Cabaret (Bob Fosse, 1972): USA

Reviewed by William Conlin. Viewed on DVD.

When people who know film history talk about 1972 they seem to immediately think of that year’s Best Picture Oscar Winner The Godfather, but many seem to forget that as good as it was, The Godfather was nearly toppled by a dark musical fantasy set in a city of lust, greed and late-night entertainment.

Bob Fosse’s Cabaret follows the lives of an American singer (Liza Minnelli) and a British scholar (Michael York) living in pre-World War II Berlin. The singer, Sally, performs nightly at the Kit-Kat-Club while the scholar, Brian, teaches English to over-privileged Germans. The two soon begin a relationship but are driven apart by the changing political climate and a rich bi-sexual German who seduces each of them at his leisure. But as the world begins to change around them, the most obvious signs are the attitudes of the mysterious Master of Ceremonies at the Kit-Kat-Club (Joel Grey).

Cabaret has always been one of my favorite musicals. Fosse’s seductive style mixed with John Kander and Fred Ebb’s amazing music make this the perfect antithesis to the happy-go-lucky musicals of the 1960’s. Many say that Fosse’s expressionist feel in Cabaret is directly inspired by the early German filmmakers like Wiene, Murnau and Lang. Cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth use of low-light is a stark contrast to some of his other films such as Superman and 2001: A Space Odyssey, but make the film even more interesting. One gets the feel that the Kit-Kat-Club is the kind of place where the shadows are more important that the lights.

In my opinion, this film features one of the greatest performances in film history. Joel Grey’s tour-de-force as the M.C. is terrifying, enticing and mystifying all at the same time. Though he is only on screen for a short period of time, he binds the plot and signifies the rise of the Nazi party. Some say he’s actually a representation of Hitler himself. He is also a member of a very rare group. For his performance as the M.C. he was awarded the Oscar, BAFTA, Tony and Golden Globe. Although I seem to be primarily citing Joel Grey as the greatest performance in the film, it must be mentioned that Liza Minelli and Michael York are stellar in their respective roles. Minnelli’s performance of “Maybe This Time” is one of my favorite songs of all time and York’s cool and collected attitude make you love him and hate him throughout the film.

Overall, Cabaret is a brilliant example of the dark musical genre and surely paved the way for films like Rob Marshall’s Chicago and the soon to be released 9. In 1972, The Godfather won 3 Academy Awards, Cabaret won 8, even thought The Godfather is one of the greatest films of all time, I’d like you to remember the one that nearly took it down.

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