Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Alan Parker|
|Produced by||Alan Marshall|
|Written by||Alan Parker|
|Music by||Paul Williams|
|Editing by||Gerry Hambling|
|Distributed by||Rank Organisation (UK)
Paramount Pictures (US)
|Running time||93 minutes|
Bugsy Malone is a 1976 British musical gangster film, directed by Alan Parker. Set in 1929 Chicago, the film is very loosely based on events in Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931 in the Prohibition era, specifically the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran, as dramatized in cinema. Featuring only child actors (with singing voices provided by adults), Parker lightened the subject matter considerably for the children's market; in the US the film received a G rating.
The film opens with a brief action sequence in which a mobster named Roxy Robinson is "splurged" by members of a gang, using rapid-fire custard-shooting "splurge guns". Once splurged, a kid is "all washed up" and his career in crime is over—the splurged gangsters are never shown as dead or even unconscious, (with the exception of Knuckles after being an accidental victim of Fat Sam's created splurge gun,) merely "finished". Speakeasy boss, Fat Sam (based on Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria) introduces himself and Bugsy Malone, a boxing promoter with no money ("Bugsy Malone").
At Fat Sam's speakeasy, there is much dancing and singing ("Fat Sam's Grand Slam"), but Fat Sam himself is worried that his rival Dandy Dan will come to the speakeasy and try to take over. Blousey Brown, an aspiring singer, has come for an audition, but Sam is too distracted. Bugsy meets Blousey when he trips over her luggage. He is smitten, and flirts with her. Suddenly, Fat Sam's is raided by Dandy Dan's men, who shoot the place up. Dandy Dan's men continue to attack Fat Sam's empire, eventually taking away rackets and splurging most of Fat Sam's gang. Fat Sam sends all his available men to see if they can track down the guns; they are trapped at a laundry and all splurged by Dandy Dan's gang. Bugsy returns to Fat Sam's to try to arrange a new audition for Blousey. He only finds Fat Sam's girlfriend, Tallulah, the chanteuse of the speakeasy, who tells him that she likes him. Although Bugsy rejects her flirtation, when Blousey enters, Tallulah plants a big kiss on Bugsy's forehead, making Blousey jealous. Blousey has her audition and Fat Sam hires her, but she still refuses to speak to Bugsy ("I'm Feelin' Fine"). Fat Sam hires Bugsy to come along to a meeting with Dandy Dan (Based on Lucky Luciano). This meeting turns out to be a trap, but Bugsy helps Fat Sam escape. Gratefully, Fat Sam pays him $200. Bugsy and Blousey reconcile, and have a lunch and a romantic outing on a lake. Back in the city, Bugsy promises to buy tickets for them to leave for Hollywood. However, when he returns Sam's car to the garage, he is attacked, and his money stolen. Bugsy is saved by Leroy Smith, who punches the attackers; seeing this, Bugsy realizes he has found a potentially great boxer. Bugsy introduces Leroy to Cagey Joe and helps him begin training ("So You Wanna Be a Boxer?"). Fat Sam once again enlists Bugsy's aid after his assistant Knuckles gets splurged by a splurge gun which Fat Sam invented. Bugsy declines, but when Fat Sam pays him $400 he sees another chance to fulfill his promise to Blousey, so he agrees to help Fat Sam. However, when Blousey finds out that Bugsy hasn't yet bought the tickets, she is left in a state of disappointment ("Ordinary Fool"). Bugsy and Leroy follow Dandy Dan's men to a warehouse, where they discover the guns are being stashed. The two of them can't take the place alone, so Bugsy enlists the aid of a large group of down-and-out workers at a soup kitchen ("Down and Out").
They steal the crates of guns and return with them to Fat Sam's just as Dandy Dan's gang arrives. Chaos breaks out and everyone is covered in a melee of custard. A pie hits the piano player Razmataz, who falls forward, striking a single bass note with his head. Silence instantly breaks out, and then the cast, now covered in white cream (with the sole exceptions of Bugsy and Blousey), engages in a final musical number ("You Give a Little Love"). The characters realize they can all be friends, and Bugsy and Blousey leave for Hollywood.
- Scott Baio as Bugsy Malone, an Italian-Irish ex-boxer/boxing scout
- Florrie Dugger as Blousey Brown, a sassy young dame interested in Hollywood
- Jodie Foster as Tallulah, Fat Sam's moll/singer and Bugsy's old flame
- John Cassisi as Fat Sam Staccetto, crime boss. He is dubbed by the press as "The Alleged Mobster King of the Lower East Side".
- Martin Lev as Dandy Dan, rival gang boss who steals Fat Sam's territory
- Paul Murphy as Leroy Smith, an African-American tramp who discovers he has a talent for boxing
- Sheridan Russell as Knuckles, Fat Sam's Jewish bodyguard who constantly cracks his knuckles. The only character to actually be killed by the splurge as opposed to "finished".
