Comfortable and Furious

Abusive Flesh Peddlers: Part 2

Sidney in Magnum Force (1973)

Fair play, Sidney (Albert Popwell) doesn’t have too much screen time in this cop classic but he sure does make an impression. You have to say that this is a man who appears to have got out of the wrong side of bed. He’s particularly grumpy when it comes to one tart. She’s been incommunicado all week after he set her up at a fancy hotel for a business convention. Hell, she’s hoarded the green stuff before and he suspects she’s done it again.

It’s time to show her who’s boss and maybe stop his other girls from getting any funny ideas.

The ho in question (Margaret Avery) is buzzing after her big earner. First, she steals ahead of Mr. and Mrs. Well-to-do at the hotel’s taxi queue before she starts counting all her lovely loot on the back seat. She’s so happy she even gives the driver a flash of her knickers while squirreling away some of her ill-gotten gains.

As the cab stops outside her place, she attempts to hop out only for Sidney to materialize, shove her back in and order the driver to keep going. “I’ve been working like hell!” she tells him, already in a panic. “Let me show you.” She retrieves a fistful of bills from her handbag but Sidney’s not buying. Instead, he utters the memorable quip “Let’s see how much there is in the titty bank” a moment before delving down her bra.

Uh-oh, he’s come up with ‘Mr. Green’, and our dishonest working girl is in real trouble.

Now he’s checking the ‘snatch bank’, unbothered that the taxi driver is getting nervous at the sight of this blatant assault. Christ, not even Travis Bickle had to put up with this sort of shit on his back seat. Luckily, this cabbie’s got balls of cotton wool, a condition that sees him slam on the brakes, bail and allow Sidney to carry out his plan uninterrupted. This involves struggling to remove the cap from a can of drain cleaner with his teeth as his disobedient employee struggles on his lap. Good grief, he’s not going to pour that caustic stuff down…

Oh, he is.

I guess a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. That’ll teach her for nicking whitey’s cab.

Sport in Taxi Driver (1976)

Corruption’s a weird thing, perfectly capable of turning everything on its head. The most straightforward human relationship can end up back to front and upside down. This phenomenon was best illustrated to me when I covered a court case for a newspaper back in the 90s. A guy was up for sexually tinkering with his pubescent daughter and her friends. You know the type. Compliments, flashing cash, trips in the car, naughty gulps of vodka, strip poker and drunken dares. A manipulative but not coercive slide into the worst kind of corruption. I bet he never threatened any of them.

By the time the court case rolled around, most of the abused girls had worked out it might’ve been better to concentrate on their homework. However, the daughter hadn’t. She refused to cooperate with the cops, let alone testify. Wouldn’t say one word against dear daddy. She believed he loved her and hadn’t done anything wrong. She certainly loved him. Perhaps one day she imagined they were gonna run away together.

I always think of that shitkicker dad whenever I see the long-haired Sport (Harvey Keitel) doing his icky thing with Jodie Foster’s Iris. He’s tender with her, giving her the sort of affection and shelter a juvenile runaway is otherwise not gonna get on New York’s mean streets. He might occasionally get mad and call her a bitch, but he never raises a fist. “I depend on you,” he tells her. “I’d be lost without you.” Just look at how he manipulates and reassures her, calling her his ‘woman’ and saying he hates spending time apart to attend to business.

In turn, this astrology-obsessed youngster sticks up for him, convinced he protects her from her worst impulses. She clearly enjoys his company, no doubt believing they have a future. Chances are, she’s in love, unable to see through his self-interested lies because she’s too young to grasp the depth of adult treachery.

But Sport is a practiced con artist. Perhaps he even half-believes in his committed performance whenever he’s alone with her. In private, he strokes her hair, whispers sweet nothings in her ear and slow-dances with her. Out on the street, however, the relationship is thrown into the sharpest of contrasts. There’s no charade concerning love and commitment. Iris is merely a piece of meat to be traded. His laser-sighted focus is always on how much cash her illegal little toosh can bring in. Fifteen bucks for fifteen minutes, twenty-five for half an hour. Listen to him trying to entice a potential john like Travis Bickle (De Niro). “She’s twelve and a half years old, man,” he tells him. “You ain’t ever had no pussy like that. You can do anything you want with her. You can cum on her, fuck her in the mouth, fuck her in the ass, cum on her face. She’ll get your cock so hard she’ll make it explode.”

