October 1944, and eighteen-year-old Georgina Grayson (Emily Lloyd) dreams of fame as a movie star, walking up the red carpet and addressing her adoring public. No sign of that in her life at the moment, however, as wartime London braces itself for more bombs and life is lived in restrictions, be that rationing or thanks to the authorities keeping everyone in their place, and frankly she is sick of it. If only she could have some excitement in her life, meet a really fascinating man who could transport her from the drudgery of the capital. Enter Ricky (Kiefer Sutherland), an American soldier stationed in Britain who she notices in a café: he is carrying a gun, he has an exotic accent, and she is sure he is someone she needs to get to know.
Chicago Joe and the Showgirl was one of those true crime tales that featured a couple on a spree; Bonnie and Clyde was the most celebrated of those, and there were signs director Bernard Rose was keen to make parallels between that film and his when the showgirl character is so in love with the glamour of movies, as this work was. At the time, Rose did himself no favours by talking up his film as if it were something very special indeed, so you could sense the satisfaction both critics and public alike had for dismissing it or even accusing it of being one of the worst of the year, but was it that bad? It hasn't seen its stock rise since its release and subsequent failure at the box office, certainly, though it does have a small number of fans.
Actually, looking at it in retrospect, it probably arrived at the wrong time. Screenwriter David Yallop was something of an expert in true crime, the author of many books on the subject, but here the production seemed more captivated by the idea of a folie a deux, two lovers caught up in a shared fantasy where they were romantic outlaws rather than the truth, that they were a grubby pair who opportunistically used the downtrodden landscape of wartime Britain to try and get away with some horrendously selfish acts. The film did not exactly blame the media, as Natural Born Killers would a short time later, but it did blame the criminals' interpretation of Hollywood, as Ricky tells Georgina that he is a Chicago gangster and she is enraptured.
Of course, he was nothing of the sort, he was a Swedish-American called Karl Hulten, a deserter, and more, as we find out when their fantasy comes crashing down. And Georgina wasn't even who she said she was, she was actually Betty Jones, a stripper from Wales, so this behaviour where they were fooling each other as much as they were fooling themselves was the crutch the plot used to prop up a set of misdeeds that eventually saw one taxi driver (John Junkin) murdered, and a hitchhiking woman (Alexandra Pigg) seriously injured after being viciously attacked. The incident that kicked off the crimes, which lasted a few days from them meeting to them being arrested, was left out of this, where Hulten, encouraged by Jones, knocked a lady cyclist off her bike and robbed her - a scene where he steals a fur coat was substituted instead.
All the way through Rose contrasted the idea the couple had in their heads of what they were trying to get away with, and the shabby reality. Be that the comparatively low budget rendering the surroundings looking cheap and nasty, or an artistic choice, it worked out fairly well, almost making us sympathise that the London of this period would have been a depressing place to be living where trips to the picture palaces would have lifted the spirits of the public. But then in Sutherland's performance we saw Hulten was well aware of the enormity of his needless activities, obviously self-traumatised and not sure how he has been forced into this situation by Jones, with Lloyd essaying her as a bratty dreamer who gets a look on her face that makes it plain she is regarding this as her own personal Hollywood production. Yet that was speculation, as the actual attacks were something that baffled the British public at the time when the nation was supposed to be banding together, exposing the grim reality that crime was not about to stop simply because we were at war - Patsy Kensit appeared as Hulten's other girlfriend, representing the straight and narrow he has uncomprehendingly rejected. Nowhere near as poor as its reputation, its main drawback was overambition. Music by Hans Zimmer and Shirley Walker.