Thursday, October 2, 2014

"The Rat Race" with Tony Curtis and Debbie Reynolds (1960)

This is a remarkable film in so many ways. Tony Curtis plays Pete; a saxophone player who comes to New York with big dreams and little hope. He immediately finds himself sharing an apartment with Peggy; a “taxi dancer” played by Debbie Reynolds. For those who don’t know it, a “taxi dancer” is one of those ten cents a dance girls you rented by the dance. Sometimes you could strike up other “deals” with them for after hours. Sometimes they were just dancers.

Lonely people attract other lonely people; and so it is with Pete and Peggy. Pete doesn’t realize the debt that Peggy is in while he scouts around for a job. She is dancing regularly and paying the bills for both of them. Although Pete is kind of smitten with Peggy, she denies her feelings for him.

When Pete’s saxophone and other belongings are stolen she goes to her boss “Nellie”; a sinister character played by Don Rickles in what has to be the most sleezy role he ever played; for a loan. She is already hjeavily indebted to him, and this “loan” comes with conditions. “Nellie” is the guy who runs the dance hall, ensuring that the girls all fall into debt with him. Then he tries to turn them into “escorts” for out of town businessmen who arrive in New York looking for fun.
Garson Kanin wrote the play and the screenplay for this film, which is searing in it’s portrayal of the dark and predatory side of humanity. In one of the more tender scenes, the bartender, Mac, played by Jack Oakie, waxes poetic, noting that “One half of the world is looking for the other half; we’re all buyers looking for sellers.”

I saw this film on TV the other night. I had never seen it before. It’s an old movie, but the topic of how we treat one another in life never gets dated.

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