What is it about the 1960's? 40 years later and counting, the Mod Decade somehow remains a cultural touchstone of cool with shows like "Mad Men" and looks like Gladiator sandals all the rage this summer. Other decades haven't aged so well; the 50's seem silly, the 70's ridiculous, the 80's embarrassing and the 90's smirk-worthy. Yet still, when you look back at the 60's, from fashion to music to science to theatre to politics to movies to design, that decade had it going on.
Lately, the films of the 60's have been popping up on my queue. Some have been interesting, but none have really been NetPix-worthy until this week when Bob Fosse's directorial debut "Sweet Charity" arrived in my mailbox. Based on a Broadway musical, it's the story of a dance hall girl with a heart of gold, played by a bubbly Shirley McClaine, who struggles through some odd romances as she tries to pull herself out of the gutter and into respectability...and even marriage. Whether or not she succeeds is something you'll have to find out when you watch the movie. All I can say is that the DVD has two endings, one which is featured as an "alternate ending" on the DVD extras. You can be the judge as to which one really works.
As an adaptation of a stage musical that was already an adaption of a movie (Fellini's "Nights of Cabiria"), the movie is a bit clunky in terms of plot and story. But as a movie musical, it is totally hot! The numbers are the thing here and, as a first-time filmmaker, Bob Fosse makes them his own. The fingerprints from his infamous jazz hands are all over the screen. Fosse's inimitable style is stamped onto each dance sequence, each one of them somewhat stretched out to fabulous effect. There's some dazzling location lensing in 1960's NYC, including a crazy marching band dance number on Wall Street. And no, that is not a typo.
The film also boasts a wonderful performance from Shirley McClaine, who sings and dances and high kicks her way through the movie with sheer charisma. There are some notable co-stars and cameos too; Chita Rivera playing a saucy dance hostess in her first screen role, Ricardo Montalban as an Italian(?!) cad, Ben Vereen making his big screen debut in the "Rich Man's Frug" and the legendary Sammy Davis Jr. as Big Daddy Brubeck in the "Rhythm of Life" number, which is worth re-watching, oh, at least 3 times. Set in a parking garage as the cars headlights somehow provide flashing psychedelic illumination, it's a brilliantly staged song and cleverly shot sequence that seems like one big outtake from "Hair" (though it would be 10 years before that made it to the screen).
In the end, "Sweet Charity" is not exactly a classic musical, like "Sound of Music" or "Singing In The Rain". The sum of its parts don't exactly add up, no matter which ending you prefer. But it is a highly entertaining and a very fun movie to watch, especially with a group of friends. And completely filled with glam 60's styles. With costumes by Edith Head to marvel at (oh the hats!) not to mention camp-kitsch anthems like "Hey Big Spender", I'd advise having a group of The Gays over and the evening will be a guaranteed gas. Dig?