Directed By: Joan Freeman
Starring: Melissa Leo, Dale Midkiff, Leon Robinson
Tag line: "She dropped out of high school this morning ... Tonight she's a Times Square hooker"
Trivia: Shot entirely at night over the course of 24 days
In the DVD commentary for their 1985 movie Streetwalkin’, writer/director Joan Freeman and producer/co-writer Robert Alden tell of how, in preparation for the film, they spent time riding along with the vice squads of four major metropolitan police departments. Unfortunately, aside from a few bright spots, the resulting movie doesn’t shed any new light on the subject, and feels more like a rehash of what’s gone before than it does an exposé of a serious social disease.
After being thrown out of the house by their callous mother, Cookie (Melissa Leo) and her younger brother Tim (Randall Batinkoff) make their way to New York City to build better lives for themselves. Moments after their arrival, Cookie is approached by Duke (Dale Midkiff), a pimp who sweeps her off her feet. Several months pass, and Cookie, now deeply in love with Duke, is also one of his top-earning prostitutes, and is doing well enough on the streets to have an apartment that she shares with fellow hooker Heather (Deborah Offner).
But when Heather tries to leave town, an angry Duke beats her mercilessly, putting her in the hospital. Frightened, Cookie contacts Jason (Leon Robinson), another pimp, in the hopes he’ll represent her, thus ending her “relationship” with the potentially abusive Duke. Of course, when Duke catches wind of this, he goes ballistic, and hits the streets in an effort to track down Cookie so he can exact some “professional” revenge.
Despite the realistic atmosphere that its setting brings to the table (the movie was shot on-location in some of New York City’s seedier neighborhoods), Streetwalkin’ is pretty standard stuff, and offers very little that we haven’t already seen. A psychotic pimp beating on the ladies who work for him? They did this same thing a few years earlier in director Gary Sherman’s Vice Squad. An innocent girl forced to hit the streets to earn a living? That’s 1984’s Angel to a T.
To its credit, Streetwalkin’ does delve further into the pimp / prostitute dynamic than these previous movies (per Joan Freeman, in many of the cases she researched, the pimp was engaged in a romantic relationship with his women, which gave him more control over them), but overall this 1985 film has a “been there done that” vibe that it never seems to shake.
That said, Streetwalkin’ is certainly not a bad movie; along with its setting, both Melissa Leo and Dale Midkiff deliver powerful performances, and the final 15 minutes will have you on the edge of your seat. So, even if it does tread in familiar territory, the filmmakers navigate the path well enough, and you won’t be sorry you saw it.