Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"A House" Is Not a Film Either
Cleveland Press August 28, 1964
Polly Adler's best-selling autobiography -- the life and times of a brothel keeper -- hardly seemed like an appropriate subject matter for a movie when the announcement was made some months ago.
A viewing of the film does nothing to change that opinion.
Miss Adler's comprehensive report on the business of prostitution, sordid as its theme might be, was still an interesting and unpretentious study of an era and its seamy side from a unique view point.
No such claims can be made for this movie version of a madam's memoirs.
Admittedly it must have been difficult to fashion a screenplay from the material. The result is a melodramatic, tawdry, tasteless script that does nothing to advance drama, entertainment or an understanding of the period.
The film follows Miss Adler's career from her youthful days in a sweat shop, her rape by the shop foreman, to her providing girls for the entertainment of a bootlegger and his friends until she becomes one of the most successful keepers of a house of prostitution in New York.
Presented is a world peopled by hoods, racketeers, dishonest cops and politicians on the make. What with the madam and her girls rounding out the cast there are few characters in the movie with whom the audience might sympathize.
A bitter-sweet romance with a musician is developed as a major plot line in the film. A puzzling subplot presents a whitewashed Lucky Luciano, advancing the theory that his arrest in connection with prostitution was all a terrible mixup.
While a gesture is made toward moralizing by having the girls and their procuress occasionally comment on their lack of a future, the dialog seems to have been developed for the shock value inherent in hearing certain words coming from the screen.
Shelley Winters gives a strong portrayal as Polly Adler. An aging Robert Taylor is grim-faced but acceptable as a minor hood. There are good vignette performances from Romero as Luciano, Broderick Crawford as a corrupt politician and Kaye Ballard as an early friend of Polly's.
The actresses portraying the girls are lovely to look at, but two are embarrassingly bad when called on for some heavy emoting.