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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bugsy Malone (1976)

Everyone loves gangster films, James Cagney, Paul Muni, and Humphrey Bogart lit up the silver screen for years portraying some of the toughest mugs in cinema, but director Alan Parker takes a decidedly different angle with Bugsy Malone, the entire cast consists of children averaging twelve years of age and also it’s a musical. For a first feature length film that shows some serious cojones from a director.

Fat Sam grand slam 
Chicago eat your heart out.

The songs for the film are by legendary singer/songwriter Paul Williams (Phantom of the Paradise) and all of them are pretty damn catchy. Though the cast is all kids the singing was provided by adults with Williams performing several of them. This does make it a bit weird when you hear Paul Williams’s very white voice belting out of Razamatazz (Michael Jackson and no not that one) a ten year old black kid as Fat Sam’s piano player.

Not Paul Williams 
Fat Sam’s Grand Slam” by Paul Williams

Set during the Roaring Twenties we get your standard story of rival gangs fighting it out in the streets of Chicago where head mobster Fat Sam (Sam Cassisi) runs a successful speakeasy but finds his entire organization in the sites of Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) a rich and polished rival mob boss.

“Do nothing. Act like everything is normal”

The title character of Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio in his screen debut) is a drifter who does as little as possible but just what he needs to get by; a grifter, a thief, chauffeur and sometime boxing manager, but things change when he falls for Blousie Brown (Florrie Dugger) a girl with great voice and dreams of being a movie star.

Scott baio 
Scott Baio is Bugsy Malone

A rival for Bugsy’s affection is torch singer Tallulah (Jodi Foster) but who is also Fat Sam’s girlfriend and this brings up the “creep factor” as it’s one thing to see little boys dressed in suits and sporting fake moustaches it’s another to see young girls dressed as 20s speakeasy singers.

Jodi Foster 
Jodi Foster is Tallulah.

The other key element of Bugsy Malone is the “Splurge Guns” which Dandy Dan is using to take out Fat Sam’s gang. In this alternate kid universe guns have been replaced by cream filled pies and to get hit by one meant you were dead. Whether this meant you were actually dead or just forced to leave this universe and go back home to your parents is unclear. Now Dandy Dan arrives with a technological edge with Tommy Guns that fire pie filling, so one by one Fat Sam’s rackets crumble.

“Ready, aim..SPLAT!”

Eventually Bugsy is able to turn the tables by outfitting a group of down and outs with captured Splurge Guns and stages a cream filled ambush of his own. The climax is your basic Great Hollywood Pie Fight with cream filling flying everywhere until the fight is brought to a stop by Razamatazz who starts tinkling the ivories with  “You Give A Little Love” that gets the whole cast singing along.
“We could’ve been anything
That we wanted to be
And it’s not too late to change
I’d be delighted to give it some thought
May-be you’ll agree that we really ought”

Jazz Hands!

I’ll always have a soft spot for this movie, having first seen it in the theater when I was ten years old, and watching it again it really hasn’t lost any of its charm. The songs are great, the premise is beautifully goofy, and the cast of young performers are all surprisingly good.

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