The First World War was raging in France when Lieutenant Paul von Przygodski (David Bowie) was finally assigned there, and made his way across the wastelands to the German trench containing his superior officer to whom he was supposed to report. The officer was surprised to see how blasé Paul was, but energised too, so when mere seconds after showing up the end of the war truce was announced with much rejoicing among the soldiers, the officer believed it was a trick and took it upon himself to go over the top for an assault, whereupon he was killed in an explosion, with Paul following after injured in the blast. When he woke up, he was in a French hospital under a case of mistaken identity...
But don't go thinking this is all about the humorous adventures of a German lieutenant who the French believe as he recuperates to be one of their own, that bit takes up a couple of minutes of the movie, which was the most expensive ever made in Germany up to that time, also making it one of the most costly flops made there as it found difficulty securing an audience. Sort of a cross between Bob Fosse's Cabaret and a Rainer Werner Fassbinder reopening of old war wounds, you had to assume it was meant to be funny in the most part, that in spite of scenes where the laughs were halted and the more serious message took over, yet that assumed there were any laughs in the first place.
Which there were not. Bowie himself expressed no love for the end result, which was drastically cut from a two-hour plus running time by around an hour by director David Hemmings in an attempt to allow it to find an audience, except the bad word of mouth had gotten around and the interest was low. However, you cannot have a film with this eclectic cast and not generate some kind of cult, therefore when it began to sneak out and into the lives of fans of the artistes involved, some found worth in it, if only the novelty of seeing, for example, Bowie sharing a scene with Marlene Dietrich in her last role, two legends of different eras swapping lines, except Marlene refused to return to Berlin for the shoot and her scenes were filmed in Paris.
She has but a couple of sequences to appear in, and she does sing the title song, but there was some fascination drummed up by watching her radiate star quality even in these dubious circumstances. The same could be said of Kim Novak who took on the role of the older woman Paul becomes Gigolo to in the second half of the story, as this is the only job he can find in the impoverished German capital; he considers it a step up from being a walking billboard for beer which saw him humiliatingly dressed in a man-sized bottle he wandered the streets in. However, as Cabaret was keen to point out, you couldn't set a narrative in this part of the world at that period of history without mentioning the dark side about to erupt in the next decade, and this was where Hemmings stepped in with his Captain Kraft character.
Initially a buffoon, Kraft attracts Paul with his grand notions of patriotism until they go their separate ways, though the Captain, a protoypical Nazi, sees something in the young man he likes, and is determined to recruit him to his cause against his will if need be. Thus Kraft and his bully boys grow more sinister the further this lasts, leading to an ironic punchline which was aiming to be haunting but in immediate retrospect seems coarse and obvious. Then there was Sydne Rome as Cilly, Paul's childhood friend who spends most of her scenes trying to seduce him now they are grown up; she secures the Liza Minnelli aspiring to showbiz role and not only a scantily-dressed nightclub routine but a full on production number which distractingly resembles the climax to the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour. Hidden in this was a musing over how much personal identity is wrapped up in national identity, as Paul begins to wake up to his misplaced patriotism yet exploits the recent war disaster by romancing its rich widows, but Just a Gigolo was too ungainly to do anything but stumble as it Tangoed. Music by Günther Fischer.