Before making the leap to filmmaking, the late Alan Parker got his start working as a copywriter at a British advertising agency. During his time at one agency, he met producers David Puttnam (who inspired and talked him into writing scripts for films) and Alan Marshall (with whom he established a production company specializing in television advertisements), both of whom would become producers on many of his films. However, it was Puttnam who gave him his first big break in feature films, the musical spoof Bugsy Malone. Paramount had released the movie on VHS, but had never given the movie a DVD release here in the US; the company has rectified that glaring omission with a Blu-ray release as part of their Paramount Presents line in time for the movie’s 45th anniversary.
The Production: 4/5
In New York City during the Prohibition era, gangsters Fat Sam (John Cassisi) and Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) are locked in a turf war over who controls the underworld. Dan soon takes the upper hand due to his gang using the newly created “splurge guns” – a weapon that can rapidly fire gobs of whipped cream rather than bullets – to seize control over Fat Sam’s side businesses. Into this madness enters Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), a broke fighting promoter who tries to woo aspiring ingenue singer Blousey Brown (Florence Garland) and eventually take her to Hollywood. However, they get dragged into the turf war and Bugsy might just make the warring factions wish they had just left well enough alone!
A delightful sendup of both the musical and gangster films of the 1930’s, Bugsy Malone is a movie that has transcended its origins as a parody. Based off of the stories he made up from watching movies as a kid and then told to his children during long rides, Alan Parker penned the script as well as handling directorial duties in his first feature length film, both of which he does with great zeal. While the production design is clearly accommodated to fit the youthful performers (the “cars” are actually pedal bicycles), the film’s major plus is the buoyant and infectious music and song score by Paul Williams; just fresh off of providing songs Brian De Palma’s cult favorite Phantom of the Paradise (1974; which Williams also appeared in as an actor and earned an Oscar nomination for the song score), he clearly captures the mood of the era very well – he also earned the film’s lone Oscar nod as well. The lone bone of contention with the movie is the fact that adults – including Williams himself – dub the singing for the kids, which has polarized opinions even today; Parker felt that it had given the movie a bizarre feeling, a sentiment that Williams has echoed (something he makes known in the interview included with this Blu-ray release). Whatever your feelings are about the dubbing – it all boils down to personal taste – there’s no denying that Bugsy Malone is an affectionate throwback and spoof of the era, one whose reputation had grown over the years and made this become a cult favorite.
In his film debut, Scott Baio shows a scrappy charm as the eponymous character; he is best known today for his roles as Chachi on Happy Days and as the titular character on Charles in Charge. Coming in the same year as her breakthrough performance in Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, Jodie Foster casts a memorable impression as the speakeasy chanteuse and Fat Sam’s girl Tallulah; the future Oscar winner has her singing voice dubbed by Louise “Liberty” Williams for the song “My Name is Tallulah”. Much of the rest of the cast was filled with child actors who’ve reached their peak with this film; Florence Garland (billed here as Florrie Dugger) made her only film appearance as Blousey Brown, later going on to work in the United States Air Force Medical Service, while John Cassisi – chosen for the part of Fat Sam after his fellow Brooklyn classmates pointed him out to Parker as “the naughtiest boy in class” – left acting in the early 1980’s to go work in the construction industry, later running afoul of the law in a bribery scheme that sent him to prison (life imitating art here). Notably filling out the cast here are the late Martin Lev as Dandy Dan (he passed away 20 days before what would’ve been his 33rd birthday in 1992), Paul Murphy as Leroy Smith, the tramp with a talent for boxing who saves Bugsy from an ambush, Sheridan Earl Russell as Fat Sam’s main hood Knuckles, Albin “Humpty” Jenkins as the tap dancing caretaker of the speakeasy, Andrew Paul and Paul Chirelstein as a pair of dimwitted policemen, Dexter Fletcher as one of the down and out workers Bugsy recruits to defend the speakeasy, John Williams (not the composer or the established English character actor) as the ill fated Roxy Robinson, Michael Jackson (not the famed pop singer) as the piano player Razamatazz and Jonathan Scott-Taylor – better known for playing a teenaged Damien Thorn in Damien: Omen II (1978) – as a news reporter.
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio, taken from a brand new 4K transfer of the original film elements. Film grain is organic throughout, with fine details and color palette also given a faithful representation; there’s little to no instances of issues like scratches, dirt, dust, tears or vertical lines present. I will note that there is brief moment between the opening Paramount logo and the opening scene where it looks like there’s some new credits digitally added, something I haven’t noticed in previous VHS versions or TV broadcasts of the movie. Anyway, this release is by far the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses previous VHS releases.
There are three audio options for this release: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, a 2.0 Dolby Digital mono track and 2.0 Dolby Digital French track. All track exhibit strong and faithful representations of dialogue, sound mix and Paul Williams’ Oscar nominated song score; there’s minimal to no instances of distortion, crackling, popping or hissing present here. This release represents the best this movie will likely ever sound on home video, another substantial improvement over previous home video releases.
Special Features: 3/5
Filmmaker Focus: David Puttnam on Bugsy Malone (5:27) – The film’s producer reflects on the making of the movie in this brief yet insightful new featurette.
Give a Little Love: Paul Williams on Bugsy Malone (6:13) – The composer fondly reflects on creating the music for the movie in this new interview.
Theatrical Trailer (2:11)
Bonus Trailers – Paper Moon, Grease, Black Beauty (1971)
Despite not finding box office success here in America upon a limited theatrical release (the movie was quite successful in the UK), Bugsy Malone has gone on to have a long life as a cult favorite since being released on home video. Paramount has finally given the movie the love it deserves, with a great HD transfer and a pair of brief yet insightful featurettes on the movie for its Blu-ray debut. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth retiring previous home video editions.
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