BUGSY MALONE —-teach an old dog, yet again. Out of one of those stubborn pieces of ignorance that can cling to you even when you think you’re somehow immune to what you scold others for comes the 44-years-late mea culpa from Yours, Abashed: I was a decades-distilled-dope for ignoring this 1976 charmer. Could it be that the idea of a gangster movie musical with an all-kid cast seemed like a recipe for a Yentl meets Xanadu hangover? So, I was W-rong. It will N-ever happen again.
“Someone once said, “If it was raining brains, Roxy Robinson wouldn’t even get wet.” Roxy had spent his whole life making two and two into five, but he could smell trouble like other people could smell gas. But believe you’s me, he should’ve never taken that blind alley by the side of Parido’s Bakery. Whatever game it was everybody was playing, sure as eggs is eggs, Roxy the Weasel had been scrambled.“
Prohibition. Speakeasy Big Cheese ‘Fat Sam’ (John Cassisi, 12) finds the services of boxing-promoter-in-need-of-dough ‘Bugsy Malone’ (Scott Baio, 15, debut) to come in handy when rival hoodlum ‘Dandy Dan’ (Martin Lev, 16) starts plastering Fat Sam’s underlings and assorted operations with the newly invented “Splooge gun”. A complication is that Sam’s moll and chanteuse ‘Tallulah’ (Jodie Foster, already an old pro at 12) used to have a thing for Bugsy, but now he’s spats-over-fedora for Hollywood-hoping ‘Blousey Brown’ (Florrie Dugger, 13).
Who woulda thunk that the first feature film from Alan Parker—later to helm such harsh dramas as Midnight Express, Shoot The Moon, Angel Heart and Mississippi Burning—would be such a clever whimsy? An endearing spoof of old 30s gangland epics, it’s done to a gleeful tee by the kids, slicked up and sleeked out with period duds and lingo, and given a really smart, funny and period-redolent soundtrack from Paul Williams, which was Oscar-nominated.
Parker wrote the script and directed, shooting in England, with Baio and Foster the token Americans in the cast. It was quite successful there, but, despite some glowing reviews, made but $2,800,000 in the States, where it was dumped onto second-bills, lodging at a disappointing 109th place. Only 93 minutes, it maybe overstays welcome a bit (it could’ve worked better trimmed of ten), but that’s a quibble. Great songs, neat dancing, swell production design: fun stuff all round. All the young people are commendable, but just look at that keen intelligence radiating in Jodie Foster’s eyes: she was going places. Good luck ducking that splooge!
In his invaluable (and hard-to-get) book “Guide For The Film Fanatic”, astute critic Danny Peary observes “By watching these kids, we really consider what makes their adult characters tick. These talented kids don’t miss a beat. Kids are known for their ability to mimic adults, but these kids must mimic the way adult actors play cliche adult characters–and the result is something entirely original.”
With Albin Jenkins (‘Fizzy’) and Dexter Fletcher (‘Baby Face’).