Release Date: February 13th, 1972 MPAA Rating: PG
Director: Bob Fosse Actors: Liza Minnelli, Michael York, Joel Grey, Helmut Griem, Fritz Wepper, Marisa Berenson, Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel, Helen Vita, Sigrid Von Richthofen, Ricky Renee
merican Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli), residing in Berlin for about three months, works as a singer at the Kit Kat Club, where she hopes to be an international girl of mystery and intrigue (and a great film star). But in 1931, everyone is poor, and the chances at fame and fortune seem slim. While trying to ignore the politics seizing control of the country and its citizens, Sally occupies herself with socializing, partying, and taking a liking to English instructor Brian Roberts (Michael York), who moves into the same, cramped housing facility.
Roberts, though immediately enamored by Sally’s free spirit, flightiness, and adventurousness (and promiscuity), is very out of place among the generally perverted, colorful denizens with whom she interacts, and amidst the seedy locales in which she immerses herself. And when she throws herself at him sexually, he admits that he’s not into women. Although Sally is disappointed, she determines that friends are perhaps rarer than lovers.
The club serves as a sanctuary for heavy makeup, practically scary performers, and exaggerated singing sequences. It’s very much a variety show of grotesque people and activities, including mud-wrestling and the always animated, overacting, pasty-faced Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey). And it’s also an environment mostly uninvolved with – but not immune to – the Nazi movement going on around it (akin to Rick’s Cafe from “Casablanca”). Were it not for the severity of this backdrop, the premise would be utterly devoid of poignancy.
The first few stage performances aren’t catchy or choreographed in impressive ways, allowing them to blend together and become quite forgettable. They could surely disappear into a generic montage with ease. Their symbolism and significance to the ongoing plot is mostly reiteration, making them even more extraneous. Since the start is so steeped in gaiety, decadence, and jubilation, it’s difficult to take the flimsier themes of shattered dreams and encroaching armed conflict seriously – even when this filmic form of the celebrated play is able to take advantage of juxtaposing violence with costumed revelry through jarring editing. It also doesn’t help that Bowles is virtually bipolar with her mood and comically incompatible with her surroundings.
Adding to the continuous merrymaking are several scenes designed purely for comedy, including English lessons that betray a burgeoning love triangle (followed by further love triangles thanks to wealthy baron Maximilian von Heune, played by Helmut Griem – though the contention soon transforms into an amenable threesome), Brian working to translate a pornographic novel, and Sally alternately playing matchmaker or relationship mender (between import/export businessman Fritz [Fritz Wepper] and wealthy Jewish socialite Natalia [Marisa Berenson]). These bits should have served as a stark contrast to the steadily escalating atrocities against the opponents of the Nazis (extending eventually to Brian), but the main characters’ inebriated antics never seem to amount to anything potent or moving or simply involving, while the cabaret itself is regularly inconsequential. And the songs never get any better.
– Mike Massie