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The Deuce

28 May

The Deuce — various directors. TV series. Episodes Color. 2017 – 2019.

FIVE STARS

The Story: 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenues is called The Deuce but is the center of a larger, general area of New York City’s Times Square. In the 1970s 42nd Street was given over to huge, third-run, all-night, movie theaters in superannuated vaudeville houses, street prostitution, honkytonks, saloons, nooks of ill repute, and early pornography manufactories. Amid these callings, a young lady and identical twin brothers forge their livelihoods.
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The carrying power of this series has strong strains. The change from a sleazy street, through its porn days, to become an eventual Walt Disney garden of delights is one strain. Another strain is the proficiency of the episodes, for the writing rings true. Another strain is the verisimilitude of the setting, for I lived in New York City at the time and knew the area — it was my theatre district — it was my subway hub — and it was the place where, at the old Henry Miller Theater, I first saw pornography and quickly grew to like it and hate that I did like it but went anyhow.

My business was furtive and passing. I am not one for bars, but there are great bar scenes, and fleshpot scenes, and street-walking scenes. And it all rings true in good narrative and in perspicacious production.

Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a single-mother sex-worker who makes her way to become a porn director of considerable success.

Praise cannot do Maggie Gyllenhaal justice.

Maggie Gyllenhaal has the face of a valentine. You care about her from the start and never stop.

Some actors have this careability inherent. Ingrid Bergman had it and so did Maria Schell and so did James Stewart and so did Buster Keaton and Mary Pickford, Shirley Temple, and Chaplin. Wherever they stumble to, we will go. We think of Sarah Bernhardt as not having it, but to have arranged to have it by promoting the eccentricities of her private life. But Duse had it, as did Laurette Taylor. Ellen Terry had it, Henry Irving, did not. All great actors do not have it. Geniuses may not have it — Daniel Day Lewis — other geniuses — Wilfred Lawson, yes. The having or not having does not amount to a plus or minus, an A or an A+. It is simply a gift of God, natural as cheese.

In her world, but neither opposite nor opposed to her, we find twins played by James Franco. The younger brother is a happy-go-lucky ne’er do well, a gambler and brash darling. His older twin, also played by James Franco, is a business-like bar-keep, honest as long as his twin brother’s dimples are charlatan.

James Franco’s performance of the barkeep is rich with male sorrow and a sterling heart. James Franco’s performance of the wilder brother, makes him sick with flippant airs, and each time we see him makes us die a little as we wonder what he will die of. You dare not dwell upon the veracity of the smiles of either of them. That way lies madness. But Franco has added two stirring masterpieces to his body of work in making them, never mistaking one for the other. He seems to have taken care to distinguish his make-up and hair but minimally. The distinction is in the art.

So leave it at that. Beautifully, nay perfectly cast and acted in all its roles, well-written, well-directed, set, and filmed, I watched The Deuce with the fascination of one who for years once skirted its shameful worlds, glad not to have been intrigued to enter them — hardly, barely, lyingly, to be sure.

 
 
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