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SWEET CHARITY, 1969
Movie Review

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SWEET CHARITY MOVIE POSTER
SWEET CHARITY, 1969
Movie Reviews

Directed by: Bob Fosse
Starring: Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Ricardo Montalban and Sammy Davis, Jr.
Review by Jayvibha Vaidya



SYNOPSIS:

Charity Hope Valentine is a New York dance hall hostess, looking for real love but falling for the wrong men. When she finally meets a kind, honest man, Charity decides to lie about her past and her job, and ends up risking her chance at a true and meaningful relationship.

OSCAR nominee for Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Musical Score

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REVIEW:

“You just gotta keep hoping. That’s the important thing.”

Poor, sweet Charity. All she wants is a chance at real love. A man who will take care of her, love her and definitely not throw her off a bridge, grab her purse and sprint away. Which is exactly what her boyfriend, Charlie does. Charity Hope Valentine has the worst luck with men.

Bob Fosse’s screen directorial debut, Sweet Charity is a screen adaptation of the Broadway musical. Two and a half hours of colour, choreography and emotions, the film follows a naïve Charity (Shirley MacLaine), who works as a dance hall hostess/escort in a seedy club. Along with her friends Nickie (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly) she hopes to one day leave the job and find a respectable profession, a wonderful man and a chance at happiness.

Stumbling upon famous Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal (Ricardo Montalban) one rainy night, Charity thinks she’s found her man. She’s invited to his gorgeous apartment and amazed, sings “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Unfortunately, Vittorio complains about his ex-girlfriend who returns to the house. Panicked, the famous actor shoves Charity into his closet to spend the night with his expensive suits, a beer and her cigarette. Dejected and frustrated, Charity decides to do something about her life. Marching into an office building, she attempts to apply for a job but discovers she has no skills and is literally laughed out of the office. A chance meeting in the elevator with mild-mannered claustrophobe, Oscar Lindquist (John McMartin) leads Charity to take charge and calm him with her easy, funny personality. And he falls for her. As Charity begins falling for him, she hides the truth about her life, allowing him to believe she works in a bank.

Nominated for Oscars in Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, and Best Score of a Musical Picture, the film boasts visually gorgeous shots of the streets and parks of New York City. Charity, ecstatic by Oscar’s declaration of love, marches through the streets of New York in a large-scale musical number. Vittorio’s opulent mansion is glamourous and spacious. The seedy club where the dance hall hostesses work is narrow and intimate. The incredibly talented costume designer Edith Head creates breath-taking black-and-white costumes displayed on the dancers at the posh club and contrasts those costumes with the overtly sexy and colourful dresses at the dance hall.

The music in the film however, is a weak point as most of the songs are fairly boring. The only numbers that stand out significantly are the utterly sexy “Hey Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Both numbers have an energy and life to them. Where the film excels hands-down, is in Fosse’s choreography. Fosse is in his element as he directs/choreographs stunning pieces that are entertaining and exciting. Shirley MacLaine, Paula Kelly and Chita Rivera are flawless in their execution of “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” flying effortlessly through their complicated dance steps. The blocking in the “The Rich Man’s Frug” and the wrist, hip and foot movements are perfection; cinematic magic. It’s Fosse at his best. The Rhythm of Life sequence introduces a cool Sammy Davis Jr. as a preacher of the religion of Love. It’s surreal, amusing and totally fun. The film shines when these musical numbers appear on screen.

Some visual devices used on screen unfortunately tend to weigh the film down. Excessive use of the freeze frame, zooms and still photographs are become tedious. Interestingly, when these devices are used in the musical numbers, they work wonderfully, enhancing the images on screen. The entire “Sweet Charity” song is filmed in slow motion resulting in a series of maudlin scenes. But Fosse’s angles, cutting and blocking in all the dance numbers are original and stylistic, making up for the small missteps in other scenes.

Shirley MacLaine manages to make a slightly pathetic and foolish character into one which the audience can cheer for and follow. Her journey with the wrong men, her attempts at being a better person and her hopefulness are sweet and endearing. Charity always has faith in tomorrow and the potential for happiness each day could bring. MacLaine’s Charity and John McMartin’s Oscar share a fun chemistry and impeccable comedic timing. Their scene in the restaurant when Charity confesses her true job is hilarious and sweet.

Sweet Charity feels more like a Broadway musical captured on film with its duration containing an overture and intermission. It also displays some of the sexiest, original and riveting musical sequences in a musical. Fosse stamps the film with his signature style, choreography and directing. The film is a fun journey through the lessons a young woman must learn before she discovers a new morning; a new hope at finding real love.

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