Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bugsy Malone (1976)

Sometimes you see movies as a little kid and love them so much, but then when you see them years later as an adult, they just disappoint you. Perhaps it's because you're older and more jaded. You've seen tons of movies and think you have acquired excellent taste. You can watch something and you are immediately fixated on all of its flaws. Fortunately for you, Bugsy Malone (1976) is still awesome. I would say it's even more so all these years later.

Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) is a broke boxing promoter who dabbles in organized crime. He occasionally makes some money on the side by working for crime boss and owner of the local speakeasy, Fat Sam (John Cassisi). There is a rival gang in town lead by Dandy Dan (Martin Lev). His gang has these powerful new weapons that shoot pie custard and a lot of it. Fat Sam has his gang try to recover a bunch of the weapons so they can be ready to fight back. Typical gang warfare ensues. All the while Bugsy gets torn between two women who are competing for his affection, Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger) and Tallulah (Jodie Foster). So Bugsy has his hands full, trying to make money, find a boxer to promote and not get "splurged" with pie custard. 

One thing I forgot to mention is that this movie features an entire cast of children. The biggest stars are Baio and Foster. But the supporting cast is brilliant. Everybody just looks like tiny versions of the same faces you've seen in every gangster movie since James Cagney played Tom Powers in Public Enemy (1931). Some of these actors went on to do other things and some of them are vaguely recognizable, and others never made another movie again. One of the best performances in the movie is Blousey's, and this Florrie Dugger's only movie. One thing that surprised me when I was looking at the cast bios was how many of the actors and actresses in the film were actually british. They all get the vocal tone of the 1920's gangster pitch perfect, any number of them could cry, "You dirty rat!" And you would believe them. 

Bugsy Malone is also a musical. The music works perfectly, the songs are catchy and you will remember the song sung at Fat Sam's during the finale. The music was written by the great Paul Williams, who I don't think has ever written a bad song. He's written numerous hits for The Carpenters and he wrote the music and lyrics for films like The Phantom of the Paradise (1974), A Star is Born (1976) and The Muppet Movie (1979). Let's face it, "The Rainbow Connection" is one of the greatest songs ever written. The music in Bugsy Malone is top notch. 

One last thing I wanted to say about seeing this movie again as an adult, is that I feel like I can see a little of its influence on some films that have been made since. There is a scene where some gangsters are in the woods and someone is about to get "Splurged". I couldn't help but think that maybe the Coen brothers found some inspiration in this scene for Miller's Crossing (1990). I'm talking about a scene where John Turturro is on his knees, begging for the guy with the gun to look into his heart. Maybe it's a stretch and there's nothing quite that intense in Bugsy Malone, but it's nice to think that maybe Joel and Ethan Coen are fans. 

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