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Streetwalkin’ (DVD Review)

8 Aug, 2011 By: Mike Clark

Street 8/2/11
Shout! Factory
$14.93 DVD
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Julie Newmar.

Firmly niched as the kind of movie beered-up, dateless guys would have watched on Cinemax in the early a.m. of a Saturday-into-Sunday in the early ‘90s, this is presumably the only screen portrayal of street prostitution to find a role for Julie Newmar (as 18-pimp veteran, now working solo, “Queen Bee”). Surprisingly upfront — though no more than honesty dictates — about the tawdriness of the trade, Streetwalkin’ ends up having a little more conviction than you might expect within swaggeringly melodramatic conventions, including some predictable soulful strut by Antonio Fargas. But you do have to wonder how many executive meetings Concorde Pictures had to have before electing to drop the end “g” and spell the title with an apostrophe.

For its smidgens of integrity, we can thank a young Melissa Leo, whose recent supporting Oscar (and two nominations in three years) has doubtlessly sparked this fairly raw melodrama’s entrance into the DVD domain. Leo goes so many extra miles here in terms of acting intensity that it’s tough to figure out why she never got the early break she deserved. Critics see the same releases and with the same eagle eyes that casting directors do, and it was pretty easy for anyone who was paying attention in the ‘80s to predict major stardom for, say, Kevin Costner, Julia Roberts and Morgan Freeman maybe 3 to 5 movies before mainstream success kicked in. But it never happened — then — to Leo.

The story is familiar — and in real life, too much so. Sporting a fresh face that doesn’t exactly synch with that Oscar performance in The Fighter, Leo and her handsome kid brother bus into New York City from an obviously boozy mom/abusive stepdad situation — whereupon, she’s immediately befriended by someone who turns out to be a pimp (Dale Midkiff, who once played Elvis in a TV movie). The moral here, as always: Beware of men who befriend you in strange-city subway terminals that are adjacent to bus stations.

The script by Joan Freeman (who also directed and is on the DVD commentary) doesn’t dally. We see that Leo is a) good looking and b) desperate. So when Freeman cuts from the subway setting to the next scene, Leo is hustling for the malevolent Midkiff in a rotted mid-‘80s Apple — probably around the time then future mayor Rudy Giuliani was already fantasizing about importing Bob Stack and the Untouchables (keep that name for your next rock band) from ‘20s Chicago to clean up the joint. Definitely putting the “u” in urban, Streetwalkin’ doesn’t shy away too much from the grimy stuff of the profession, including a two-woman s-&-m number Leo and a friend perform on a middle-aged mold culture who’s about as pathetic as the guy Barnard Hughes played in Midnight Cowboy (the one who looked as if, until the cutaway, he were going to be force-fed a telephone by Jon Voight).

Here, also, is a 52-year-old Newmar, wearing something akin to Victoria’s Secret streetware, packing (ballistic) heat and then pumping it into one of the most abusive creeps I’ve seen on screen in a while. It’s up to you to decide how much of a leap this is from her old role as Catwoman in TV’s “Batman” — but it’s an unthinkable one from her formative roles in 7 Brides for Seven Brothers and Li’l Abner. In the latter, she played Stupefyin' Jones — though the role Stella Stevens had (Appassionata Von Climax) wouldn’t be a bad one for her character here to have purloined for professional reasons.

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