Bob Fosse Tom Milne - Essay

Tom Milne

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[The trouble with Sweet Charity is that its star, Shirley MacLaine, is] required to dance—and in Bob Fosse country at that….

[Choreographically] speaking the most exhilarating moments in the film are two numbers—'Hey, Big Spender' and the trio of eccentricities that make up 'Rich Man's Frug'—in which the star does not appear. Here, with his characteristically tight, neurotically precise and almost off-balance steps, where the dancers hug close together as though afraid to break the magic circuit, Bob Fosse is Bob Fosse as he is nowhere else in the film.

For, doubling as director, he pulls constantly against himself, undermining his own meticulous algebraics by inserting choppy efforts at mise en scène instead of choreographing his way out of difficulties…. Subsequently the direction settles down to become much less queasy, but there is still a plethora of irritatingly unnecessary dissolves, zooms, frozen shots and pretty montages, usually illustrating the extremes of happiness or despair that Charity has already expressed, or should express in dance.

All of which may make it sound as though Sweet Charity doesn't work at all. Contrariwise, it does, often magnificently…. [For] all his Lelouchian devotion to decorative bravura, Mr. Fosse is obviously very good with actors….

[Charity herself] is irresistible, carrying the film over its stylistic flurries and only at the end falling into the kind of sentimental whimsy that dogged … Fellini's original. It is perhaps symptomatic of the film's indecision, however, as to what it should be doing and with whom, that emotionally her part is allowed to build to two dance numbers, one for each lover….

[One hopes] that in his second film Bob Fosse will get a chance to create a musical with, by and for dancers. Meanwhile, Sweet Charity joins [Francis Ford Coppola's] Finian's Rainbow and [William Wyler's] Funny Girl in proving that there is still musical life in the old Hollywood dog. Who, watching the electrifying contortions of a row of pleading, hissing, finger-snapping taxi-dancers for the superbly weary, sleazy erotica of 'Hey, Big Spender', could doubt it?

Tom Milne, "'Sweet Charity'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1969 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 38, No. 2, Spring, 1969, p. 98.