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  Sweet Charity Love Me!
Year: 1969
Director: Bob Fosse
Stars: Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Bouchet, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr, Suzanne Charney, Alan Hewitt, Dante DiPaolo, Bud Vest, Ben Vereen, Lee Roy Reams, Al Lanti
Genre: Musical, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Charity Hope Valentine (Shirley MacLaine) is a taxi dancer whose greatest wish is to be in love, and at the moment she thinks this might be the real thing with her latest boyfriend Charlie (Dante DiPaolo). He has instructed her to take all the money out of her bank account so they can start towards setting up home together, but when they meet in Central Park she has a shock coming. He takes the cash all right, but then pushes her off the bridge and into the river, running off never to be seen again. After about a minute, Charity is rescued, but she holds onto believing there must be a reasonable explanation for Charlie's actions...

That explanation being, he was a louse and she is a loser, both at love and in life. Sweet Charity was adapted for the stage as a musical from the Federico Fellini film Nights of Cabiria, which was such a success there that it was a natural choice to be brought to the big screen. However, the reviews were terrible, and the film was not held in high regard by most until word got round that maybe those critics had been wrong, so a cult grew up around the film, largely due to the choreography of director Bob Fosse, a legend in his field. Now, this film is not seen in the shadow of the Fellini original and stands up as its own entity.

Much of the criticism rested on the creation of the musical numbers, which watching them now and seeing how innovative they were seems incredible. Even Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' songs sparkle more often than not, and the numbers are by far the highlight of the film. What does bring it down, however, is a jaded feeling in its bones, a cynicism that never quite lifts which MacLaine's chirpy performance is constantly at odds with. The trouble is, when musicals before this were in the main cheerful affairs, Sweet Charity exists to grind its heroine down, forever lifting her up to let her drop into despair once more.

Still, watching this pathetic creature sing and dance her way through her misery does hold a curious charge, and MacLaine gives it her all in a performance that never relies on subtlety when the grand gestures will do. It's rare to see a character here who is truly content, and Charity's fellow hostesses are more fed up than most as we see in the classic "Hey Big Spender" sequence where they line up to be chosen by seedy patrons, their disinterest-verging-on-contempt showing on every face. Still, every so often Charity will meet someone who offers her a way out.

First up is Ricardo Montalban's Italian movie star who invites Charity along to a nightclub after he falls out with his girlfriend (Barbara Bouchet), leading to a great bit with the patrons indulging in such stylised dances as "The Aloof" and "The Heavyweight". She goes back to his place, but instead of an evening in the arms of a star, she ends up sleeping in his closet when his girlfriend returns to reconcile with him. Will our heroine ever find true love? In the second half there's another man in her life in the shape of Oscar Lindquist (John McMartin), an insurance assessor who she gets stuck in an elevator with. Oscar is a nervous type, and Charity has to calm him down, but once they are freed they strike up a relationship, including going on a date to see Sammy Davis Jr's church - the "Rhythm of Life" routine performed here is a real gem. With excellence in every department, this film might not bowl you over as it's too sour for that, but there are definite compensations with every passing minute of it.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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