Today! Because I gave up yesterday/But they still want more –
Bugsy Malone (1976)
Directed by Alan Parker (x2)
Starring Scott Baio, Jodie Foster (x3), Florence Garland, John Cassisi, Martin Lev, Paul Murphy, Sheridan Earl Russell, Albin Jenkins, Dexter Fletcher
My favorite modern-ish, live-action, non-puppet led musical, Bugsy Malone is nonetheless anything but conventional, what with its world of 1920s child gangsters belting out grown-up songs with adult dubbed voices. If you’ve never seen it, it is a pretty jarring choice, but again, these aren’t really children’s songs, so it works more than it doesn’t. The film, however, is very definitely a kid’s movie, and so may not seem like an obvious first time pickup for the adults out there. But if you somehow avoided Bugsy Malone all these years, you owe it to yourself to see this glorious bit of filmmaking.
First off, and most notably, you have Jodie Foster – the greatest child actor of them all – as the third lead. This is her second list film from 1976, neither of which are Taxi Driver, and while she’s easily the most talented person in the film, it’s hard for me to immediately hand over that MVP. Chachi/Bob Loblaw Scott Baio gives her a solid run as the title good guy mobster, everyone’s pal Bugsy, while the competing mob bosses – John Cassisi’s Fat Sam and Martin Lev’s Dandy Dan – are equally terrific in their opposing comic styles. Hell, actor/director Dexter Fletcher (who completed Bohemian Rhapsody once Singer got canned, and then helmed Rocketman, which hasn’t been released as of this writing, so I don’t know if that’s a positive or not) has a terrific, brief role as Baby Face. The child actor cast is first rate. Even the much maligned Florence Garland (who was thrust into the lead as Blousey when the previous actress grew too tall) gives a pretty game effort, even if she’s a bit unsuited to play opposite Baio so much.
The design and attention to detail and choreography are all terrific, but what really sets this apart is the music. Paul Williams followed up his terrific, bizarro work on #77 Phantom of the Paradise with ten songs for Bugsy and there’s not a clunker in the bunch. From the minor masterpiece “Good Guys/You Give a Little Love” (which lives on in commercials to this day) to the intense melancholy of “Tomorrow” to the jazzy period numbers “Fat Sam’s Grand Slam” and “My Name is Tallulah” to the fantastic title number, the case could be made that this is the best movie musical ever written. I’ve only got one Paul Williams flick ahead of this – and you should easily be able to guess what that is – but pound for pound Bugsy Malone may well be his masterwork.
And for years I thought I was just piling too much credit on this film – that it was such a staple of my childhood that I was blowing it all out of proportion. Maybe the setting and concept were too strange for it to possibly work as the years wore on, that this was just a twisted product of its time that couldn’t be appreciated as a film, then or now. But while it wasn’t a huge hit, this was a strongly regarded film in its day, critically and at awards shows. Bugsy Malone was nominated for eight BAFTAs, including Best Film, and won for Screenplay, Sound Track, Production Design, and Supporting Actress – Foster’s performance coupled with Taxi Driver. It was also up for Best Picture Comedy/Musical at the Globes, Best Song for “Bugsy Malone”, and Best Score, here and at the Oscars. So, while I’ve often thought of this in my Guilty Pleasure category – along with your Teen Wolfs and Can’t Hardly Waits, I think that’s unfair – Bugsy Malone is a legitimately great movie, that just made some weird, wild choices.
Alan Parker joins the Two-Timers for directing, having followed this musical twenty years later with his grand adaptation of #369 Evita (also not exactly a singing showcase), while Foster is the only person from the movie to appear in multiple list films so far, advancing to the Threes with her roles in #174 Silence of the Lambs and #366 Freaky Friday. Spotlight!
Coming Monday! You said you wanted to be around when I made a mistake, well, this could be it –