Flipping heck, how can he be so disrespectful about a fellow Libra? Not very sporting at all.

Duke in Streetwalkin’ (1985)

When it comes down to it, you have to tip your hat at a man who inflicts fatal injuries on one of his misbehaving hos before passionately shagging another just a few meters from her inert, bloodied body. Such committed behavior does have a certain panache, yes?

The pimp in question is Duke (Dale Midkiff). He’s an out and out cunt, a glowering misogynist who reaches such a level of fury in the latter half of this little-known slice of exploitation that he appears in danger of self-combustion. In our gallery of pimps, he’s up there with the nastiest. Streetwalkin’ is no classic, but it’s briskly directed and for the most part engaging and smartly acted.

Cookie (a very good Melissa Leo) and her little brother run away from their drunken, hopeless mum and predatory stepdad. Duke, a practiced cruiser of train stations and the like, soon spies curvy new flesh. As expected, he’s all charm, offering a sympathetic shoulder, a bite to eat and the lovely chance to have sex with up to ten strangers a night. Cookie falls for him, even though his less than saintly behavior is immediately evident. “There ain’t no such thing as a bad night,” he tells one of his underperforming girls on the street before spitting in her face. Like Magnum Force’s Sidney, he’s convinced whores are fundamentally dishonest when it comes to their earnings. In this case, the cocksure Duke’s right, finding a wad of bills under her wig after having given her ‘ass bank’ a thorough check. “I work hard for my fucking money,” he adds, grabbing the cash and knocking her to the pavement as a bunch of rubberneckers do nothing.

Clearly, it’s just a question of how long it’s gonna take Cookie to understand this guy is serious bad news. Little brother already thinks he’s a creep, but Cookie is quick to defend their benefactor. “Duke looks after us,” she insists. “Better learn to appreciate him.”

Ah, there’s that ol’ mind control.

Directed and co-written by a woman, the nicely paced Streetwalkin’ does well at depicting a whore’s lot. I enjoyed its many scenes of New York’s mid-80s nightlife, such as the hassling cops and the johns who are a mixture of lovelorn, hopelessly inexperienced, masochistic and downright creepy. Then there’s a nightclub hangout populated with half-naked dancers, hustlers, drug addicts, competing pimps, the always welcome Antonio ‘Huggy Bear’ Fargas, and a tubby ladyboy in a gold bikini. The hookers are also a colorful lot, capturing a definite sense of camaraderie. One walks around the streets topless, another is a lanky pickpocket permanently encased in gaudy red lingerie, while an obese, over the hill tart futilely tries to lure customers by lifting her skirt. Duke, meanwhile, might not dress much like a pimp (although at least he’s got the necklace, the earring and the fur-lined, open top car) but he does excel at being an abusive, controlling taskmaster.

Drexl Spivey in True Romance (1993)

I guess it’s apt that Drexl ends up shot in the balls.

He’s clearly not a nice guy, having murdered a couple of drug dealers and stolen their euphoria-inducing goods by the time we learn he’s also an abusive pimp. As played by the excellent Gary Oldman, it’s more his appearance than anything else that, ahem, catches the eye. Dreadlocked with a hideously scarred face and a fucked milky peeper, he looks almost as scary as that extraterrestrial hunter Schwarzenegger fought in the jungle. Or as he cheerfully admits: “I ain’t as pretty as a couple of titties.” Drexl is a diseased, unsavable sort of soul with a distressing fondness for gold jewelry, animal tooth necklaces and leopard skin outfits. At least he’s a fan of The Mack.

Overconfidence proves his downfall. For when the none-too-happy, brand-new husband of one of his former whores comes calling at his admittedly cool lair, he thinks he has his measure. “You know who we got here?” he quips to a mate. “Motherfuckin’ Charlie Bronson!”

Visionary words, although I’m not sure ol’ granite face ever went in for genital obliteration.

