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After a box-office disaster with his film version of Sweet Charity in 1969, Bob Fosse bounced back with Cabaret in 1972, a year that would make him the most honored director in show business. And he wasn't the only winner in this case, as the film also brought Liza Minnelli her first chance to sing on screen and an Oscar for Best Actress. With Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), Cinematography, Art Direction, Sound, Adapted Score, and Editing, it holds the record for most Oscars earned by a film not honored as Best Picture.
Cabaret was the first property to travel from book to dramatic play to dramatic film to stage musical to screen musical (Auntie Mame would match that path a few years later). It had started as Christopher Isherwood's short story "Sally Bowles," about an amoral singer living in Berlin during the 1930s, and was later included in his collection, The Berlin Stories. "Sally Bowles" and another story about a gigolo who admits he's Jewish to win the heart of an heiress provided the basis for John Van Druten's I Am a Camera, a 1951 stage play starring Julie Harris as Bowles, which was adapted for the screen in 1955. Then, in 1966, Harold Prince scored a hit with Cabaret, a musical version featuring a different subplot (about a gentile landlady in love with a Jewish grocer) and a new character called the M.C. that made Joel Grey a star.
A film version of Cabaret was inevitable, but it was held up for years when the first deal, with Cinerama, Inc., for an unprecedented $2.1 million, fell through. At the time, off-screen companions Warren Beatty and Julie Christie were considered for the leading roles. When ABC Pictures and Allied Artists finally picked up the rights for $1.5 million, Broadway producer Cy Feuer signed on to produce the picture, with Bob Fosse directing and a budget of less than $5 million.
Playwrights Jay Presson Allen and Hugh Wheeler went back to the original stories to restore the subplot about the gigolo and the Jewish heiress. They also drew on original author Christopher Isherwood's openness about his homosexuality to make the leading male character, a writer modeled on him, a bisexual who shares his bed and a male lover with Sally. Fosse decided to increase the focus on the Kit Kat Club, where Sally performs, as a metaphor for the decadence of Germany in the 1930s by eliminating all but one of the musical numbers performed outside the club. The only remaining outside number is "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," a folk song rendered spontaneously by patrons at an open-air cafe in one of the film's most chilling scenes. In addition, the show's original songwriters, John Kander and Fred Ebb, wrote three new songs, "Mein Herr," "Money," and "Maybe This Time."
The new songs were all performed by the film's leading lady, Liza Minnelli ("Money" also featured Grey). Ironically, she had auditioned to play Sally in the original Broadway production. Some involved with the show say she was too inexperienced at the time (though she had already won Broadway's Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical). Others have suggested she was too big a presence for the role as written on Broadway. By the time Cabaret reached the screen, however, Minnelli was a major film star, having won an Oscar nomination as the emotionally damaged college student in The Sterile Cuckoo (1969).
Cabaret opened to glowing reviews and strong box office, eventually taking in more than $20 million. In addition to its eight Oscars, it won Best Picture citations from the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press and took Best Supporting Actor honors for Grey from the National Board of Review, the Hollywood Foreign Press, and the National Society of Film Critics. But the biggest winner was Fosse. Shortly before the Academy Awards, he won two Tonys for directing and choreographing Pippin, his biggest stage hit to date. When months later he won Emmys for directing and choreographing Liza Minnelli's television special Liza with a Z, he became the first director to win all three awards in one year.
Producer: Cy Feuer
Director: Bob Fosse
Screenplay: Jay Presson Allen, Hugh Wheeler
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Art Direction: Hans Jurgen Kiebach, Rolf Zehetbauer
Music: Ralph Burns, John Kander
Principal Cast: Liza Minnelli (Sally Bowles), Michael York (Brian Roberts), Helmut Griem (Maximilian von Heune), Joel Grey (Master of Ceremonies), Fritz Wepper (Fritz Wendel), Marisa Berenson (Natalia Landauer), Elizabeth Neumann-Viertel (Fraulein Schneider).
C-124m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Frank Miller