Cabaret (1972 film)

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Original movie poster for Cabaret.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Bob Fosse
Produced by Cy Feuer
Written by Joe Masteroff (Play)
Screenplay by Jay Presson Allen
Story by Christopher Isherwood
Starring Liza Minnelli
Michael York
Joel Grey
Fritz Wepper
Marisa Berenson
Music by Songs:
John Kander
Fred Ebb (Lyrics)
Adaptation score:
Ralph Burns
Cinematography Geoffrey Unsworth
Editing by David Bretherton
Studio ABC Pictures
Allied Artists
Distributed by Allied Artists
Release dates
  • February 13, 1972 (1972-02-13)
Running time 124 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $2,285,000[1]
Box office $42,765,000[2]

Cabaret is a 1972 musical film directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey.[3] The film is set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic in 1931, under the ominous presence of the growing Nazi Party.

The film is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret by Kander and Ebb, which was adapted from the novel The Berlin Stories (1939) by Christopher Isherwood and the 1951 play I Am a Camera adapted from the same book. Only a few numbers from the stage score were used for the film; Kander and Ebb wrote new ones to replace those that were discarded. In the traditional manner of musical theater, every significant character in the stage version of Cabaret sings to express emotion and advance the plot. In the film version, the musical numbers are entirely diegetic, taking place in the club, and just two of the film's major characters (The Emcee and Sally) sing songs.

Cabaret still holds the record for most Academy Award wins in a single year without winning the highest honor, Best Picture, with eight awards. The film won the Academy Award for Best Director for Bob Fosse, Best Actress for Liza Minnelli, Best Supporting Actor for Joel Grey, and five more technical awards. It lost the Best Picture award to The Godfather, which won three awards.


In 1931 Berlin, young American Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) performs at the Kit Kat Klub. A new British arrival in the city, Brian Roberts (Michael York), moves into Sally's boarding house. A reserved academic and writer, Brian gives English lessons to earn a living while completing his doctorate in Philosophy. Sally unsuccessfully tries to seduce Brian and suspects he may be gay. Brian tells Sally that on three previous occasions he has tried to have physical relationships with women, all of which have failed. The unlikely pair become friends, and Brian is witness to Sally's anarchic, bohemian life in the last days of the German Weimar Republic. Later in the film, Sally and Brian become lovers despite their earlier reservations; they conclude that his previous failures with women were because they were "the wrong three girls."

Sally befriends Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem), a rich playboy baron who takes her and Brian to his country estate. It becomes ambiguous which of the duo Max is seducing, epitomized by a scene in which the three dance intimately together in a wine-induced reverie. After a sexual experience with Brian, Max loses interest in the two, and departs for Argentina. During an argument, when Sally triumphantly tells Brian that she has been having sex with Max, Brian begins to laugh and reveals that he has as well. He storms off and picks a fight with a group of Nazis, who beat him senseless. Brian and Sally make up in their rooming house, where Sally reveals that Max left them an envelope of money.

Later on, Sally finds out that she's pregnant and says she is unsure of the father. Brian offers to marry her and take her back to his university life in Cambridge. After a scene that shows Sally's ambivalence about going to Cambridge to be a housewife and mother, she proceeds with an abortion. When Brian confronts her, she shares her fears and the two reach an understanding. The film ends with Brian departing for England by train, and Sally continuing her life in Berlin, singing "Cabaret" to appreciative audiences.


A subplot concerns Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), a German Jew passing as a Christian. (Whether by coincidence or otherwise, Fritz Wendel was a German test pilot who in 1940 set a world aircraft speed record). Fritz eventually reveals his true religious background after falling in love with Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson), a wealthy German Jewish heiress. Although they marry, their ultimate fate is left unclear.

The Nazis' violent rise is a powerful, ever-present undercurrent in the film. Though explicit evidence of their actions is only sporadically presented, their progress can be tracked through the characters' changing actions and attitudes. While in the beginning of the film Nazis are sometimes harassed and kicked out of the Kit Kat Klub, a scene midway through the film shows everyday Germans rising in song to rally around National Socialism. In the final scene, the cabaret's audience is dominated by Nazi party members in uniform.

The emcee (Joel Grey) serves in the role of storyteller throughout the film, acting as a sort of voyeur in the circus atmosphere. His surface demeanor is one of benevolence and hospitality ("Willkommen"), but when the floor show gets underway, he exposes the audience to the seedy world of the cabaret. His intermittent songs in the Kit Kat Klub are risque and pointedly mock the Nazis, yet by the end of the film, embrace them as well. In a scene that seems like a nightmarish fantasy, the emcee is seen holding Sally's breasts, and it is not clear if it is memory or fantasy.

Early in the film the NSDAP enjoys relative favor with the main characters, due to their strong opposition to Communism. It threatened their enjoying favors from wealthy friends. The rise of the National Socialist movement and its increasing influence on German society is demonstrated in the beer garden scene, when a boy—only his face is seen—begins singing a song. The song is at first a patriotic anthem to the Fatherland, but slowly descends into a darker, Nazi-inspired marching song, evolving into the strident "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" as the camera shifts to show that the boy is wearing a brown Hitler Youth uniform and lifts his hand in the Nazi salute. One by one, nearly all of the guests in the beer garden get up and voluntarily join in the singing and saluting. The oldest gentleman among them, however, turns away uneasily. Max and Brian flee the beer garden after the show of grass roots solidarity, realizing that the Nazis will be difficult to "control". As they drive away the emcee makes a brief nightmarish nodding reappearance.




