Originally broadcast on the 19th August, 1990 at 10:20pm.
The script for Walk on the Wild Side was written by John Fante, an American author of some cult renown, from a book by Nelson Algren (author of The Man with the Golden Arm). It is a total melodrama, about a naive farm boy in love with a sculptress who has become a prostitute. The farm boy is played by the English actor Laurence Harvey, who played upper-crust Americans in a number of films, most notably in The Manchurian Candidate. In Walk on the Wild Side, Harvey is supposedly from Texas, although his accent is more that of a southern gennelmun…
One of the best things about the film is Jane Fonda, who’s excellent in the role of Kitty Twist, giving a rivetting performance as the bad girl who pops out of a drain pipe. Barbara Stanwyck is also pretty good as the lesbian brothel-keeper (this was a few years before The Big Valley). All the women in the film are very attractive, powerful and upwardly mobile. The men - even the villains - are just wimps.
Walk on the Wild Side starts out very well. The New Orleans locations were later recalled in Down by Law - particularly the opening sequence of the Jarmusch film - which also deals with New Orleans lowlife. Walk is about the United States of the 1930s, but it could just as easily be happening today; the hero is homeless; unemployment is widespread; drivers won’t stop to pick up hitch-hikers; and the US Marines are setting sail for Panama.
The most famous element of the film, by the way, isn’t the acting or the directing or any of that stuff. It’s the title sequence, designed by Saul Bass, who is sometimes credited with directing the shower-bath scene in Psycho.
- Alex Cox’s original introduction, from the first Moviedrome Guide.
I thought this was pretty great, though not without its flaws.
The fact, which Cox mentions, that all the men are useless and particularly the main male protagonist being so naive, means it’s very difficult to care what happens to any of them. As most of the men are bad, that’s not a problem; but Harvey is the center of the film’s main plot and so not really caring about his plight is a big flaw; at least it was for me.
Again, as Cox says, all the women are fantastic. It’s a real ‘woman’s picture’ in that sense. I think Fonda is the heart of the film; or at least the hope at the end - and Stanwyck is the steel, the brains and the cold calculation. It’s a bit depressing to see yet another film with a hideous, lecherous gay character, but this is Barbara Stanwyck so the character is far more than just that. If it focused on the women and ditched the men altogether it could have been fantastic.
To me, Stanwyck was one of the absolute greatest screen stars and actresses and in this picture she’s as great as ever…