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CAFE SOCIETY(director/writer: Raymond De Felitta; cinematographer: Michael Myers; editor: Suzy Elmiger; music: Chris Guardino; cast: Peter Gallagher (Jack Kale), Frank Whaley (Mickey Jelke), Lara Flynn Boyle (Patricia Ward), John Spencer (Ray Davioni), Anna Thomson (Erica Steele), Christopher Murney (Frank Frustinsky), Paul Guilfoyle (Anthony Liebler), Richard B. Shull (Samuel Segal), Cynthia Watros (Diane Harris), Alan Manson (Judge Valente), Alan North (Frank Hogan), Kelly Bishop (Mrs. Jelke), Zach Grenier (Milton Macka), Ivy DeFelitta (Dorothy Kilgallen), Arnold Sherman (Leonard Greenbaum), Marshall Efron (Moe Persky), David Patrick Kelly (J. Roland Sala); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Steve Alexander/Elan Sasson; Columbia TriStar Home Video; 1995)
A superior made for TV low-budget true story drama.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superior made for TV low-budget true story drama (originally broadcast on Showtime) that’s written and directed by the 31-year-old Raymond De Felitta (“Bronx Cheers”). It examines the real-life sex scandal in the 1950s that took place in NYC and the police vice sting of Mickey Jelke (Frank Whaley), the short and pudgy womanizer who was arrested and served a prison sentence of 21 months as a big-time pimp when he only did it as a fun hobby. Jelke operated among the society crowd in the New York nightclub scene of the 1950s, that had celebrity-hopping clubs like the El Morocco, the Latin Quarter and the Stork Club—all no longer in business.

Dissolute playboy Jelke, suffering from “nightclubitis,” was the 23-year-old heir to $5 million when he turned 25, in money earned by his grandfather—the inventor of oleomargarine.

The urban drama is set in the fictional El Casbah bar, a hangout for the rich and famous martini drinking crowd. Ambitious undercover vice cop Jack Kale wants to move up the police ladder and realizes that the DA Frank Hogan would look favorably upon the arrest and conviction of a well-known figure to help him out that he was doing something about vice during the election year of 1952. The handsome Jack, posing as an out of work Hollywood actor, goes to the El Casbah and befriends the cynical press agent and pimp Ray Davioni (John Spencer), a close friend of Jelke’s. He also gets it on with Erica Steele (Anna Thomson), Jelke’s other close friend and a well-known madam. Soon Jack worms his way into Jelke’s confidence and meets his new 19-year-old lover Pat Ward (Lara Flynn Boyle) and attends his wild orgies. Suddenly Jelke’s parents’ cut off his trust fund because of his amoral lifestyle and threatened marriage to Pat, who does a poor job of trying to convince mom she’s a Newport society girl when she’s actually a working-class Polish-American girl from the Lower East Side slums whose name at birth was Sandra Wisotsky. This gives Jelke the bright idea that he can pimp for Pat through his society contacts, promising marriage if she brings in enough money as a call girl.

Jack reveals his true identity to Pat and she agrees to become the city’s star witness against Jelke, figuring the publicity will get her to Hollywood (as the press dubs her ”the golden girl of vice”). Pat’s whoring is used by the prosecutor (Paul Guilfoyle)as an example to stop other girls from falling into the same trap. Jelke is framed as the leader of a vice ring preying on the society crowd, when in truth Pat is his only prostitute—which would usually get a first-time offender only a slap on the wrist. The unfairness of this charge gets Jack to have a change of heart of what he set in motion for the phony law enforcement moralists and he bails out as the trial goes forward, but it comes too late to help the irresponsible, perverse and pathetically superficial Jelke from getting the book thrown at him.

The film does a great job in telling the poor little rich boy’s tale of woe, recreating the period atmosphere and making someone as unpleasant as Jelke a more sympathetic figure than any of the lawmen or ranting self-righteous moralists like radio commentator Dorothy Kilgallen. Whaley gives a powerful performance as the sometimes hysterical Jelke, who is only important because of the size of his bank account and is viewed as a badly flawed character who couldn’t help self-destructing because he thought he had to be the centerpiece figure among the hedonists.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”