In 1971, Bob Fosse learned through Harold Prince, director of the original Broadway production, that Cy Feuer was producing a film adaptation of Cabaret through ABC Pictures and Allied Artists. Determined to direct the film, Fosse urged Feuer to hire him. Chief executives Manny Wolf and Marty Baum preferred a bigger name director such as Joseph Mankiewicz or Gene Kelly. Fosse’s known difficulties in directing the highly unsuccessful film adaptation of Sweet Charity gave Wolf and Baum serious concerns. Feuer appealed to the studio heads, citing Fosse’s talent for staging and shooting musical numbers, adding that if inordinate attention was given to filming the book scenes at the expense of the musical numbers, the whole film could fail. Fosse was ultimately hired.

Over the next months, Fosse met with previously hired writer Jay Presson Allen to discuss the screenplay. Originally unsatisfied with Allen’s script, he hired Hugh Wheeler to rewrite and revise Allen’s work. To this day, Wheeler is referred to as a "research consultant" while Allen retains screenwriting credit. The final script was based less on Joe Masteroff’s original book of the stage version, and more on The Berlin Stories and I Am a Camera.

Fosse and Feuer traveled to Germany, where producers chose to shoot the film, in order to finish assembling the film crew. During this time, Fosse highly recommended Robert Surtees for cinematographer, but Feuer and the top executives saw Surtees’ work on Sweet Charity as one of the film’s many artistic problems. Producers eventually chose British cinematographer Geoffrey Unsworth. Designers Rolf Zehetbauer, Hans Jürgen Kiebach and Herbert Strabel served as production designers. Charlotte Flemming designed costumes. Fosse dancer Kathy Doby and John Sharpe were brought on as Fosse’s dance aides.

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles


Feuer had cast Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles and Joel Grey (reprising his stage role) long before Fosse was attached to the project. Fosse was given the option of using Grey as Emcee or walking away from the production. Fosse hired Michael York as Sally Bowles’ openly bisexual love interest. Several smaller roles, as well as the dancers in the film, were eventually cast in Germany.


Rehearsals and filming took place entirely in Germany. For reasons of economy, indoor scenes were shot at Bavaria Film Studios in Grünwald, outside Munich. Location shooting took place in and around Munich and Berlin, and in Schleswig-Holstein and Saxony. Editing was done in Los Angeles before the eventual theatrical release in February 1972.

Narrative and news reading[edit]

Although the songs throughout the film allude to and advance the narrative, every song except "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is executed in the context of a Kit Kat Klub performance. The voice heard on the radio reading the news throughout the film in German was that of associate producer Harold Nebenzal, whose father Seymour Nebenzahl made such notable Weimar films such as M (1931), Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), and Threepenny Opera (1931).

Differences between film and stage version[edit]

The film is significantly different from the Broadway musical. To accommodate Minnelli, Sally Bowles is made an American character. The character of Cliff Bradshaw was renamed Brian Roberts and made British, while still bisexual. The characters and plot lines involving Fritz, Natalia and Max do not exist in the play (a minor character named Max in the stage version, the owner of the Kit Kat Club, bears no relation to the character in the film).

The Broadway version used special settings to separate the fantasy world of the Cabaret from the darker rest of the world. While in the stage version (along with Isherwood's original story), Sally is a terrible singer, who thinks she's better than she is (which prevents her from pursuing her ambition as an actress), in the film she is portrayed as a skilled singer.

Fosse cut several of the songs, leaving only those that are sung within the confines of the Kit Kat Klub, and "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" - sung in a beer garden. (In the stage musical, it is sung first by the cabaret boys and then at a private party). Kander and Ebb wrote several new songs for the movie and removed others; "Don't Tell Mama" was replaced by "Mein Herr," and "The Money Song" (retained in an instrumental version as "Sitting Pretty") was replaced by "Money, Money." "Mein Herr" and "Money, Money," which were composed for the film version, have, due to their popularity, now been added to performances of the stage musical alongside the original numbers. The song "Maybe This Time," which Sally performs at the cabaret, was not written for the film. Kander and Ebb had written it years earlier for Kaye Ballard, thus it was ineligible for an Academy Award nomination. Though "Don't Tell Mama" and "Married" were removed as performed musical numbers, both were used in the film. The former's bridge section appears as instrumental music played on Sally's gramophone; the latter is initially played on the piano in Fraulein Schneider's parlor and later heard on Sally's gramophone in a German translation ("Heiraten") sung by cabaret singer Greta Keller.

Several characters were cut from the film (including Herr Schultz) and Fraulein Schneider's part was greatly reduced, with her romantic subplot removed. Several characters from Isherwood's original stories were put back in. The entire score was re-orchestrated, with all the numbers being accompanied by the stage band.


