#382) Cabaret (1972)
OR “Manischer Elf Traum Mädchen”
Directed by Bob Fosse
Written by Jay Allen (and “Research Consultant” Hugh Wheeler). Based on the musical by Joe Masteroff, the play “I Am a Camera” by John Van Druten, and the novel “Goodbye to Berlin” by Christopher Isherwood. Songs by John Kander & Fred Ebb.
Class of 1995
The Plot: British writer Brian Roberts (Michael York) arrives in 1931 Berlin to teach English, and rooms with Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), an aspiring singer at the local cabaret. Despite Brian’s repressed homosexuality, the two begin a romantic relationship, which is turned on its head with the arrival of wealthy Baron Max von Heune (Helmut Griem). In the midst of this personal drama is the foreboding rise of the Nazi party, as well as commentary from the cabaret’s androgynous Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey). Oh, and it’s a musical.
Why It Matters: The NFR praises Fosse et al for a film adaptation that “maintains the vivacity of the stage version”. There’s also an essay by author/“Cabaret” commentary track Stephen Tropiano.
But Does It Really?: “Cabaret” is a notch above your average movie musical, if not one of the untouchables of filmdom. Bob Fosse succeeds in crafting a musical film for the more mature, gritty movie scene of the ‘70s, aided by a screenplay that wisely borrows from its source materials, and a star-making performance by Liza Minnelli. “Cabaret” tends to get lost in the shuffle of great movie musicals, but its unique presentation and dark subject matter makes it stand out among the crowd.
Everybody Gets One: Daughter of Hollywood legends Judy Garland and Vincente Minnelli, Liza Minnelli originally auditioned for Sally in the Broadway production, but was deemed too inexperienced. By the time the film rolled around, Minnelli was a bigger star, as well as an Oscar nominee for “The Sterile Cuckoo”. Joel Grey won the Tony for his work as the Emcee on Broadway, and is the only original company member cast in the film.
Title Track: The title song is the climax of the movie, and Liza knocks it out of the park, aided by some very shrewd lighting and camera moves.
Seriously, Oscars?: A hit with critics and audiences, “Cabaret” entered the Oscar race with 10 nominations, tied for first place with “The Godfather”. The Corleone family took home Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, but “Cabaret” won all eight remaining categories, including Director, Actress, and Supporting Actor (Grey).“Cabaret” still holds the record for most Oscars without winning Best Picture. Weirdly, neither of Kander & Ebb’s two new songs (“Mein Herr” and “Money”) were nominated that year.
- As far as stage-to-film adaptations, “Cabaret” is quite unique. In a push for realism, all songs not sung in the cabaret were scrapped. As for the “book scenes”, most of the stage material was deleted in favor of restoring plot lines from both the original “Berlin Stories” and its first stage adaptation “I Am a Camera”. Can you imagine the film version of a stage musical taking this many liberties today? Theater geeks everywhere would be furious!
- “Willkommen” sets up not only the world of the cabaret, but also the creepy vibe of the whole movie. Like so many great performances, you can’t imagine anyone but Joel Grey as the Emcee (apologies to Alan Cumming).
- The other big change: On stage Sally Bowles was British and untalented, in the film she’s American and…Liza Minnelli.
- The Golden Rule of musical film adaptations: put your cut songs in the underscore. Listen closely for instrumental versions of “Don’t Tell Mama”, “It Couldn’t Please Me More”, “Married”, “Sitting Pretty” and “So What”.
- Michael York is one of those actors who I could listen to read the phone book. Or provide exposition in an homage to ‘60s spy movies.
- “Mein Herr” is the number that really showcases Fosse’s trademark choreography: precise isolated sexuality. Only Fosse can make standing on a chair that erotic.
- “I’m going to be a great film star. That is, if booze and sex don’t get me first.” Oh Liza…
- Most of the time I just kept thinking how daring and taboo this subject matter would have been in 1972. Bisexuality, abortions, Nazis: you didn’t see “Man of La Mancha” tackling any of this.
- I’m not Liza’s biggest fan, but she’s very good in this. It’s a fascinating performance that’s somehow larger than life while simultaneously subtle. And although Liza is a one-of-a-kind performer, there are still welcomed flashes of Judy hiding in the corners of her work.
- In true Fosse fashion, the doomed romance between the middle-aged Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz is replaced with a similar, younger, sexier version with Natalia Landauer and Fritz Wendel. It gets the same point across, but next to Marisa Berenson we all look like Lotte Lenya.
- Max is so close to being John McMartin.
- The one non-cabaret song to make the cut is Nazi anthem “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”. Sung by an obviously dubbed Hitler Youth, the song is still a stirring, dangerous moment in the film.
- Like any good production of “Cabaret”, the rise of the Nazis is subtle yet consistent. It’s never big enough to be concerned about until it’s too late. “If You Could See Her” is the pivotal turning point, in which anti-Semitism is initially mocked but ultimately accepted.
- “What good is sitting alone in your room?” Hey, I got 370 more movies to get through! Leave me alone!
- Oof that ending still packs a punch. I wonder how much of that is the Nazi reprisal we’re currently going through as a nation?
- “Cabaret” was a hit and made Liza Minnelli a movie star. Bob Fosse would go on to direct such films as “Lenny” and future NFR entry “All That Jazz”.
- The stage version of “Cabaret” has been revived on Broadway three times, each incorporating songs from the movie. Joel Grey reprised the Emcee for the 20th anniversary revival in 1987.
- Liza continues to perform songs from “Cabaret”, most famously in her follow-up collaboration with Bob Fosse: “Liza with a Z”. Joel Grey reprised “Willkommen” during his appearance on an early “Muppet Show”.
- The making of “Cabaret” is prominently featured in “Fosse/Verdon”, with Gwen Verdon finally getting her due as the glue holding Fosse and the movie together.