Sweet Charity (1969)

Sweet Charity (1969)

Bob Fosse’s directorial debut was this Neil Simon musical remake of Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957) in which he used Shirley MacLaine in lieu of his wife Gwen Verdon in the title role. Verdon who played the role on Broadway acted as an uncredited choreographer for MacLaine. Peter Stone (Father Goose (1964)) wrote the screenplay. One of the first time director’s more interesting choices includes the liberal use of still pictures with musical accompaniment. This film – about a hard luck dance hall hostess (prostitute would put it harshly) who’s “in love with being in love” such that every man she falls for “walks all over her” – captures the funky style & urban culture of its era (vintage 1960’s) complete with hippies Sammy Davis Jr. and flower children. For this it earned Oscar nominations for its Art Direction-Set Decoration Costume Design & Score; because of this it runs on for more than 2 ½ hours. The story itself which is both funny & sad is quite short (and wrought with stereotypes):

John McMartin plays Oscar Lindquist the actuary who finally proposes to (his sweet) Charity Hope Valentine (MacLaine). They met while trapped in an elevator in which she learns that he’s claustrophobic (one of the film’s wackiest scenes). Initially he doesn’t know her (oldest) profession and she doesn’t know about his puritan values. Chita Rivera & Paula Kelly play her “heard it all before” roommates and fellow dance hall hostesses; Stubby Kaye plays the nightclub’s manager. Ricardo Montalban appears as an Italian movie star living in a ritzy New York apartment that “adopts” Charity one evening after a spat separates him from his super model blonde girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet). Montalban’s character is charmed by Charity’s “realness” & simple honest nature – she tells him why she answers his questions with “fickle finger of fate” instead of “I don’t know” and then delights in repeating it. Another of the film’s funniest scenes is this one spiced with other repeated phrases like “without love life would have no purpose” & “up yours!”. Sammy Davis Jr. plays Big Daddy Brubeck the preacher of a “street church” (#7 out of 10 religions) that tells the gospel of love; Ben Vereen is one of its frug dancers.

The film’s more famous songs and dance numbers include “Hey Big Spender!” “The Rhythm of Life” “If They Could See Me Now” and “It’s a Nice Face”.

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