Saturday, November 27, 2021

#2,668. Sweet Charity (1969)


Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity is a grand and glorious musical / comedy, a supreme piece of entertainment starring Shirley MacLaine as the title character, a New York dance hall girl named Charity Hope Valentine.

Poor Charity has never been lucky in love; in the opening scene she is mugged by her boyfriend Charlie (Dante D'Paulo), who grabs her purse and then pushes Charity into a lake in Central Park. Still, Charity’s life is never dull. At one point, she even spends an evening hanging out with Italian movie star Vittorio (Ricardo Montalban).

Charity’s best friends Nickie (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly), who work alongside her at the dance hall, tell Charity that she needs to keep her head out of the clouds. But Charity believes strongly in the power of positive thinking, and is convinced Mr. Right is out there, just waiting to be found.

“Mr. Right” does eventually materialize in the form of an incredibly nervous insurance adjuster named Oscar (John McMartin). After a few weeks together, Oscar tells Charity that he can’t live without her, but will his opinion of his new girlfriend change once he realizes what she does for a living?

Bob Fosse infuses Sweet Charity with style to spare; damn near every scene offers something fresh and exciting (the entire sequence with Vittorio - which includes a late dinner inside his luxury apartment - is a visual feast). In addition, the musical sequences in Sweet Charity are out of this world. MacLaine’s rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, which she sings throughout her platonic date with Vittorio, is wonderful, yet my favorite number is “Hey Big Spender”, in which Charity’s co-workers at the dance hall try to entice a new customer.

Shirley MacLaine is bubbly as all hell in the lead role, and you can’t help but root for this oft-naïve character as she scours the city in search of her soulmate. Also strong are Rivera and Kelly as the down-to-earth pals, while McMartin is quirky and likable as Charity’s significant other. Yet as good as the main cast is, it's Sammy Davis Jr., appearing briefly as an incredibly hip Reverend, who steals the show.

Based on Fosse’s own hit Broadway play (which was, in turn, inspired by the screenplay for Federico Fellini’s classic movie Nights of Cabiria), Sweet Charity is very much a product of the 1960’s (from the costumes right down to the lingo), yet its entertainment value is timeless. Give Sweet Charity a chance, and I bet you’ll love it as much as I do!
Rating: 10 out of 10

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