She Works Hard for the Money: The Top 10 “Loose” Women in Film

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Feminine roles in cinema vary as there are different types of female empowerment displayed on the big screen. The same can be said for the showcasing the vulnerability of women in the movies as well. From motherhood to savvy businesswomen women have been either represented with integrity or misrepresented with exploitative intent.

One of the most explosive roles for women in motion pictures have been in the titillating realm of prostitution. Whether considered controversial, inspirational or observational the concept of women selling sex and demonstrating sensuality poses may ethical questions in cinema. Are movies that stress moral dilemmas with femininity and flesh-pedaling philosophies a challenging venture or easy pickings for sensational themes in films?

Whatever the case the prospect of fast females in film presents somewhat of a sociological/psychological experimentation. May it be through the lens of declaration, discovery or despair She Works Hard for the Money: The Top 10 “Loose” Women in Film will examine the the sexual sasses of cinema that audiences have come to know in all their angst.

She Works Hard for the Money: The Top 10 “Loose” Women in Film are (in alphabetical order according to the film titles):

1.) Holly “Angel” Stewart from ANGEL (1984)

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High school overachiever  in 15 year-old Holly “Angel” Stewart (Donna Wilkes) is tops in her class academically and seems to have everything going for her. Little do her classmates realize is that the beautiful brainiac moonlights at night as a teen prostitute. Her beat is on Sunset Blvd.

Angel seems to be handing her “double life” as prized pupil and prospering prostitute accordingly until some harsh reality hit her: a perverse serial killer has claimed the lives of a couple of Angel’s friends. Also troubling is the fact that Angel is a witness to the serial killer’s dirty deeds and now he wants her hide in the worst way to silence forever.

Angel is not exactly what one would call memorable in terms of its teenage tart and her wayward ways on the street. However, the message should be a warning to all the potential Angel Stewarts out there that feel the need to earn a fast buck in the wake of unknown decadence.

2.) Severine Serizy from Belle Du Jour (1967)

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French filmmaker Luis Bunuel’s sexual psychological drama Belle Du Jour certainly takes it to a whole new level when chronicling the definition of a bored and unsatisfied housewife. The ravishing Catherine Deneuve stars as Severine Serizy, wife of a successful doctor who leads a very uneventful life in the bedroom. Severine legitimately loves her hubby but just cannot bring herself to become stimulated by him.

Severine decides to indulge in her wildest erotic fantasies with other men while staying put in her marriage where the intimacy is non-existent. Soon Severine, a.k.a. Belle Du Jour, takes her sexual appetite to a whole new level when she becomes a prostitute and escalates her carnal activities in a brothel. Bunuel’s Belle Du Jour  is confrontational in its subject matter of marital sexuality or lack there of in the case of Deneuve’s damsel-in-repress. Provocative, probing and passionate, Belle Du Jour is as lusty as it is lavish in feminine frigidness and frustration.  

3.) Lulu Baines from Elmer Gantry (1960)

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Television audiences mainly associate Shirley Jones as the motherly songbird who is the backbone of television’s popular musical family comedy The Partridge Family for four season in the early 1970’s. It is a shame that Jones gets overlooked for her previous movie work in big screen musicals long before she drove a multicolored checker-designed school bus on the boob tube.

Well Jones is also an Academy Award-winning actress who won her best supporting actress Oscar playing Lulu Baines, a minister’s daughter-turned-prostitute whose previous romantic relationship with Bible-spouting huckster Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster) placed her in estrangement with her religious-minded father. The love-hate relationship that Lulu holds for Gantry gives her some notable dimension as the ultimate woman scorned. Lulu was a resourceful prostitute that could scheme with the best of them as she certainly could hold her own against the cunning likes of a polished con artist in Elmer Gantry. Although lovely and loose Jones’s Lulu Baines will have your vulnerable caboose!

4.) Irma La Douce from Irma La Douce (1963)

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Director Billy Wilder’s musical comedy Irma La Douce takes a witty and high-spirited look at a Parisian prostitute Irma (Shirley MacLaine) and her relationship with a former French cop Nester Patou (Jack Lemmon) who ends up falling in love with the sassy streetwalker.

Slightly gullible but well-meaning, Nester’s raiding of a Red District brothel would cause some major conflict as some of his colleagues and superiors had establish connections with the seedy loose women they did business with on the side. In his dealings with Irma, Nester would need to buy time and continue his affiliation (and affection) for Irma La Douce while trying to sell her the idea of quitting her life in turning tricks. There is no heavy-handed heft to Irma La Douce other than Wilder’s ability to turn Parisian prostitution into a knee-slapping farce.

5.) Bree Daniels from Klute (1971)

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Jane Fonda’s first Oscar-winning role was portraying Manhattan-based model/actress/prostitute Bree Daniels in Alan J. Pakula’s psychological crime caper Klute. Bree was the potential link that could  help private investigator John Klute (Donalad Sutherland) tie him into the disappearance of his best friend Tom, a married businessman from Pennsylvania.

