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Tarts with Hearts: 5 Classic Films Featuring Ladies of the Night

Posted on May 13th, 2015

Elizabeth Taylor

Weve all seen it before: the desperate streetwalker, who, if shown a bit of proper love and care, reveals herself to be a pure-hearted heroine. Its quite literally a tale as old as time, with a history dating back as far as the Greeks. Its also a theme that Hollywood is eternally fond of. The hooker with a heart of gold trope has appeared in hundreds if not thousands of movies since cinemas humble beginnings. Still, some actresses are better remembered for taking up the role than others. Heres our pick for five.

Elizabeth Taylor as Gloria Wandrous in Butterfield 8 (1960)

On first look, Fandro S. Bermans production of Butterfield 8 might seem as though it has nothing new to lend to the Tart with a Heart trope. The character of Gloria Wandrous, played by Elizabeth Taylor, appears relatively cut and dry from a distance. Shes framed as your typical fallen woman looking for a happy ending. But with Taylors unique delivery and style, much of the predictability of the plot is forgotten. Focus turns away from the man shes fallen for to Glorias own search for redemption in an unforgiving world. Watch Taylors riveting performance by renting the film on Google Play.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda as Bree Daniel in Klute (1971)

In many ways, Jane Fondas portrayal of Bree Daniel in 1971s Klute changed the genre forever. The empowered and brazen lack of shame for the profession that Fonda brought to her character were entirely different than what had been seen in similar roles characters previously. Daniel is no repentant fallen angel, not that she needs your opinion anyway. She is tough as nails and has no qualms about what she does to make money, making frequent comments on being free of the control of men. Viewers might be less than convinced, but Fondas nuanced portrayal of the role brought her the Best Actress award in 1972. Find Klute on iTunes or Amazon Instant Video.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Ophelia in Trading Places (1983)

Though the movie itself might not be remembered for Curtis role as the prostitute Ophelia, Trading Places did a remarkable job of showcasing her comedic skills and strong acting chops. Her quick wit and ability to hold her own alongside funny-men Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy helped her break out of her scream queen niche and start in on filming more diverse roles. This film is now streaming on Netflix (in addition to its annual holiday season reruns).

Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts as Vivian Ward in Pretty Woman (1990)

For many people, Pretty Woman is more than just the role that launched Julia Roberts career, it is also the ultimate go-to for a modern take on the hooker with a heart of gold story. Parodies of the picture have emerged everywhere, from a cartoon version on Family Guy to feminist rendition on the comedy series Broad City. Its so popular that getting a Pretty Woman makeover has become a well-known colloquial. And it cant simply be that people love the stereotype that much. So, what it is that made Roberts character Vivian so memorable? The same thing that made Roberts career: her bubbly persona and naturally infectious charm that shines through on camera. You can still catch this classic on DirecTV.

Mira Sorvino as Linda Ash in Mighty Aphrodite (1995)

Woody Allen has become known for his ability to craft remarkably diverse characters, so it comes as no real surprise that the blonde bombshell of a prostitute he created for Mighty Aphrodite had more to her than meets the eye. However it wasnt Allens witty dialogue that fanned the fame of Linda with audiences, it was Mira Sorvino, the then-unknown actress playing her. It was Sorvinos instinctive comic timing and unerring dedication to the ditsy-blonde stereotype that made the role stand out. Try to find the Blu-Ray DVD for this film, as it provides additional in-depth insights.

If the much celebrated 25th anniversary of Pretty Woman tells us anything, its that while the prostitute with a heart of gold trope has become a mainstay in Hollywood, it can be put to a number of uses. Usually a vehicle for writers and actors to explore additional issues associated with gender biases, race and class, the often-controversial nature of these pictures makes them all the more important.

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