The Deuce Episode 1
Times Square in the early ’70s was fun. Don’t let anyone tell you any different. You could buy knives or ether, or codeine cough syrup from stores that happily displayed them in the window. Comic book stores stood next to rows and rows of movie theaters. Some of them showing family movies, some presenting art movies, some showing adult films. There was one theater that showed a Jimi Hendrix movie for six years straight. Happy hookers plied their wares on side streets and closed deals in alleyways.
The Deuce, HBO’s new series about the sex industry in New York City in the early ’70s, sets out to capture the sense of adventure and wonder of 42nd Street between 8th Avenue and Broadway. Nothing was forbidden in this small slice of what New Orleans had named the Big Apple. The Deuce didn’t conform to community standards. It had none to speak of. But the area had standards that went unspoken, or were a least whispered, sometimes in strained threatening voices. If you could make it in New York, you could make it anywhere. But if you didn’t make it, if you were a Tony Martin in a world of Francis Albert Sinatras, you were sent back to your small town, or outer borough origins, sometimes with your shoes broken.
Or you could put on stilettos or alligator shoes and strut your stuff. There were a few notorious areas to peddle ass or, for quick hookups, against brownstone walls, parked cars, and by-the-hour hotels: 18th and Lexington, 53rd and 3rd, “Queer pier” up on the West Side Highway, and The Deuce in the heart of Times Square. Rain, shine, and overcast, there was always money to be made and money to be paid.
The Deuce opens in Brooklyn where Vincent Martino, played by James Franco, gets robbed at gunpoint while holding down one of three jobs. He’s being strong-armed by the mob because his brother, Frankie Martino, is running out of bookies and options. Frankie is also played by Franco. I’ve only seen the pilot, but the only difference between the two brothers I can see is the hair color. The accents sound a little more Boston than Fort Hamilton, but I’m only digging at him. The poor mook he’s playing gets his life ripped to shit in the pilot, and we can see Franco’s Vincent burning through his own options even as he burns out. Vincent needs a place he can feel safe. The opening credits promise peep shows and shoe shines, handcuffs and leather, Aces and twos, and all on the gritty film stock of the period.
The series is produced by Richard Price, the author of The Wanderers, Clockers, and last year’s season of The Night of, among other urban masterworks. Between the stock footage and the retrofitting of Washington Heights, the Winston billboard with the smoke blowing out and an old style Sony billboard, the set designers catch area and the time. Bertolucci’s The Conformist is on the Marquee. Before Giuliani cleared it all away in a Disney fantasia of angry Elmos and one lone naked cowboy. It was a time when you had to have balls to show your balls as a flasher–well before the days of anonymous dick picks. We get a slice of period history when C.C. (Gary Carr), while talking at the shoeshine, explains to a cop that he’s no different from a soldier in Vietnam.
Port Authority is a cattle call, meat market, and casting bench for hustle talent in The Deuce. The pimps pick up their wares straight off the bus into the “big city.” Feed ‘em. Clothe ‘em. CC’s got a caddy and a killer sales pitch. He’s irresistible, one of the best on the block with a real eye for talent. He’s working out an exit plan, but it involves making sure no one splits on him. All the hookers have pimps except Candy, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’s got a heart of gold locked up like Fort Knox, but takes an occasional check.
Vincent and Frankie Martino will ultimately front for the mob in the up-and-coming, almost legit, almost artsy industry of pornography. The series also stars Emily Meade as Lori; Anwan Glover as Leon; Jamie Neumann as Ashley; Lawrence Gilliard Jr. as officer Chris Alston; Michael Rispoli as Gambino capo Rudy Pipilo; Natalie Paul as reporter Sandra Washington.
The pilot, which HBO previewed to On Demand and HBO Go viewers, promises sordid fun. The kind they shot for with the ’70s rock industry series, Vinyl. The decade is as colorful and dramatic as the famous ’60s. Sometimes delivering on the promises of the Aquarian generation, other times the darker threats. The crime will be in your face. The 1970s is known for its crime. The only decade that was better for crime in New York City was the roaring ’20s. They were also both considered the best 10-year periods of decadence in the five boroughs. It was dangerous. But it was fun and sexy.
The Deuce premieres Sept. 10 on HBO.