Bob Fosse’s masterpiece Cabaret is a musical like no other. It is a remarkably unique film: it blends fun song and dance numbers with the very serious and dreary subject of World War II, and a sensational performance by the one and only Liza Minnelli. Based on the 1966 Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name – itself adapted from A Goodbye to Berlin, a 1939 novel by Christopher Isherwood – this movie proves to be just as good as the stage production that inspired it.
In Berlin in 1931, just before the rise of Nazism, British student Brian (Michael York) is looking for a cheap place where he can live and teach English to Germans. He finds a room in a crowded boarding house and there he meets his new neighbor, cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli). A friendship is started and Brian finds himself spending a lot of time at the Kit Kat Klub where Sally spends her nights dancing and singing. There, the pair are introduced to a wealthy baron, and the trio are soon thrown head-first into a world of decadence and sexual promiscuity, with the rise of the Nazi Party threatening to take it all away.
Cabaret is so different from most other musicals in that, fun and cheery musical numbers aside, it is a terribly sad story. One of the main reasons I believe it excels not only as a unique entry in the genre but also as an exceptional film is that it goes to a truly depressing place — the rise of Nazism — and it doesn’t hold anything back. There is no hiding the terror on the rise; in fact, the film practically rubs your face in it, which only makes it that much more appealing to escape to a world of song and dance and laughter. When Liza Minnelli sings that powerful title track, she is making a desperate plea to escape the outside world and come to the Cabaret.
Cabaret is the only directorial effort I have seen from Bob Fosse, and yes, my friends, that is a crime! (Sweet Charity and All That Jazz have been on my “to watch” list for quite some time now, though luckily, the latter is part of this challenge, and I will be watching that later.) Fosse was a masterful choreographer, but Cabaret demonstrates that he was not a one-trick pony; he was a brilliant writer and director as well. Of course, those wonderful song and dance numbers are only as good as the one performing them, and these ones have the very best. Liza Minnelli belts out each and every tune with beautiful abandon, and proves to be just as amazing a performer off the titular stage. Sally Bowles lives in every moment, and doesn’t take life seriously. She’s theatrical and ridiculous and often scatterbrained, but you cannot help but love her. Liza plays the role spectacularly, and commands all the attention on the screen. Her only equal in the film is the Emcee, Joel Grey, who is the only member of the cast to reprise their role from the Broadway play. His experience with the character definitely shows: he is confident, funny and the perfect showman. Together, Grey and Minnelli pull off what I would consider to be the model example of a cabaret number; Money.
This film’s brilliant talent and unique spirit did not go unnoticed: Cabaret won 9 Oscars, only losing out to The Godfather for Best Picture. It sits pretty high on my musical chart, and if it wasn’t for My Fair Lady and the Sound of Music, it would top the list. This movie sparked my obsession with Liza Minnelli, and for that I am incredibly grateful. If you’re not yet a fan, heed Sally’s call and go to the Cabaret.
Cabaret landed at #74 out of 1352 movies on my Flickchart. That converts to a rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars or 95%. It is ranked #5 out of 62 movies I have seen from the 1970’s and is ranked #5 out of 16 movies i have seen so far in this challenge.