Cabaret is definitely a musical, but I consider that almost secondary to what else is going on in the film. It is set in
in the early 1930s and several times during the film the steady rise of Nazism is shown. There is an absolutely chilling moment regarding this during the singing of the only song performed outside the cabaret. It is the overall story that makes this the film I consider to be the best movie that just happens to be a musical. Germany
I should emphasize that for those folks who are put off by the many musicals where the cast suddenly breaks into perfectly choreographed song and dance routines. This film is closer to the realism of regular dramas in that there is a perfectly logical reason for all of the songs – most of the film takes place in a cabaret and some of the cast are performers there.
And speaking of the songs, they are terrific. There are a number of great songs performed by Liza Minelli and/or Joel Grey at the Kit-Kat cabaret. These include Wilkommen, Money Money (aka Money Makes the World Go Around), Mein Herr, If You Could See Her Through My Eyes (I loved the closing line of this), Maybe This Time, and the title song Cabaret.
American Sally Bowles (Minelli) is a second rate singer in a second rate
cabaret, known more for its decadence than anything else. Joel Grey plays the Master of Ceremonies there. Both won Oscars for their performances. If you stop to think about it, both of them are too talented for the club, but do you really want to see bad performances of all these songs? In addition, Minelli’s Oscar win made her the only person whose parents (Vincent Minelli and Judy Garland) also received Oscars, although Berlin ’s was non-competitive. Garland
One day an Englishman comes to Sally’s apartment house to stay. His name is Brian Roberts (Michael York) and he is going to teach English. He and Sally hit it off, and even though they sleep together, she tells him that she isn’t going to get romantically involved with him because she plans to marry a rich man. Just such a man comes into her life – Max von Heune. He dazzles her with his fancy car and invites her and Brian to his castle.
While they are there Max tells them that he is married, but both he and his wife have separated so both can pursue pleasure with others. After they get home Sally confesses to Brian that she slept with Max. Brian’s response – “So did I”. I’m sure this isn’t the first appearance of bisexuality in a
Hollywood film, but it was probably the most prominent film it had appeared in up to that time. (No, I don’t think there was anything physical between Ratso and Joe Buck in 1969’s Midnight Cowboy).
Another subplot in Cabaret concerns a student of Brian’s – Fritz Wendell. He is also determined to marry rich, in his case an “ugly woman” who will be grateful. Instead Sally sets him up with Natalia Landauer (the lovely Marisa Berenson), who has enough money to satisfy him. After getting to know her, though, he actually does fall in love with her. He doesn’t know how to proceed with Natalia because she doesn’t seem to be interested in anything physical. Sally convinces him that he needs to “pounce”. He does, and it opens Natalia’s eyes up to a whole new world. (Nowadays, the political incorrectness of this would have people protesting the “date rape” in the film). Both of them are very much in love, but they have a problem: she is Jewish. The changing tide in the country has now made that a major issue.
Max ends up sending both Sally and Brian money and a note telling them he is leaving the country. Sally finds out she is pregnant soon after and confesses she doesn’t know if the father is Brian or Max. Brian tries to convince her to marry him and have the child. He’s poor, of course, so this would mean living poor with him. Having the child would also mean Sally would have to give up her career in the cabaret – the only thing she has left in regards to maybe becoming rich and famous. What will she decide to do?
This may seem strange to say about a movie that I like a lot, but I find the main character of Sally Bowles to be a little irritating from time to time. Like I said at the top, it’s not really her character that makes this such a great movie for me, but rather the undercurrent of what we know is coming in Germany and how it’s always there, just behind all the actions of the people in this film. It leads to a fantastic final image in the film.
Even if you hate musicals, I’d suggest you give this one a try because of how it segregates the performances into a stage show. I would give this movie four stars for its story, but I love the song performances in the film, and that earns it an extra star from me. I give this film my highest recommendation.
Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
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