To his one client, Tom seems almost the perfect man. He dances like an angel. His manners are impeccable. He is kindly, handsome and reasonably virile. If you want him to make love to you, he will do so. If you need him to clean up your apartment and put out the rubbish, he will do that, too. Brilliantly played by Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens in Maria Schrader’s new Berlin-set screwball romance I’m Your Man (in cinemas next month), he is the sleekest male gigolo you will ever see on screen. He is also a humanoid robot. He has been programmed to anticipate every whim of the beautiful, lonely, middle-aged academic Alma (Maren Eggert). As he tells her, his algorithm is designed to “make her happy”.
Male gigolos have featured in films since the silent era. Rudolph Valentino, the former New York taxi-dancer who played sheiks and Latin lovers in Hollywood films of the 1920s, was one of the first. Like Tom in I’m Your Man, he knew how to tango. His brand of masculinity – sensitive, flamboyant, androgynous – made male critics of the era very uncomfortable. He wasn’t the rugged outdoor type and was therefore dismissed, in homophobic fashion, as a “pink powder puff”.
Gigolos ever since have been regarded with similar levels of suspicion. The Armani-clad male prostitute Julian Kaye (Richard Gere) in Paul Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980) ends up being framed for the murder of a client, but his real crime in the eyes of the cops investigating him is his questionable profession and his very way of being. He offends their sensibilities. Like Tom, he pays exhaustive attention to the women who hire him. He is so devoted to bringing pleasure and fulfilment to them that he has lost his own capacity for enjoyment, always looking for someone else to please.
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