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There's just something about this movie that I love. I had seen bits and pieces of it some half a dozen times in the past couple of years. Tonight I finally sat and watched all of it. In theory it sounds like blasphemy: a musical remake of Fellini's Nights of Cabiria. But somehow first time director Bob Fosse pulls it off, and enormously well. Fosse is daring and innovative in his direction. Not just in the musical numbers, where you would expect it, but in every scene. He plays, and he's obviously having a ball. After the direction, a high percentage of the film's success is due to Shirley MacLaine, who was never better as Charity Hope Valentine. As much as I love and care for Giullieta Masina's Cabiria, I love and care for MacLaine's Charity. She's such an enormously lovable character, and MacLaine is simply brilliant. Her comic timing is impeccable. Sweet Charity also proves an interesting time capsule of late 60s New York City. In the scene cognate to the Picadilly Club in Nights of Cabiria, we visit a trendy night club where the girls where blue feathers as hats. Clips of Cleopatra (the one with Claudette Colbert) and an unidentifiable W.C. Fields movie play on a big screen in the background. We visit a religious ceremony for hippies who sing The Rhythm of Life. Sammy Davis Jr. is the priest! In Cabiria, a parade of young people cheer her at the end of the film. In Sweet Charity, a group of hippies, amongst them a young Bud Cort, hand out flowers in the morning, just saying good morning to everyone they meet. This movie was a huge bomb when first released. Fosse is actually really lucky they gave him another chance at direction, and then he made a film instantly recognizable as a masterpiece, Cabaret. Sweet Charity did not deserve to fail so miserably. Just the fickle fingers of fate, I guess.
While "Sweet Charity" was being filmed, almost 40 years ago, Shirley
MacLaine was a song and dance actress with a body and matching charm
that wouldn't quit.
Bob Fosse was the rising choreographer of MacLaine's and so many other dancers' dreams, in this, his first major musical.
Fellini was a brilliant director.
In hindsight, MacLaine's career may have been royally jump-started by "Sweet Charity." As a dance hall hooker, more or less, her character, Charity Hope Valentine, was looking for Mr. Goodbar--a man with money to marry.
Her classic song, "If they could see me now," comes from this musical and as scene where she found one such guy. Nearly 2 scores later, MacLaine is still playing leading characters with the same comical charm and extraordinary talent; still singing hits like "I'm still here," in "Postcards from the Edge," and has out lasted both famous men.
What I've always loved about Shirley MacLaine's characters is that even though they are supposed to be sexy, like Charity, as a dance hall hooker, she makes them into charming, funny, and innocuously cute-sexy rather than sleazy women. In fact, it's her trademark to do so. "Irma la Douce" is another fine example.
Though MacLaine could have easily used her dancer's body to seduce us to the pinnacle of the stage and screen, she uses her multiple talents instead. And she is "still here!"
Sure, Bob Fosse sometimes indulges in trendy late-60's stylistic
touches like freeze-frames and crash-zooms. Some of the jokes by Neil
Simon are corny, and Shirley MacLaine can be a little hard to take
sometimes. The film also suffers from the bloated, over-produced
quality that infected most 60's major studio musicals.
The dull non-musical scenes are a chore to sit through, but when one of Fosse's amazing production numbers begins, Sweet Charity soars into the sublime. Fosse was quite simply a genius, and the great showcase numbers such as "Hey Big Spender" and "Rich Man's Frug" are as brilliant as any dance numbers ever put on film.
Shifting configurations of dancers, contorted body poses, dance steps that are by turns awkward and graceful, a studied contrast between clustering dancers and separating dancers -- it is hard to describe the magic of the Pompeii Club sequence. I've always felt that Fosse's choreography has the same sense of space and volume as Cubist painting.
Fosse's camera placement and camera movement capture an ideal "in-the-round" feeling of choreographed numbers that one cannot experience in the theater. For a first-time film director, Fosse revealed an amazing facility for the form. Usually theater directors don't take to the medium of film as quickly as Fosse did. Usually, theater directors make visually unexciting films that feel stage-bound. Not Fosse -- Sweet Charity, despite some flaws, doesn't play like a filmed stage play, it has the visual panache of Fellini and Godard.
Sweet Charity was just a warm-up, Fosse's personal film school at Universal's expense, before he truly mastered the form of film-making with the classic Cabaret.
Bob Fosse's masterpiece and most amazing film creation, 'Sweet Charity' has to be the top of my list for musical/romance/comedy enjoyment. I have watched this film well over 50 times, and still it never tires me. Shirley MacLaine's performance as the title star, Charity Hope Valentine, is award-winning! Her genuine, lovable character really brings the film to life as you begin to know and understand her throughout it. I remember feeling immense sadness for her each time her love for another man is abused, and its films that bring emotion like that out of you that are one of the greats! The ending is truly captivating, and her faith in hope creates a fantastic feeling for the close of this wonderful movie, hopefully ever after.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've seen Sweet Charity a few times before without really thinking
about it. Certain images remained, especially the Pompeii Club dance
and the famous Big Spender scene. Then I read that this was the
legendary Bob Fosses first film, that it was big a Hollywood production
and that it flopped at the box office. Why? This intrigued me and I
finally got hold of a copy. Thankfully the widescreen DVD to see the
whole film at its best!
