Recommended? Both films, but Lady L is better.
I’m a ho and an anarchist and I feel a special connection to art portraying anarchists and sex workers. So, I started on a quest to find and watch as many films about anarchists and sex workers ad possible. My current partner being very supportive and patient; (also they might have a personal interest in the topic as well considering they’re an anarchist dating an anarchist whore) I give you my two favorites so far: Lady L and The Front Page.
Lady L (1965)
Director: Peter Ustinov
She was actually a brothel’s luminous and improbably boob-ed laundry girl in her youth who dated an idealistic bank robbing anarchist.
Lady L is a film adapted from a novel written in the long ago days before punk and Hollywood when people wrote books that included women characters that did stuff and dated anarchists. It stars Sophia Loren as a great noblewoman telling her biography to a fawning British guy; BUT she was actually a brothel’s luminous and improbably boob-ed laundry girl in her youth who dated an idealistic bank robbing anarchist. (Played by Paul Newman, if you’re up on the old people’s actors.) Apparently it was directed by some famous guy (Peter Ustinov) who did a lot of sex comedies I guess. Also, the film is hilarious. It’s not just hilarious in the omg-old-movie way, but also in the this-dialogue-is-really-fucking-witty-and-socially-conscious way. This film makes fun of cops, governments, anarchists, royalty, conventional marriage, nationalism, and does it all VERY WELL THANK YOU.
Fair warning, there is a bit of issue with the way race is handled. In the 60s, race wasn’t portrayed very well in general, but other than some obvious directorial ick moments the racism somehow comes off specifically as a Duke thing. The Duke, whom Sophia Loren eventually marries, comes off as a classic Rich Douchebag; makes jokes about “gypsies,” has a bunch of racial caricatures as his servants, and is generally Kinda Sucky when he’s introduced. And though I doubt the film was written intending for me to read every interaction between the Duke and Sophia Loren as a sex worker/client interaction that is basically what I did, to the point of identifying with her as she laughs awkwardly at his Racist Funny, because pretending to be amused by awful men has been the job of paid sex workers and unpaid women since some asshole decided patriarchy was A Thing. I also read The Duke’s (who’s name is Dicky omg guys, the rich guy is named DICKY) character as a big old homo, or maybe as a rich sugar daddy with a really fucking huge cuckold fetish, your mileage may vary with your personal viewing.
My only real, personal beef is that Sophia Loren doesn’t play an actual sex worker (though the brothel’s workers talk about unionizing & labor rights on screen in the first act!), because it reinforces the “good girl heroine” trope. But on the other hand, her character is one of the best hustlers I’ve seen on film, marrying a duke to save her anarchist lover from prison and some other great stuff I won’t spoil but the wikipedia page for this film is basically all spoilers so go look at that if you want to know how the movie ends.
The Front Page (1974)
Director: Billy Wilder
This film is really about Earl and Molly, the only two characters worth a damn thing in this whole story: The anarchist/communist in jail (Earl) and his friend and ally Molly Molloy, a street based sex worker.
So I looked up this film after watching it and it turns out that it’s based on a very famous play about a Communist sentenced to death. I watched the 1974 adaptation and I’m pretty certain they called him an anarchist through the whole film. So anyway, this film is technically about tabloid newspaper reporters who are terrible people. But it’s really about Earl and Molly, the only two characters worth a damn thing in this whole story: The anarchist/communist in jail (Earl) and his friend and ally Molly Molloy, a street based sex worker. Pretty much everyone else is a bunch of bullshit oogles, if occasionally entertaining or useful in helping either Molly or Earl. And honestly, the Molly is the most sympathetic character in the whole film and kind of a fucking hero.
Beef: Molly sacrifices herself in a way that could be interpreted as the “Dead Hooker” plot device but unlike every SVU episode ever she gets speaking lines and a personality and I kinda love her; seriously people she’s great.
Having not seen the other adaptations I can’t say much about them, but unless they treat the role of the sex worker as well or better than this adaptation did, I don’t give a damn about them. According to my cursory research, this play has been made into 2 films and over a gajillion theater adaptations, so hopefully some of them are amazing, maybe even more amazing than the film. Undoubtedly some of them are shit as well, but since I’m probably going to try and watch as many as possible I’m going to look on the bright side.
Final note: If anyone has any favorite films that include anarchists and sex workers or anarchist sex workers please contact me so I can continue to avoid work in favor of watching films and fantasizing about a better world.