- Albin 'Humpty' Jenkins as Fizzy, Caretaker at Fat Sam's Grand Slam, tap dancer
- Paul Chirelstein as Smolsky, dim-witted police captain
- Andrew Paul as O'Dreary, dumb policeman
- Jeffrey Stevens as Louis, one of Fat Sam's hoodlums
- Dexter Fletcher as Baby Face, down and out
- John Williams as Roxy Robinson, Fat Sam's best bodyguard, splurged by Dandy Dan's gang
- Bonnie Langford as Lena Marelli, showy, pompous theatre performer
- Mark Curry as Oscar DeVelt, stuck-up theatre producer
- Jonathan Scott-Taylor as News Reporter
- Sarah E. Joyce as Smokey Priscilla, showgirl, Tallulah's Troupe
- Helen Corran as Bangles, showgirl, Tallulah's Troupe
- Kathy Spaudling as Loretta, showgirl, Tallulah's Troupe
- Vivienne McKone as Velma, showgirl, Tallulah's Troupe
- Lynn Aulbaugh as Louella, Dandy Dan's wife and polo partner
- Michael Jackson as Razamatazz - Fat Sam's personal pianist and performer at the Grand Slam Speakeasy (n.b. not Michael Jackson)
The director chose to cast several unknown actors in the film. To find his Fat Sam, Parker visited a Brooklyn classroom, asking for "the naughtiest boy in class". They were unanimous in selecting John Cassisi, and Parker gave him the role. Actress Florrie Dugger was originally cast in a smaller role; when the actress cast as Blousey suddenly grew taller than Baio, Dugger was promoted. At the time they filmed, all of the cast were under 17 years old.
Parker cast Baio after he slammed down the script and stormed out of his audition. Baio later remembered:
I had quit the business, because I didn’t like driving into Manhattan. Well, the long and the short of it is that I wanted to play with my friends after school, but it happened to be raining that day, so I went to the city to meet with Alan Parker. I read it, but I just barely read it. I didn’t even want to be there. He was English, but I didn’t even know what that was. He was just this weird guy with long hair, and I didn’t know what he was. [Laughs.] So I sort of read the script, threw it at him, and walked out the door. That was it: I’d gotten the part before I got home.
Parker chose Paul Williams to score the film in order to get a more "palatable" modern sound, and simply because he liked him. Williams had scored Brian De Palma's commercial failure Phantom of the Paradise, but had also written huge pop-radio hits (such as We've Only Just Begun (lyrics), and (Just An) Old Fashioned Love Song). In fact, Williams would soon win an Oscar for his song Evergreen from the 1976 film A Star Is Born. (He would also go on to become very well known for his work in children's films, such as The Rainbow Connection from his score for The Muppet Movie).
Williams felt that "...the challenge for me was to provide songs that reflected the period ... and yet maintained an energy that would hold the young audiences attention." According to Parker, Williams was writing while on tour, recording songs in different cities, and sending the completed tapes to Hollywood. Arriving during pre-shoot rehearsals, the songs had to be accepted and used as they were, with voices by Paul, Archie Hahn and others.
Neither the director nor the songwriter was entirely comfortable with the results. Williams later wrote "I'm really proud of the work and the only thing I've ever doubted is the choice of using adult voices. Perhaps I should have given the kids a chance to sing the songs." Parker also commented: "Watching the film after all these years, this is one aspect that I find the most bizarre. Adult voices coming out of these kids' mouths? I had told Paul that I didn't want squeaky kids voices and he interpreted this in his own way. Anyway, as the tapes arrived, scarcely weeks away from filming, we had no choice but to go along with it!"
The "splurge guns" proved to be problematic. After initial experiments with cream-filled wax balls proved painful, Parker decided to abandon the idea of filming the guns directly. Instead, the guns fired ping-pong balls, and a fast cut to a victim being pelted with "splurge" was used to convey the impression of the rapid-firing guns.
Baio later said making the film was "awesome":
A kid’s fantasy: You get to dress up as gangster, you get to shoot guns that fire whipped cream, you get to drive cars with pedals that look like real cars, and you get to talk like a grown-up. I mean, you couldn’t ask for a better first big gig. Talk about getting you hooked on a business! It was fantastic.
The film was released in late 1976 to positive reviews. It currently holds a score of 82% on Rotten Tomatoes. Despite the positive critical reception, Bugsy Malone was not a commercial success in the US, bringing in just over $2.7 million. Paramount released it limited, usually dumping it onto second-tier theaters in a double-bill with The Bad News Bears, which had already been out for six months, and was no longer much of a draw. The film gained a small cult following in the US during airings on HBO, and later on home video. The film performed well in the UK and Japan, however.
By 1985 it had earned an estimated profit of £1,854,000.
