April 16, 2004

Bugsy Malone

I first saw this movie on Z Channel (one of the first pay-TV channels) back in the late '70's. I recorded it on to videotape, and watched it over and over; I've no idea how many times. And when I saw it on DVD at Tower Records yesterday, I grabbed it. IMDB only gives it
6.1 stars out of 10, but I'm telling you, I watched it with my two boys this afternoon, and it's everything I remembered.

And what it is, is very odd indeed. It's a gangster movie. It's a musical (with words and music by Paul Williams, of all people). All the actors are kids (including a 15-year-old Scott Baio and a 14-year-old Jodie Foster). It's the story of two rival gangs in the 1920's. Fat Sam (John Cassisi) is the town's Big Boss, and owner of the best joint in town, Fat Sam's Speakeasy. But Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) is moving in on him--and he's got an amazing new weapon. Where Fat Sam's men are armed only with cream pies, Dandy Dan's men have splurge guns--semi-automatic whip-cream cannon. It would be no contest except that Fat Sam has an ace-in-the-hole: Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio).

I'll grant you, the acting is spotty. Jodie Foster is flawless as showgirl (and Fat Sam's moll) Tallulah, not surprisingly, and Martin Lev is remarkably good as Dandy Dan. Baio is OK as Bugsy; his love interest, Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger) has the required girl-next-door prettiness, but her delivery is lacking. She's got the right idea, but her timing's off. John Cassisi has a similar problem.

And of course, it's somewhat preposterous that all the male singers sound like Paul Williams.

And the ending's a little hokey--maybe a lot hokey.

But the songs are fun (I especially like "We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be", sung by Fat Sam's gang, and "So You Want To Be A Boxer"), and the sets and costumes are phenomenal.

I think what I like best about it is that it's played absolutely straight. The actors are all kids, but this isn't a kidflick. It's not goofy; it's funny precisely because it's played seriously. As an example, I'll share my favorite line. Dandy Dan has just sent men to destroy Fat Sam's illegal distillery. Sam gets a call on the phone:

"Boss, it's no good! They got the distill, the whole lot's gone!"

Sam's response: "Oh, no! Not the sarsaparilla racket as well!"

Anyway, I was afraid that the movie wouldn't hold up after all this time; frankly, I'm more impressed with it than I was way back then. It's a keeper. A note: according to IMDB it hasn't official been released on DVD in this country. The DVD I got is some kind of strange Asian import. There's Japanese writing all over it (unless it's Chinese), and the English writing says that it's from the "International Film Series Collection", whatever that is. How it came to be at our local Tower Records I've no idea. But despite the Japanese writing it started right up in English when I put it in the DVD player, and there don't appear to be any differences between it and the version I recorded all those years ago.

Now if only somebody will release American Dreamer and Rustler's Rhapsody on DVD, my joy will be complete.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 16, 2004 07:08 PM

Debbie L. said:

Seeing American Dreamer and Rustler's Rhapsody in the same sentence brings joy to my heart! I can think of no-one else who would think to combine the two. How could our escapes from studying be so long ago?!!

Will Duquette said:

I have no idea. It certainly doesn't seem that long ago, until I think about everything that's happened since.

But Debbie, if you ever hear me say, "Ya know, those were the best years of our lives," you have the obligation to slap me silly.