      Pretty Woman is one of my most detested films ever.

      1. Profile photo of Locust

        Yes and yes.
        Why anyone would find that film funny and romantic (and I am of course speaking of your second exemple now…) is a mystery to me.
        And that a lot of women apparently find it funny and romantic is just shocking to me as a woman. Sure, you don’t always have to take everything serious or be offended by silly jokes, but that film is just wrong on every level, it’s impossible to shrug and “lighten up” in this case.
        (Besides, to add to its many glaring offences; it’s got no good jokes and Richard Gere must be the dullest so called sex symbol in existence – closely followed by Brad Pitt)

    1. Profile photo of Kaisfatdad

      You’re right of course. But the film makers were laughing all the way to the bank.

      The working girl who is redeemed by the love of a good man is a popular meme. The excellent Klute springs to mind.

    2. Profile photo of Junglejim

      A properly ‘misguided’ movie, to put it mildly. Apparently its’ ‘ Cinderella’ plot is blamed to this day by many social US social campaigners as largely responsible for scores of poor young girls choosing it as a career. Would be funny if it wasn’t plausibly tragic.
      Some Pretty Woman trivia: the late Francois Mitterrand became obsessed with the film & watched it on repeat in the final months of his failing health. It is said that he was incensed when someone pointed out that a well known sequence in the movie showcasing Julia Roberts’ fab legs was in fact a body double – he spent several days, if not weeks, ranting about it & looking for evidence to disprove this.
      Kinda strange behaviour for a President at the end of his life when you think he might be putting his papers in order. People eh?

  7. Profile photo of duco01

    If we can include TV dramas here, then I’d mention the BBC’s excellent 4-part adaptation of Michel Faber’s “The Crimson Petal and the White”, with a fine performance by Romola Garai as Sugar.

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