1972

Film #266: Cabaret (1972)

Finally we come to the best musical released in the 1970s and a film that may be one of my favourite examples of the genre. That film is Cabaret which is loosely based on the Broadway production of the same name and is a movie that holds a very dubious distinction at The Oscars.


I say loosely as director Bob Fosse discarded many of the songs from that film and got lyricists Kander and Ebb to write new songs. In addition to the song changes, Fosse scrapped many characters and brought in some new ones to freshen up the tale. He also changed the lead character of Sally Bowles to an aspiring English movie star who couldn’t really sing to an aspiring American movie star with an amazing voice. In the film, Sally meets young Englishman Brian Roberts who has come to Berlin to teach English. Sally, who is a lead attraction at the seedy Kit Kat Club, builds an attraction to Brian as both rent rooms in the same rundown apartment block. Though the pair begin a relationship, Sally’s head is soon turned by rich baron Maximilian who can offer her the finer things in life. Eventually all three spend a weekend at the baron’s family home where both end up having sexual encounters with the rich German. The film’s backdrop is the rise of the Nazi movement in Berlin in the early 1930s as the Jews are attacked and a subplot involving a friend of Brian’s explores religion and love. Meanwhile, Sally discovers she’s pregnant and wonders whether or not to keep the baby.

As opposed to the other two musical films that I’ve just reviewed, all of the songs in Cabaret are performed rather than used as an alternative to dialogue. The vast majority of these songs are performed in The Kit Kat Club by either Sally or the shadowy Emcee, the film’s narrator and host at the club. The character of Emcee is an interesting one as he doesn’t interact with any of the characters apart from Sally and that’s only through the method of song. Though Emcee’s songs do reflect the plot of the film, we see that they are all being performed to a club full of punters. Instead of being particularly uplifting, these songs are often sinister in nature talking about money-grabbing, sharing sexual partners and being unlucky in love. The tone of the film is perfectly exemplified in one scene in which Emcee and his backing group perform a dance routine that mocks the Nazi regime. To me, the film is one of the best examples of the screen musical as every song adds to the plot rather than detracting from it. From the opening bars of Willkommen to Sally Bowes’ glorious love song ‘Maybe This Time’ to the final bursts of its title track, Cabaret’s musical score is extraordinary. The film was incredibly successful at the 1973 Oscar ceremony, winning eight awards and earning the distinction of being the most-rewarded movie at the Oscars not to win Best Picture. Among the award-winners were Liza Minnelli who was absolutely captivating as the lovelorn and eccentric Sally Bowes. Meanwhile Joel Grey also picked up an incredibly well-deserved supporting actor statuette for his role as the sinister yet entertaining Emcee. Bob Fosse’s outstanding direction was also honoured as were the film’s stunning cinematography, score, sound, art direction and editing. As you can tell I really enjoyed Cabaret and, in any normal year, it would’ve won Best Picture but it did come up against one hell of a contender.

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