I was expecting a big so-so musical but it was very good! Not the very best but one of the better big sixties musicals. There's not much of a story, a prostitute wants a better life. I was worried that maybe Shirley McLaine would be too saccharine or too old for the part, but she was great. She wasn't pathetic as the girl who gets dumped by men, just another survivor in a big city. Naive but not cute.
It looks like a movie to take the whole family to enjoy but how many brought their kids along to watch a prostitute? (Although nothing rude happens at all.) It's very tame. Younger people at the time thought musicals were square and went to see 'Easy Rider' instead.
*SPOILER* So this movie had no audience except musical lovers who didn't like the downer ending since they expected happy endings! (The alternate ending on the DVD works better and is not too sugary. Fosse thought it corny.)
It's an interesting time capsule of the late sixties. It probably grew old quickly but today it's a camp joy to see all the great sixties fashions! Quite groovy, coming from Hollywood chief designer Edith Head!
The movie starts slow and is too long (2½ hours!) with overtures and an intermission! No one, I guess, had THAT much patience with it. It wasn't Gone with the wind! Perhaps big musicals had fallen out of taste with audiences at the time. There were several other big musical flops at the end of the sixties. HUGE Hollywood productions like Star!,Dr. Dolittle, Hello Dolly, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, On a Clear Day, bombed.
The choreography by Fosse is great! He made too few movies! There are a few similarities with his his next film, Cabaret. The decadent dances at the Fandango and Pompeii clubs and the 'Fickle finger of fate' scene which reminds me of the scene with Liza Minelli and Michael York under a train bridge about to yell.
Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly bring a lot of life to the film too. Oscar is a little dull. What would he be doing in a colorful hippie congregation???? Just an excuse for more fab Fosse footwork! The parade scenes in New York are proof of McLaine's excellent dancing. This a forgotten musical classic waiting to be rediscovered!
Fosse's stage production was/is wonderful, but his movie is simply spectacular. He brings to the screen everything he had to leave out for the stage. As "Charity" is based on Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, the result is truly groundbreaking. The sets, scenery, NY locations, costumes, hair, all contribute to demonstrate the bizarre culture of the late '60s. The movie succeeds on many more levels than the stage version. This is not a filmed stage performance, it is every bit a true movie. Shirley MacLaine gives the performance of her career. Her other landmark roles pale in comparison to Charity. Unfortunately, Universal Studios panicked when the film met with some initial negative reaction and the movie was cut, re-edited and even given a different ending. Fosse's gift to the world was his intensely personal artistic integrity. It was impossible for him to be dispassionate in his creations and he must have taken "Charity's" reputation as a failure very personally. Thankfully his original version has been wonderfully preserved for DVD. Now "Sweet Charity" can take it's rightful place in the movie musical hall of fame.
This film adaptation of the Broadway hit updates the original it was
based on, namely Federico Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria". "Sweet
Charity" is set in the "hip" 60s, the times of "flower power" and
Shirley MacLaine is wonderful as Charity, the "hooker with a heart of gold" who is determined to settle down with a good man and live a respectable life. Unfortunately Charity gets used and abused by most of them, until a shy, well mannered accountant offers her marriage. Thrilled about the prospects of settling down, Charity rushes to the marriage license bureau, only to have her "fiance" get cold feet (after he learns of all the "other" men Charity has known).
Shattered and suicidal, Charity "gets her smile back" when "flower children" ask her to be their friend. -- Like "Nights of Cabiria", this film leaves the viewer heart broken, yet with a glimmer of hope: Never give up on your dreams and one day they will come true!
Shirley is endearing as the title character, a sweet overly hopeful hard luck dame not overly burdened with brains. Several of the songs-Where Am I Going?, Hey Big Spender, If They Could See Me Now, are excellent but the film is an overblown terribly dated dinosaur. The kind of out of touch production that killed the musical by the end of the sixties. A gargantuan flop upon its initial release costing 20 million and taking in only 8, it's easy to see why peppered throughout as it is with techniques, photos that stop the action dead, freeze frames in numbers, that were outdated even then. There are glimmers of Fosse's genius scattered here and there but he has done better work elsewhere. One of the very rare chances to see Chita Rivera on screen, for that alone it's worth sitting through once but it really a mediocre effort.
Shirley MacLaine is excellent in this underrated, brassy musical based
on the Italian classic film, NIGHTS OF CABIRIA.
MacLaine plays Charity Hope Valentine, a sweet but rather clueless woman who works in a dance hall but yearns for love. She's constantly linking up with men who use her, take her money, dump her. The film opens with Charity in Central Park with her "boyfriend." Sitting on a bridge, she chirps about making a wish and throwing something off the bridge. The creep shoves her into the water.