Mr. Peters in Stella Does Tricks (1996)

James Bolam, whom you might recall kicking a soccer ball about and sinking a few pints in The Likely Lads, plays the well-to-do, quietly sinister Mr. Peters. He’s the sort of guy that enjoys a newspaper-covered hand job in a London public park from one of his teenage whores as she holds an ice-cream and talks about her dreams. This might make him sound seedy but, to be fair, he does use a broadsheet rather than a down-market rag like The Sun.

As we’ve come to expect from such a bona fide flesh peddler, Mr. Peters is an expert in mind control. This is demonstrated when he asks Stella (Kelly Macdonald in a virulently anti-men, desperately poor, post-Trainspotting effort) why she remains under his guidance. “Because I love you,” she replies with apparent sincerity. It’s this sincerity that causes Mr. Peters to glance away. For this is a man both uninterested in and uncomfortable with the finer human emotions. “That’s right,” he eventually responds. “You do. You really do. And I make up for all the bad things, don’t I? You’re my girl and I look after you. But you have to pay attention to what I say. That way you’re safe.”

When the need arises to discipline her (e.g. after she’s not long shoved a Fishermen’s Friend up an abusive john’s jacksy), he’s careful to make this wayward Scot understand that the punishment is not only reluctantly meted out, but both her fault and in her best interest. Apart from that, he opines it will cure her occasional ‘flights of fancy’, those times when her mind slips from the importance of fucking strangers for money or acquiescing to their perverted demands.

“You really must concentrate, Stella,” he adds. “Take part in the scheme of things. Don’t make me lose you.”

But Stella somehow can’t quite adjust to his nurturing, despite being provided with a sizable perk such as a rent-free flat. She wants something better and prepares to break free, a decision that only leads Mr. Peters to make an ‘example’ of her to his other girls by arranging a gang rape in the aforementioned flat. You might think this makes him a bit of a bastard, but he does give the bonnie wee lass a goodbye kiss beforehand and take the trouble to hold her hand throughout.

Big Tim in Requiem for a Dream (2000)

Things are not going well for wannabe fashion designer Marion Silver (Jennifer Connelly). She’s been slinging heroin for a while with her loser boyfriend in a bid to save enough cash to open a boutique. Dealing smack, though, probably isn’t the soundest business plan, especially as she’s also developed a taste for the stuff. She’s already having to ‘borrow’ cash from her shrink, a smug little tosser who feasts on her sublime physical attributes like she’s a piece of steak. Disorientated and filled with self-loathing after a monetised encounter, she can only chuck her guts up and stagger home in the rain to an estranged boyfriend.

This less than loving episode, however, is merely the first bumpy downward step during her descent into sex hell. Next in line to help feed her spiraling addiction is the very lovely Big Tim (Keith David), a man who might well be in the employ of Satan. When she calls him on the phone, she doesn’t even need to explain her circumstances. He just chortles, knowing full well he’s hooked another twitchy, sweaty fish.

Like any pimp worth his salt, he makes sure to check out the goods firsthand. At least he’s friendly, greeting her with a warm smile as she shuffles zombie-like into his upmarket pad. He offers a drink and sits alongside on the sofa, his eyes full of certainty. The small talk stretches to a good couple of sentences, punctuated by his velvety chuckles. She attempts to compliment him on his apartment’s view, but after outlining a slightly dubious racial take on oral sex he indicates he’d rather get down to business. However, as she bends over his exposed penis, he picks up on her hesitation. “I know it’s pretty, baby,” he murmurs, “but I didn’t take it out for air.”

Afterward, as she numbly dresses in his bathroom, he chucks her the vital dope while mentioning ‘a little gathering’ in a few days’ time. Marion demurs, but is reassured it’ll be attended by ‘all good people’. Big Tim, you see, is not a threatening chap. He much prefers to couch the prospect of soul-searing degradation in the most innocuous language. Anyhow, there’s no need to get tough with a junkie in so deep. He just smiles. “I’ll see you Sunday,” he says, walking away naked.

What follows, of course, is an unforgettable experience both for Marion and the viewer. Big Tim, cordial to the last, realizes his latest recruit is a little shy standing before the frenzied crowd of pornographic thrill-seekers in his apartment. However, it’s no problem offering a bit of encouragement.

“Showtime,” he whispers in her ear.