My initial reaction to the film, and that of a number of my friends, was highly negative. Why? Because they had so completely gutted the stage version which was a defining moment in the development of the "concept musical." It was at that time the most chilling representation of evil I had ever seen on stage or screen. The walls of the theater oozed evil and Joel Grey was the personification of a minion of the devil dancing a song of death. "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" was a startling and riveting experience that froze to stone the theater audience from the inside out as the lights faded on that act. It had a sweet beginning based, according to a local New York CBS radio interview with Kander and Ebb, on a German drinking song. By mid-song the sweetness (as in the movie) had transitioned to a more martial sound and people in the cafe began to reveal swastika armbands. From that moment it grew in tempo and intensity until the same thundering beat as in the film drowned out any left over sweetness. (More forceful than the "competition" in CASABLANCA, yet in the same vein) Then......after reaching a crescendo it faded quickly as the lights began to fade 'til all the audience could see was a tiny spotlit Joel Grey - a white circle of pure evil surrounded by frightening shards of darkness - quietly singing the last line of the song, then a heart-stopping laugh and SNAP, lights out, and we were left in darkness for the intermission to attempt to revive us. Fosse staged many of the numbers in the film quite wonderfully but his staging here was an absolute cop-out by someone attempting to do something different from the stage version......and failing. Many of the other numbers in the film had roots in their staging that stretched back to the Imperial Theatre production, but obviously this one did not and it is SO intrinsic to the heart of the film that even in its watered down version it has some merit to those who never saw the original production. But its change DOES damage the film. The excising of the relationship between the landlady and one Mr. Schultz, played on stage so brilliantly by Jack Gilford and Lotte Lenya also hurt the film. Removing major characters from a seminal piece of work like CABARET is rather like excising Ashley and Melanie from GONE WITH THE WIND. It "ain't" the same story and shouldn't pretend to be. Even in the stage version it was clear to anyone who had ANY awareness of life that Cliff was gay. There were numerous scenes - and characters - that had nothing to do with the CABARET I had seen many times on Broadway. For me, the film was a incomplete rendering of what had chilled us all onstage. HOWEVER, through the years as I saw it again and again on ABC and began buying the VHS, cum laser disc, cum DVD my appreciation of it began to grow even while the prints seemed to grow worse and worse. Today I think MOST of the numbers are brilliantly done.....with the exception of "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" and I am drooling over the prospect of a pristine BD.
I'm with you. I guess few people on this board saw the original production of Cabaret and therefore have no idea of what it was like. I really liked the film, which I saw at a sneak preview at the Village Theater at least six months before it came out, when it was separate sound and picture. At that time, the infamous line "Screw Brian" was in its original form (F-word Brian). And I'm not sure doing the stage version as a film with no changes would have worked. But that original Harold Prince/Ron Field staging was one of the greatest ever done on Broadway - the revival, for me, was no good and nowhere near as powerful. The film is one I enjoy returning to, but it's not a patch on the butt cheeks of its theatrical predecessor.