She has two wiser-but-cynical pals, played by Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly. They seem resigned to their fates as dance hall girls but there's still an ember of hope for a better life.
Charity meets an Italian film star (Ricardo Montalban) and spend the night with him ... in his closet. She then meets a repressed man (John McMartin) in a stalled elevator and seems to have found happiness at last..... But is happiness in the cards for Charity? MacLaine seems to channel Gwen Verdon (who starred in the show on Broadway and who worked with MacLaine on the dance numbers) and excels in the many productions numbers, especially "If They Could See Me Now" and "Somebody Loves Me at Last." MacLaine also has a spirited rooftop dance number with Rivera and Kelly as they opine "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This." The show-stopper is probably the "Big Spender" number which features MacLaine, Rivera, and Kelly with a line of dance hall girls who try to lure men to be their partners. It's a sensational number that shows Bob Fosse's choreographic skills and also demonstrates the cynical life of a dance hall girl.
Other great numbers include MacLaine and Montalban's visit to the Pompeii Club where the dancers go through a series of landmark Fosse dances. The lead dancer here is the sensational Suzanne Charny. Among the dancers are also Ben Vereen, Lee Roy Reams, and Chelsea Brown.
Sammy Davis turns up the heat with the "River of Life" number which shows Charity and Oscar (McMartin)seeking meaning and discovering the 60s counter culture. Then there's Stubby Kaye as the dance hall manager who throws Charity a wedding party and sings "I Love to Cry at Weddings." This is a hugely underrated musical filled with great music and production numbers. Big, bright, brassy, and brazen, what's not to love? MacLaine won a Golden Globe nomination.
Shirley MacLaine fills the formidable shoes first worn by Gwen Verdon,
who created the role of Charity Hope Valentine in the stage musical on
which this film is based, and makes the role her own.
"Sweet Charity" is nearly a one-woman show, so the success of any version depends almost entirely on its leading lady, and MacLaine delivers the goods and then some as this New York City "dance hall hostess," part broad and part waif, who wants nothing more than to just be loved but always manages to pick the wrong guy. It's to MacLaine's great credit that you don't get frustrated with Charity, despite her denseness and her willingness to be treated like a doormat. Rather, you respond to the inherent good in her, the belief against all evidence to the contrary that life can have a fairy tale ending, and which the screenplay and MacLaine's performance convey without an ounce of sentimentality. There's not a whole lot of plot; rather, the film takes you into the life of this warm character through a number of episodic segments, until finally we realize that Charity's problem is not, as she thinks, that she's not good enough for anyone, but rather that she can't find someone who's good enough for her.
Bob Fosse, who directed and choreographed the stage version, takes on the same tasks here, with somewhat mixed results. The choreography is stellar, especially during the "Rich Man's Frug" number, set in a hilariously stylized version of a trendy New York night club; and during the "Rhythm of Life" number, led by Sammy Davis, Jr. as a sort of hipster preacher who leads bizarre revival meetings in parking garages. But Fosse's direction is a little less sure, and when one compares this film to his later efforts, like the nearly perfect "Cabaret" and the not as perfect but still fascinating "All That Jazz," one can see how much shakier he is here. He struggles to meld a very conventional style of film-making to his own unique cinematic style, the results being that all of the musical numbers are dazzling and energetic while all of the non-musical moments are a bit flat. He also gives in too much to trendy 1960s flourishes, so the film seems dated now.
But the good in this film greatly outweighs the bad. The terrific score retains most of the major songs from the musical: "Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," "I'm a Brass Band," and "I Love to Cry at Weddings." The title song is set to a different tune, and is an improvement over the version that appeared on stage. "My Personal Property" replaces "You Should See Yourself" as Charity's opening number -- again, an improvement. "A Very Nice Face" replaces "I'm the Bravest Individual" as the number sung by Charity when she and Oscar (a hilariously spastic John McMartin) are trapped in an elevator, the one song that's not as good as the original. Ricardo Montalban makes a terrific Vittorio Vitali, the virile and lusty Latin lover movie star who takes Charity back to his place only to leave her stranded in a closet all night when his girlfriend shows up unexpectedly, but his big number, "Too Many Tomorrows," is dropped. And the rubber-limbed Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly, playing Charity's fellow dance hall hostess friends and roommates, don't get their second-act number, "Baby, Dream Your Dream" in the film, but they do great work on "Big Spender" and "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," which the three actresses perform on a rooftop in a scene reminiscent of "West Side Story."
"Sweet Charity" came out a time when the Hollywood musical was dying, and because it was a box office bomb, I feel that it gets lumped in with other bad films from the late 60s, like "Doctor Dolittle," "Camelot," "Hello, Dolly," and "Throughly Modern Millie," but it's leaps and bounds better than any of those, and is one of the unsung musical gems from that era.
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