The missing Tom had sent a suggestive typed letter to Bree previously which hints at his being a potential client of hers. The problem is that Bree does not recall Tom at all. So Klute must work with Bree to uncover whatever mysteries may be surrounding Tom’s absence. Of course it does not help that Bree and Klute engage in sexual trysts while trying to tackle this perplexing missing person’s case. Fonda’s Bree is seductive, complicated, street-savvy and hypnotic. One can see why the golden statuette ended up in Fonda’s hands for her turn as the shaggy-haired “professional” woman under the sheets.

6.) Aileen Wuornos from Monster (2003)

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Real-life serial killing prostitute Aileen Wuornos was the subject of writer-director Patty Jenkins’s chilling biopic Monster starring an unrecognizable Charlize Theron in her Oscar-winning role as the Daytona Beach-based prostitute whose delusions and destitute situation compels her to slay her johns as she tries to cement her romantic relationship with newly found lesbian lover Selby (Christina Ricci).

Since becoming a prostitute at age 13 the Michigan-born Wuornos headed to Florida and started turning tricks for motorists on the highway. Her run-in with Selby at a local bar would give her renewed hope for a bright future. The brutality of a particular demented customer would make Wuornos more cynical and sadistic as her compulsion to kill on a whim (and confiscate cars and extra cash) would get out of control thus putting her and Selby’s existences in jeopardy. Monster emphasizes the early childhood hardships and struggles that shaped the twisted psyche of a lost and detached woman whose recklessness is connected to her inner demons on a society that has burned their back on her…or at least according to the perspective of the disillusioned Aileen Wuornos.

7.) Belinda Keaton from Night Shift (1982)

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It was a Happy Days reunion of sorts when actor-turned-director Ron Howard and his former television co-star in lead Henry “The Fonz” Winkler got together for the urban comedy Night Shift where the dead meets the dirty deed (translation: where the morgue and prostitution clash into a business venture).

When nerdy morgue attendant Chuck (Winkler) and obnoxious partner Billy “Blaze” (Michael Keaton) work the night shift they decide to turn their workplace into a brothel and earn extra money by overseeing their stable of prostitutes.

The inspiration for Chuck and Blaze to turn the morgue into a profit-making “house of repute” is from Chuck’s prostitute neighbor Belinda (Shelley Long just months before her Emmy-winning role of barmaid Diane Chambers from TV’s “Cheers”). Belinda saw the potential for the clashing tandem’s personalities and abilities to run a successful operation of prostitutes while energizing Belinda’s sagging career as a “pro”.

8.) Vivian Ward from Pretty Woman (1990)

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When one thinks of Garry Marshall’s romantic comedy Pretty Woman the reminiscence of the late singer Roy Orbison’s signature tune comes to mind not to mention the affable Julia Roberts romanticizing the notion of a happy hooker that finds love with a super rich client in fairy tale fashion.

Roberts plays LA-based prostitute Vivian Ward who is hired by loaded Lothario businessman Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) to accompany him at several noteworthy social events to boost his image and increase his business profile. Lewis is supposedly ruthless and self-centered but of course it takes the plucky Vivian to melt his diabolical demeanor as both the fancy pants john and spunky prostitute with a heart of gold find love in the most unconventional way.

Pretty Woman solidified Roberts as the cliched label of  becoming “America’s sweetheart” with her on-screen high-class call girl cuteness and whimsical dalliance with veteran heartthrob Gere. Who says that prostitution cannot lead to the promising affections of an egotistical money-spending cad coming to the rescue? Only in Hollywood, folks!

9.) Iris Steensma from Taxi Driver (1976)

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Child prostitute “Easy” Iris (Jodie Foster in an Academy Award-nominated performance) is the fixation for Taxi Driver protagonist Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) whose weariness of urban decay is demonstrated when he tries to “save” the teen tart from the mean streets of New York City.

Iris is the epitome of Bickle’s intense disdain for corruption and chaos in city life–prostitution, drugs, gangster activities, etc. Bickle decides to hire the services of Iris not for sexual gratification but to salvage what is left of her innocence and try to change her outlook on her seedy lifestyle. Bickle wants Iris away from the scum and wayward influences of the  cement jungle.

Filmmaker Martin Scorcese’s graphic and grimy character studies of streetwise decadence and deterioration are staunchly relevant especially in the guise of an alienated former Vietnam vet taxi driver Bickle and the precocious minor flesh peddler Iris that should be enjoying a playpen instead of being some paying mature john’s sexual plaything.

10.) Nana Kleinfrankenheim from Vivre Sa Vie (1962)

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French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie (or released as the English version “My Life to Life” in North America) looks at pretty Parisian wife and mother Nana (Anna Karina) whose dream is to become an actress. Of course Nana’s notion as an actress is a pipe dream. Without the finances to follow up her acting aspirations Nana falls into the lap of prostitution.

Sadly, Nana’s association with dueling pimps results in her untimely death. Vivre Sa Vie is told in twelve brief episodic tablets where we capture Nana’s trials and tribulations of a woman searching for physical affection and a sense of purpose albeit at a costly price.

–Frank Ochieng

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