The film garnered 15 award nominations, including "Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy)", "Best Original Score" and "Best Original Song" (for the title track) from the Golden Globes, an Oscar for "Best Original Song Score" (Paul Williams), and the prestigious Golden Palm at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Actress Jodie Foster received two BAFTAs, "Best Supporting Actress" and "Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles", however, both her nominations were for her previous year's work in Taxi Driver in addition to her work on Bugsy Malone. Alan Parker received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Direction. Geoffrey Kirkland won the BAFTA Award for Best Production Design. Additionally, Paul Williams received a nomination for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, and Monica Howe a Best Costume Design nomination. The film itself received a Best Picture nomination.
In the early eighties, Bugsy Malone was released on VHS. On 16 April 1996, it was re-released by Paramount on VHS. Although the film has never been commercially released on Region 1 DVD, it has been available through Internet sites as an Asian import supporting Region 1 (US). On 9 September 2008, BMG/Arista released a Blu-ray version, encoded for "all regions", as a United Kingdom import. This edition includes a director's commentary as well as other special features; however, as of October, 2009, the Blu-ray version has been discontinued. A US DVD (Region 1) release was listed around 2003/04 as being available soon, however the film has yet to be released in this format.
In March 1996, Polydor UK released the soundtrack on CD. It has yet to be released in the US on CD but is available through various outlets as an import. It was released as an LP in 1976. Performers include Paul Williams, Archie Hahn, Julie McWirder, and Liberty Williams. The track listing is:
- "Bugsy Malone" – Paul Williams
- "Fat Sam's Grand Slam" – Paul Williams
- "Bad Guys"
- "I'm Feeling Fine"
- "My Name Is Tallulah"
- "So You Wanna Be a Boxer?"
- "Ordinary Fool"
- "Down and Out"
- "You Give a Little Love" – Paul Williams
A cast recording of the National Youth Music Theatre stage version of Bugsy Malone was released in 1998. Like the stage show, this recording featured two songs originally written by Williams, but not used in the film: "That's Why They Call Him Dandy" and "Show Business". There is also some additional incidental orchestral score, such as an Overture and Exit Music, with music arranged by John Pearson.
In 2003, Bugsy Malone was voted #19 on a list of the 100 greatest musicals, as chosen by viewers of Channel 4 in the UK, placing it higher than The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and The King and I. Bugsy Malone ranks 353rd on Empire Magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.
Bugsy Malone has been adapted into a stage show in two forms. A TV documentary called Bugsy Malone: After They Were Famous features a reunion and interviews with Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, John Cassisi and Florrie Dugger. The British actors who played Fat Sam's gang are also reunited at Pinewood Studios. It was aired in December 2004 on ITV in the UK.
In 1981 the song "So You Want To Be A Boxer?" was used as the theme tune for BBC1 sitcom Seconds Out.
In 2007 during the Super Bowl XLI, an animated Coca-Cola commercial was based around the song "You Give a Little Love" from Bugsy Malone. It was animated to resemble the action computer game Grand Theft Auto. But the character's typical actions of anger and crime were replaced with opposite redeeming actions. The version of the song in the commercial features vocals by Moses Patrou.
An episode of Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson's British sitcom Spaced pays a subtle and brief homage to Bugsy Malone. A cake fight occurs during Daisy's birthday dinner. The waiter signals angrily to the pianist to end the fight. The brief piano piece heard at the end of the film's final splurge gun fight and as an incidental throughout the film is played.
The 13th track on British rapper Dizzee Rascal's 2007 album, Maths + English, entitled 'Wanna Be' references the Bugsy Malone track 'So You Wanna be a Boxer'. The song "Ordinary Fool" has been performed on recordings by Karen Carpenter, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé.
The Swedish EBM band Spetsnaz performed a cover of "Down and Out", which was released as an extra track on the "Hardcore Hooligans" single. The Newcastle-based band Moira Stewart (named after the British newsreader) included a cover of "You Give a Little Love" (with a slight change of title to simply "Give a Little Love") on their début album "Sweetness, Yes!".
In the 2009 comedy In the Loop, Judy Molloy (Gina McKee) remarks, after seeing that most of the top positions in D.C. are staffed by young college graduates, "They're all kids in Washington. It's like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns."
In 2010, UK band Silvery included a cover of "You Give a Little Love" on their second album 'Railway Architecture', and Olly Murs, runner up in the 2009 UK series of The X Factor, sampled "So You Wanna Be a Boxer" in his song "Hold On" that can be found on his debut album.
In 2013 "You Give A Little Love" was used as the BBC titles Christmas theme.
Alan Parker went on to write the book for a stage adaptation of Bugsy Malone, using Paul Williams's music. Music Theatre International currently holds the licensing and performance rights for both the regular production and a "Junior" version of the show meant for children.
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