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A `Nazi Musical' - Now, That's Innovative,
This review is from: Cabaret - Special Edition [DVD] (DVD)
Now I know Mel Brooks might have prior claim to this title via his 1967 'musical within a film' Springtime For Hitler and The Producers, but this 1972 film directed (and choreographed) by Bob Fosse really is something very 'un-Hollywood-like', with its intimate personal story interwoven with themes of 1930s Berlin Nazis, homosexuality and high-kicking, cross-dressing musical numbers. This was, I guess, the film that really 'broke' Liza Minnelli onto the world stage and in which she drew on her family heritage to deliver a whole series of infectious Kander and Ebb songs (alongside a marvellous Joel Grey) such as Willkommen, Maybe This Time, Money and film's famous title tune.
In addition, however, Minnelli demonstrates that she is not just a compelling (and androgynous) stage performer, but that she can also act, here as the brassy, down-to-earth, ambitious and (ultimately) vulnerable, Kit Kat night-club turn, Sally Bowles. It soon becomes clear that Fosse's film is going to be far from a 'traditional' Hollywood musical as Michael York's repressed, and sexually insecure ('nil' sex life), Englishman (and teacher), Brian Roberts, arrives at Sally's door, and the era's political overtones gradually seep into proceedings (initially via background radio broadcasts), drawing viewers into this world of 'divine decadence' (Sally's adage). Fosse (and cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth) create an authentic and evocative sense of the period, with stunning night-club sequences (blacks, reds, whites), ageing communist (Lenin) street posters and a sense of greater social/sexual liberalism, all tempered by the increasingly pervasive Nazi presence.
In addition to Minnelli's endearing turn, I have never seen York as impressive (not difficult, I'll admit) as the emotionally complex Roberts. Similarly, Marisa Berenson is very good as the 'aristocratic' German Jew learning English, Natalia Landauer, (with a standout scene being the language lesson in which she is baited by Sally), who falls for Sally's frend Fritz (Fritz Wepper). Just as Brian thinks he may be coming to terms with his sexuality the situation is further complicated by the arrival on the scene of Helmut Griem's aristocrat (Baron), Maximilian von Heune, for whom Sally falls big time, arousing Brian's jealousy. The scenes between Sally and Brian are genuinely touching, culminating in the standout 'screw Maximilian' episode, and the film's dark undertone is brought home brilliantly in the ominous Tomorrow Belongs To Me rendition by a blond Aryan (in Nazi regalia), plus, increasingly, an assembled crowd (with the notable exception of one cowering elderly man who no doubt dreads what the future might bring).
Cabaret is, for me, by no means a flawless film - it's maybe a little too kitsch (for me) at times, but because of the innovative way it deals with its themes of music, politics and sexuality I think it worthy of a top rating.