Sweet Charity

Sweet Charity (1969)
director Bob Fosse
costumes Edith Head
music Cy Coleman
starring Shirley MacClaine, Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr., Bud Cort (cameo)

Shirley MacClaine plays yet another near prostitute/dancehall hostess, stealing the role Gwen Verdon created for Neil Simon’s Broadway interpretation of Fellini’s Nights of Caberia. Charity Valentine wears her heart literally tattooed on her arm, sacrificing herself on the altar of love with one undeserving man after another.

The story is ultimately too dark, the characters too modern, and it fails as an optimistic Hollywood musical. But New Yorker’s had embraced Gwen Verdon’s hardluck heroine as if she were the city itself: mugged, abandoned, but holding on to hope. Sweet Charity revived Broadway, brought tourists back to the city, and re-opened the venerable Palace Theater. But don’t think this is anyone’s show but Bob Fosse’s.

Vowing he’d never again work as a choreographer under another director, Fosse’s physical edgy staging had made him a household name along with wife Verdon, but he but was new to film and perhaps shakey without his star. The movie is disasterously uneven. Numbers that showcase his signature sex’n’sizzle jazz dancing are instant classics, but an homage to New York City’s landmarks just clunks. Comedy that plays as surreal on stage becomes rigid and even cruel in the literal world of film. Despite MacClaine’s charming performance and Cy Coleman’s lively songs, the film drags at almost 3 hours.

* Hey Big Spender exagerated dance hall girls are zombies for hire
* If They Could See Me Now vaudeville deconstructed: a top hat, a cane, a spotlight, and a chandelier
* There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This a wistful rooftop trio as good as anything Hollywood ever gave
* Rich Man’s Frug parade of stunning Edith Head creations at the decadant Club Pompeii
* The Rhythm Of Life Sammy Davis Jr. as a hep-cat preacher in a parking garage