Theatrical release poster by Charles Moll
|Directed by||Alan Parker|
|Produced by||Alan Marshall and David Puttnam|
|Written by||Alan Parker|
|Music by||Paul Williams|
|Edited by||Gerry Hambling|
|Distributed by||Rank Organisation (United Kingdom)
Paramount Pictures (United States)
|Box office||$2.8 million|
Bugsy Malone is a 1976 American-British musical gangster comedy film, directed by Alan Parker and featuring only child actors. Set in New York City, the film is loosely based on events in New York and Chicago from the early 1920s to 1931 during Prohibition, specifically the exploits of real-life gangsters like Al Capone and Bugs Moran, as dramatized in cinema. Parker lightened the subject matter considerably for the children's market; in the U.S. the film received a G rating.
A mobster named Roxy Robinson is "splurged" by members of a gang, using rapid-fire cream-shooting "splurge guns". Once splurged, a kid is "all washed up... finished". Speakeasy boss Fat Sam 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"). Fat Sam is worried that his rival Dandy Dan will try to take control of the speakeasy. Blousey Brown, an aspiring singer, has come for an audition, but Sam is too distracted to see her. Bugsy meets Blousey when he trips over her luggage. He is smitten and flirts with her. Fat Sam's is raided by Dandy Dan's men, who shoot up the place. Dandy Dan's men continue to attack Fat Sam's empire, eventually taking away rackets and splurging members 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 are splurged by Dandy Dan's gang.
Bugsy returns to Fat Sam's to arrange a new audition for Blousey. Fat Sam's girlfriend, the chanteuse Tallulah, makes a pass at him. Although Bugsy rejects her flirtation, Tallulah plants a big kiss on Bugsy's forehead when Blousey enters; Blousey is jealous. Fat Sam hires Blousey after her audition, but she refuses to speak to Bugsy ("I'm Feelin' Fine").
Fat Sam hires Bugsy to accompany him to a meeting with Dandy Dan. The meeting is a trap, but Bugsy helps Fat Sam escape. Gratefully, Fat Sam pays him $200. Bugsy and Blousey reconcile and have a romantic outing on a lake; Bugsy promises to take her to Hollywood. When he returns Sam's car to the garage, he is attacked and his money is stolen. Bugsy is saved by Leroy Smith, who assaults the attackers and drives them away. Bugsy realizes that Leroy has the potential to be a great boxer. Bugsy introduces Leroy to Cagey Joe and helps him train ("So You Wanna Be a Boxer?"). Fat Sam again seeks Bugsy's aid after his assistant Knuckles is unintentionally killed. Bugsy resists, but Fat Sam offers $400, enough money to keep his promise to Blousey. Blousey is disappointed when she learns that Bugsy hasn't bought the tickets to California yet ("Ordinary Fool"). Bugsy and Leroy follow Dandy Dan's men to a warehouse, where the guns are being stashed. The two of them can't take the place alone, so Bugsy recruits a large group of down-and-out workers at a soup kitchen ("Down and Out").
They steal the crates of guns and take them to Fat Sam's, arriving just as Dandy Dan's gang arrives. Chaos ensues as a massive splurge gun fight erupts, covering everyone (except Bugsy and Blousey) with cream. Unarmed patrons throw cream pies. The piano player is hit from behind and falls onto the keys, striking a single bass note. The tone silences the room, and the cream-covered crowd performs in a final number ("You Give a Little Love"). They 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 gun moll, the speakeasy's star chanteuse 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 main hoodlum 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
- Donald Waugh as Snake Eyes, one of Fat Sam's hoodlums
- Peter Holder as Ritzy, one of Fat Sam's hoodlums
- Michael Kirkby as Angelo, one of Fat Sam's hoodlums
- Dexter Fletcher as Baby Face, down and out
- Davidson Knight as Cagey Joe, the boxing gym owner
- 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)
- Louise English as Ballerina Mel
Bugsy Malone was Alan Parker's first feature film. Parker was trying to find a film project that was not "parochial" and decided upon an American gangster setting: "I had four young children and we used to go to a cottage in Derbyshire at weekends. On the long, boring car journey up there, I started telling them the story of a gangster called Bugsy Malone. They’d ask me questions and I’d make up answers, based on my memories of watching old movie reruns as a kid." His eldest son suggested children should be cast as the "heroes".
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". The students were unanimous in selecting John Cassisi, and Parker gave him the role. Florrie Dugger (Blousey) was originally cast in a smaller role; when the actress cast as Blousey suddenly grew taller than Baio, Dugger was promoted. She had been "discovered" at RAF Chicksands, an air force base in Bedfordshire where her American father was stationed. At the time of filming, 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 film A Star Is Born (1976).
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 the first pre-shoot rehearsals, the songs had to be accepted and used as they were, with voices by Williams, 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 firearm" proved to be problematic. After initial experiments with cream-filled wax balls proved painful, Parker decided to abandon the idea of filming the firearms directly. Instead, the firearms 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 firearms.
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.
Bugsy Malone was released in late 1976 to generally positive reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, it currently holds a score of 83% based on 18 reviews, with an average rating of 6.6/10. Despite the positive critical reception, Bugsy Malone was not a commercial success in the US, bringing in just over $2.7 million. Paramount gave it a limited release, usually in 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. According to Parker, the film was "quite successful" in the United Kingdom. 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, and an Oscar for "Best Original Song Score" (Paul Williams). The film was in competition for the Palme d'Or 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, Arista/SME 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 was 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.
The album was originally released as an LP in 1976. 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.
- "Bugsy Malone" – Paul Williams
- "Fat Sam's Grand Slam" – Paul Williams
- "Bad Guys"
- "I'm Feeling Fine"
- "My Name Is Tallulah" - Louise "Liberty" Williams
- "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 2003 television 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. The documentary reported that Dugger, who (unlike her co-stars) had never acted again, had chosen to pursue a career in the United States Air Force Medical Service.
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.
Parker wrote the book for a stage adaptation of Bugsy Malone, using Williams' music. This premiered in the West End in 1983 at Her Majesty's Theatre and ran for 300 performances. It was directed by Michael Dolenz and the cast featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as Tallulah. In 1997, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth version. It was revived at the Queen's Theatre in 1997, starring Sheridan Smith and Jamie Bell. Another revival played in 2015 and again in 2016 at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre, where it was nominated for the Olivier Award for best musical revival.
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