All songs written and composed by John Kander and Fred Ebb

Cabaret: Original Soundtrack Recording[5][6]
No. Title Performer Length
1. "Willkommen (Welcome)"   Joel Grey 4:29
2. "Mein Herr"   Liza Minnelli 3:36
3. "Maybe This Time"   Liza Minnelli 3:11
4. "Money, Money"   Joel Grey, Liza Minnelli 3:04
5. "Two Ladies"   Joel Grey 3:11
6. "Sitting Pretty"   Instrumental 2:27
7. "Tomorrow Belongs to Me"   Mark Lambert 3:06
8. "Tiller Girls"   Joel Grey 1:41
9. "Heiraten (Married)"   Greta Keller 3:33
10. "If You Could See Her"   Joel Grey 3:54
11. "Cabaret"   Liza Minnelli 3:34
12. "Finale"   Joel Grey 2:28
Total length:

The following songs from the original Broadway production were omitted from the film version: "So What?", "Don't Tell Mama", "Telephone Song", "Perfectly Marvelous", "Why Should I Wake Up?", "The Money Song" (disparate from "Money, Money"), "Meeskite" and "What Would You Do?"


The film was immediately successful at the box office. By May 1973 it had earned rentals of $4.5 million in North America and $3.5 million in other countries and reported a profit of $2,452,000.[1]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film currently holds a 97% "Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus "Great performances and evocative musical numbers help Cabaret secure its status as a stylish, socially conscious classic".[7]

In 1995, Cabaret was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". In 2006, Cabaret ranked No. 5 on the American Film Institute's list of best musicals; the song "Cabaret" was ranked No. 18 on their 100 Years...100 Songs list in 2004. In 2007, this film ranked No. 63 on AFI's 10th anniversary list of the 100 Greatest American Movies.

In 2013, the film critic Peter Bradshaw listed Cabaret at number one on his list of "Top 10 musicals", describing it as "satanically catchy, terrifyingly seductive ... directed and choreographed with electric style by Bob Fosse ... Cabaret is drenched in the sexiest kind of cynicism and decadent despair".[8]


The film was nominated for ten Academy Awards in 1973, winning a total of eight:[9]

It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture and the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, losing both to The Godfather. Cabaret holds the record for most Academy Awards won by a film which did not win the Best Picture award.[10]

The film also won seven BAFTA Awards including Best Film, Best Direction and Best Actress as well as the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy). It won the Grand Prix of the Belgian Film Critics Association.[citation needed]
The making of Cabaret is recounted in Cabaret (Music on Film) by Stephen Tropiano (Limelight Books, 2011).

Home video[edit]

The film was first released to DVD in 1998. There have been subsequent releases in 2003, 2008, and 2012.

The film's international ancillary distribution rights are owned by ABC (currently part of The Walt Disney Company), while Warner Bros. (which inherited the film from Lorimar, Allied Artists' successor-in-interest) has domestic distribution rights. Today, Warner shares the film's copyright with production partner ABC.

Fremantle Media (owners of UK DVD rights under license from ABC/Disney) planned a Blu-ray release of the film in 2008 or 2009, but have since announced they no longer plan to do so.

In April 2012, Warner unveiled a 40th Anniversary screening of the new restoration of the film. Cabaret has been sold on standard-definition DVD from Warner Bros. But it was unavailable in high-def or for digital presentation because of a vertical scratch that ran through 1,000 feet, or 10 minutes, of one of its reels, said Ned Price, vice president of mastering and restoration for Warner Bros. The damage apparently was caused by a piece of dirt that had rolled through the length of the reel, starting with a scene in which York's character has a confrontation with a pro-Nazi boarding house resident, and cut into the emulsion. With the damaged images digitally "painted out" using bits from surrounding areas, "the difficult part was matching the grain structure so the fix was invisible". After automated digital repair attempts failed, the 1,000 feet of damaged film was hand painted using a computer stylus.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "ABC's 5 Years of Film Production Profits & Losses", Variety, 31 May 1973 p. 3
  2. ^ "Cabaret, Worldwide Box Office". Worldwide Box Office. Retrieved January 21, 2012. 
  3. ^ Obituary Variety, February 16, 1972, p. 18.
  4. ^ Legge, Charles (1 October 2008). "Name that Teuton ...". Daily Mail (London: Associated Newspapers). Retrieved 19 November 2012. 
  5. ^ "Cabaret (1972) soundtrack details". Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  6. ^ "Cabaret: Original Soundtrack Recording (1972 Film)". Retrieved 25 March 2013. 
  7. ^ Cabaret at Rotten Tomatoes
  8. ^ Bradshaw, Peter (3 December 2013). "Top 10 Musicals". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "The 45th Academy Awards (1973) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-28. 
  10. ^ "Films Winning 4 or More Awards Without Winning Best Picture". AMPAS. March 2011. Retrieved September 15, 2011. 
  11. ^ Lynn Elber (April 12, 2012). "'Cabaret': Bob Fosse Classic Gets Restoration For 40th Anniversary". Retrieved April 13, 2012. 


Francesco Mismirigo, Cabaret, un film allemand, Université de Genève, 1984

External links[edit]