Roxy Robinson thought he was careful, and he was, but even the most watchful person can make a mistake; his first was to work for Fat Sam (John Cassisi) and his second was to try to escape from his boss's rivals by hiding in a blind alley. Sam has a problem on his hands, and that problem is his business rival Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) who has discovered a novel new way to muscle in on his territory: the splurge gun, a weapon which is so efficient that there's no way Sam's henchmen can compete. So what can he do as his power is whittled away slowly but surely?
The clue's in the title, Sam, Bugsy (Scott Baio) is your man. This eccentric musical was a pastiche of all those thirties gangster movies starring Humphrey Bogart or James Cagney, the novelty being that all the roles are played by children. It wasn't the only movie to feature an all-child cast but is the most celebrated and seeing it now it's still very appealing in the way it sends up the genre clichés in its own good-natured way. Though oddly the manner in which the consciously artificial style operated meant it was best not to examine it too closely: for a start, when characters are hit by the splurge guns, they really do die in the movie, as if writer and director Alan Parker was hewing too closely to those conventions.
This did up the stakes for the unlucky Sam - Bugsy might be the star, but it's Fat Sam who's the best character - and translated into a tension in the movie as if the tone was torn between parody and sincerity. As this was a musical as well, Paul Williams wrote a rightfully Oscar-nominated score packed with catchy tunes, though Parker refused to allow his cast to sing them, therefore it's kind of disconcerting hearing adult voices singing the songs which the children mime to. Forgotten today is the criticism the film received from those who objected to the sight of these kids essentially being made to grow up too fast on camera for some concerned viewers' liking, an opinion which may surprise about what has become a popular school production.
Tallulah's song for example seems a bit, erm, inappropriate, although anyone who's seen Freaky Friday will know Jodie Foster who played the role always acted older than her years and here she seems to be that bit more aloof than her fellow characters, as if too close to thinking and nearly saying, "What am I doing here with these morons?!" Yet the idea of acting out the classic movies, at times amusingly amateurishly in this case, was something that appealed across the board to make this a childhood favourite and Parker cannily tuned into that make-believe world where reality is prepared for through the activity of playing around with your imagination; many's the grown-up who recalls wishing they could have been involved in something that looked so much fun as a movie when they were little.
As for Bugsy, he is the eye of calm this hurricane of tomfoolery revolved around, romancing aspiring singer in Sam's speakeasy Blousy Brown (Florrie Dugger) and fending off the advances of moll Tallulah (another reason kids might not like her) as all the while Dandy Dan's operations close in and he finds he is more needed than he anticipated. With the curious mixture of the infantile - the throwing pies, the vintage vehicles which are actually pedal cars - and the more mature - the way in which lives are at stake, the odd moments of sober emotional reflection, often in song - it was interesting that by the end everyone managed to reach a new level of understanding, inspiring even. It was as if they recognise they have to put away childish things as the old proverb goes, and for all the slapstick there was a bittersweet quality to Bugsy Malone. But again, probably best not analysed too closely lest you break the fantastical spell, as on the whole the film was like a cross between Little Caesar and Tiswas. "So this is showbusiness?"