Thursday, April 25, 2013

#983. Bugsy Malone (1976) - The Films of Alan Parker

Directed By: Alan Parker

Starring: Scott Baio, Florrie Dugger, Jodie Foster

Tag line: "Every year brings a great movie. Every decade a great movie musical!"

Trivia: When looking for Fat Sam, director Alan Parker went to a Brooklyn classroom and asked who was the naughtiest boy in class; all the class replied John Cassisi, who subsequently got the part

Alan Parker’s Bugsy Malone helped get me through a very difficult evening. 

It was 1981 - about a month shy of my 12th birthday - and I had to go into the hospital for minor ear surgery. Because the operation was scheduled for early morning, I checked in the day before and stayed overnight. What’s more, the hospital was a good 30 miles from home, so when visiting hours were over and my parents left, I felt incredibly alone. 

I passed the time re-reading one of my favorite comic books (Batman’s Detective Comics, #476, “The Sign of the Joker”), then turned my attention to the TV hanging above my bed. After watching the latest episode of a short-lived sitcom titled Best of the West (anyone out there remember that one?), it was time for the Movie of the Week, which just happened to be Bugsy Malone, a fun, upbeat musical starring a bunch of kids (most of whom were around my age), all acting like mobsters and “shooting” each other with whipped cream. 

A few minutes into the film, I forgot that I was so far from home... forgot my upcoming surgery … forgot everything! At that moment, Bugsy Malone was exactly what I needed.

Set in the Roaring ‘20s during the days of Prohibition, Bugsy Malone tells the story of… well... Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), a down on his luck boxing promoter who falls in love with singer Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger). Things get a bit dicey, however, when Tallulah (Jodie Foster), the girlfriend of a gangster named Fat Sam (John Cassisi), also falls for Bugsy. 

But there’s more to Bugsy Malone than romantic entanglements; the film also features a gangland-style turf war, with Fat Sam, owner of the most popular Speakeasy in town, facing off against his rival, Dandy Dan (Martin Lev), who is trying to muscle in on Sam’s territory. To gain the upper hand, Dan acquires a brand-new weapon called a splurge gun, which coats its victims with whipped cream. 

Out-muscled and out-gunned, Sam has no choice but to turn to his romantic rival, Bugsy Malone, for help.

Director Alan Parker once said that the reason he made Bugsy Malone (which was his first full-length movie) was because he wanted a film his four children could enjoy. 

It was Parker's eldest son, in fact, who suggested he make a movie starring only kids. Bugsy Malone is certainly unique in that regard; the entire cast was under the age of 17 when it was made, even though the world they inhabit is very adult-oriented, with Speakeasies, cars (powered by foot pedals, not gasoline) and gun-toting gangsters. Of course, the guns all fire whipped cream instead of bullets, but that only made them more awesome (after seeing this movie, I desperately wanted one of those guns). 

The whole picture has a whimsical feel to it. Even the musical numbers, many of which were performed by singer / songwriter Paul Williams (his voice was dubbed over that of the kids), are playful and amusing (“Fat Sam’s Grand Slam” is a real toe-tapper).

I’ve seen bits and pieces of Bugsy Malone over the years, but this was the first time I sat down and watched the entire movie - start to finish - since that night in 1981. Yes, it’s silly, and oh-so strange (especially whenever Paul Williams’ voice comes bellowing out of a young kid’s mouth). But Bugsy Malone saw me through a dark, lonely evening many years ago, and because of that it will forever hold a special place in my heart.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Interestingly enough, I encountered Bugsy Malone under similar circumstances, and found its absurdity to be just the right thing to keep my hopes up, mostly because of its bizarre nature. The closing musical number proved to be quite beautiful in relation to the rest of the film, although I am still a bit unsure about what to make of all the pie tossing.