Musical Monday: Sweet Charity (1969)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Sweet Charity (1969) – Musical #646

Universal Pictures

Bob Fosse

Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr., Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Bouchet

Charity (MacLaine) is a taxi dancer who wants to find love. However, she is unlucky in love. We first see her boyfriend Charlie (who is married) push her off a bridge into a lake in Central Park. Then she meets Italian actor Vittorio Vitale (Montalban) after he breaks up with his girlfriend and goes back to his apartment. Then she wants to get married so she can leave the dance hall.

• The first feature film directed by Bob Fosse.
• First film of Paula Kelly and Chita Rivera
• The original Broadway musical “Sweet Charity” was based on Federico Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria (1957). The original Broadway musical opened on Broadway in 1966 starring Gwen Verdon, John McMartin, Helen Gallagher, Thelma Oliver, James Luisi, Arnold Soboloff, Sharon Ritchie, and Barbara Sharma.
• Gwen Verdon coached Shirley MacLaine in the role, according to MacLaine’s book “My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir.”
• During the filming, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were both assassinated.
• Diana Ross and Rita Moreno were both suggested for the roles of Helene and Nickie, according to “All His Jazz: The Life And Death Of Bob Fosse” by Martin Gottfried.
• John McMartin reprised his role as Oscar from the original Broadway cast. Before McMartin was cast, Alan Alda, Robert Redford, Tony Franciosa, Anthony Perkins and Alan Arkin were all considered for the role, according to “Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical” by Kevin Winkler.
• When the film was released, it was released as a roadshow.
• An alternate, happy ending was filmed because director Bob Fosse felt the studio wouldn’t go for the original ending.
• Originally was set to be produced by Ross Hunter, but left the filming, because Fosse and Hunter disagreed – Fosse didn’t want the high gloss and glamour that most Hunter films had, according to “Big Deal: Bob Fosse and Dance in the American Musical” by Kevin Winkler.

Paula Kelly, Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera in “Sweet Charity”

• The dancing of Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly
• Dance number in the fancy nightclub with the subtitles of the dances “The Aloof,” “The Heavyweight” and “The Big Finish.”

Notable Songs:
• “If My Friends Could See Me Now” performed by Shirley MacLaine
• “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” performed by Shirley MacLaine, Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly
• “Rhythm of Life” performed by Sammy Davis Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr. performing “Rhythm of Life” in “Sweet Charity”

My review:
When reviewing musicals released in the 1960s and 1970s, I often mention that the genre was dying by this point and most of the musicals are lousy and failed financially.

I often also don’t like them many of these late-1960s films. But this “Sweet Charity” (1969) was a surprising rare exception. I recorded this film years ago and for some reason, I sat on it for years until watching it. And I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it!

For starters, “Sweet Charity” (1969) has an excellent cast. Outside of Shirley MacLaine as the lead, I think supporting cast steals the show. For starters, we have Ricardo Montalban as an Italian film star who lives a ridiculously lavish life.

Then Sammy Davis, Jr. has a small role as Big Daddy with the show stopper “Rhythm of Life” as he leads a church of hippies.

But the two that really shine are Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly, as Charity’s fellow taxi dancer coworkers. Whenever they are in a scene, these two ladies are the ones you watch, especially when they are dancing. MacLaine is a dancer, but these two make her look like she’s standing still in the “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” number.

I also think I like this film because it takes place in the time period of when it was released – the 1960s featuring hippies and quirky modern dance. For example, others that I haven’t loved (“Mame” or “Huckleberry Finn“) are period film with a phony, tinny quality.

The film also has some other very 1960s elements, like montages set to music with photos of the lead actors. This made me think of movies that had missing reals and are filled in with photos. Or other shots that would be out of focus and then go into focus.

Along with being Bob Fosse’s directorial feature film debut, we also get to see his dances. I loved the night club scene where the posh dancers demonstrate the dances “The Aloof,” “The Heavyweight” and “The Big Finish.”

To me, the show-stopping number was Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Rhythm of Life.” “If They Could See Me Now” brought back memories of me learning it on the piano in the fifth grade.

And if you aren’t into musicals, I also found “Sweet Charity” to be humorous in parts. The only issue is that it’s rather bloated time-wise at 2.5 hours, but it didn’t feel that long.

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