Long before Dancer In The Dark and Moulin Rouge, Cabaret set the pace for screen musicals. Probably still does, thinking about it. Adapted by legendary choreographer Bob Fosse from Christopher Isherwood's Berlin Stories, via John Van Druten's stage skit on the same, it's a dark, sexy beast of a film, where va-va-Weimar hedonism chafes against history with equal parts punch and pep.
It centres on the Kit Kat Klub, where cabaret star Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) is making none-too-subtle moves on a none-too-hetero British writer (Michael York). Meanwhile, the Klubbers are partying like there's no tomorrow, except for Sally's Jewish friend Natalia (Marisa Berenson). And outside, all hell's on the horizon...
Granted, Fosse's handling of the historical details isn't subtle, and York, put kindly, is a sopping dishcloth. But the compensations are copious. Minnelli's Oscar-winning turn is touching and vivacious, while the club's emcee, Joel Grey, makes for an impishly perverse presence. Fosse, too, shows proper mettle with the wickedly exquisite musical numbers: mostly played onstage, so they're not too intrusive, they tap into that same spirit of sexual adventurism that drew other '70s sorts - David Bowie, Lou Reed et al - to the Weimar era.
But the Nazis are knocking at the door, and there's something tragic and palpably disturbing about the Klubbers' futile, seize-the-night drive to party on regardless of what's happening in the world outside. That's what makes the film meatier than most musicals. Another drink, another dance, before it all goes pop? Wilkommen!
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