Sweet Charity Blu-ray Review

Superb cinematic version of a hit Broadway musical 4 Stars

Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity is an excellent movie adaptation of a hit 1966 Broadway musical which Fosse himself had brought to the stage as director and choreographer.

Sweet Charity (1969)
Released: 17 May 1969
Rated: G
Runtime: 149 min
Director: Bob Fosse
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Music, Musical, Romance
Cast: Shirley MacLaine, John McMartin, Ricardo Montalban, Sammy Davis Jr.
Writer(s): Neil Simon (from the New York stage production book by), Federico Fellini (based upon the screenplay by: "Nights of Cabiria"), Tullio Pinelli (based upon the screenplay by: "Nights of Cabiria"), Ennio Flaiano (based upon the screenplay by: "Nights of Cabiria"), Peter Stone (screenplay)
Plot: Taxi dancer Charity continues to have Faith in the human race despite apparently endless disappointments at its hands, and Hope that she will finally meet the nice young man to romance her ...
IMDB rating: 7.0
MetaScore: 53

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA, English 5.1 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: G
Run Time: 2 Hr. 31 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 08/20/2019
MSRP: $39.95

The Production: 4/5

Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity is an excellent movie adaptation of a hit 1966 Broadway musical which Fosse himself had brought to the stage as director and choreographer. In 1969 when the film premiered, however, roadshow musicals had run their course. Though 1968’s Funny Girl and Oliver! had been hits, Star! had lost a great deal of money, and this disenchantment with big, bold musicals carried over the following year to the big budgeted but costly failures that were Hello, Dolly!, Paint Your Wagon, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and Sweet Charity. Things didn’t improve the following year either with both Darling Lili and On a Clear Day You Can See Forever losing money for Paramount. Clearly at that moment in America with unrest among races, generations, and hawks and doves, movie musicals were not what the majority of the public was craving. That doesn’t disparage the very real talent and good old-fashioned showmanship that Fosse imbued into Sweet Charity, a bittersweet song and dance saga of a woman unlucky in love but a bit more sophisticated and hip than its compatriots but no more successful at the turnstiles, sad to say.

Charity Hope Valentine (Shirley MacLaine) always tries to look on the bright side of life, despite working in a rundown dance hall and contending with a seemingly endless run of dishonest, using men. Determined to find love, Charity has a fateful encounter with suave Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal (Ricardo Montalban), but their sweet night together (purely platonic) is all too brief. However, when Charity finds herself stuck in an elevator with the shy, excitable Oscar Lindquist (John McMartin), it turns out that she may have finally met her love match with someone as pure of heart as she is.

Peter Stone’s adaptation of Neil Simon’s Broadway libretto retains almost everything that was funny in the Broadway version but has added some scenes which play up the story’s more bittersweet qualities, and with Shirley MacLaine, the queen of playing bittersweet losers-at-love, as his star, the new sequences really wring the strongest possible emotion out of the story based on Fellini’s Oscar-winning film Nights of Cabiria. Three stage songs were dropped entirely from the score, two others were replaced by new numbers (“My Personal Property” and “It’s a Nice Face,” both Charity solos), and the title song was given a new tune to its original Dorothy Fields lyrics (all the songs were by Cy Coleman), but all of the movie’s best musical moments come from the original songs: Charity’s showstopping prance around the movie star’s apartment “If My Friends Could See Me Now” pretty much repeats Fosse’s Tony-winning Broadway choreography done for his wife, original stage star Gwen Verdon; the “Rich Man’s Frug” (another that follows Fosse’s stage choreography very closely), “Hey, Big Spender,” “Rhythm of Life,” and “I Love to Cry at Weddings” take advantage of the vaster scale which the movies can afford musical numbers, and “I’m a Brass Band” makes full use of many New York City locations for its extended singing and dancing. The film’s most outstanding moment, though, comes when Charity and her two friends Nikki (Chita Rivera) and Helene (Paula Kelly) head to the roof and sing and dance of their hopes for the future in “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” a number so galvanizing in its rhythms and terpsichore that it sweeps the viewer up in its overwhelming verve. In his first film, Fosse makes use of every possible item in his cinematic toy box (sometimes to irritating effect): dissolves, zooms in and out, panning, slow and reverse motion, freeze frames, negative printing, tinting, and photo and live action montages. And he uses calculated editing cut right to the beat of the music to punctuate moments in song and dance, best illustrated in “Hey, Big Spender” where we explore that line-up of taxi dancers from every conceivable angle.

Shirley MacLaine was really the only viable singing and dancing megastar in Hollywood at the time who could carry the extremes of this triple-threat role (Gwen Verdon on Broadway and Gretchen Wyler in the national tour were both better singer-dancers than MacLaine, but MacLaine was the slightly better actress; if the movie had been made five years later, Liza Minnelli could have done it with more vocal flair), and while her singing is sometimes a little thin, there is no denying that she nails the dancing and acts the heartbreaking moments of the story (especially her employment office interview and her final rejection in the ugliest wedding dress ever conceived) with a memorable flair. John McMartin makes an endearingly nerdy Oscar. As her best friends, Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly are wonderful: blunt and yet loving to their soft-hearted chum; it’s too bad their character number “Baby, Dream Your Dream” was dropped from the song lineup. Ricardo Montalban just oozes charisma as the jilted movie star. Stubby Kaye scores points as the taciturn manager of the dance hall, and Sammy Davis Jr. makes the most of his big musical number “Rhythm of Life.” Mention must be made of the three superb lead dancers for the “Rich Man’s Frug” and other musical sequences: Ann Reinking-lookalike Suzanne Charny, two-time Tony nominee Lee Roy Reams, and Tony-winner Ben Vereen.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s original Panavision theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is faithfully executed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. The movie looks like it was filmed last week with brilliant color which sometimes bursts from the screen, outstanding contrast, and not a speck of dust or dirt to be seen. Black levels are inky throughout. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The disc offers a choice of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound or DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono. The surround track was used for the purposes of this review. While volume levels may be a tad underwhelming, all the dialogue and song lyrics are easy to hear and understand, and the music and sound effects never intrude into one’s ability to discern what’s being said or sung. It’s true, too, that while the Overture is present on the theatrical releease, there is no Entr’Act or Exit Music present on either disc in the set.

Special Features: 3.5/5

Alternate Edition (2:24:51, DTS-HD MA 5.1/2.0, HD): the “happy ending” alternate version of the movie with no overture, entr’act, or exit music.

Audio Commentary: attached to the alternate version, film historian Kat Ellinger provides a nattery, chattery commentary on the film that offers some facts on the production and the stars but often segues into long-winded unnecessary discussions of everything from Barbara Bouchet’s career (while completely ignoring the presences of Stubby Kaye, Ben Vereen, Lee Roy Reams, and Suzanne Charny) to Italian neorealism. She also makes errors (saying Charity was the one Tony nominated role Gwen Verdon didn’t convert into a trophy; she didn’t win for Chicago either) and spends too much time describing what’s on the screen.

Edith Head Costume Design (7:29, SD): a publicity featurette, the Oscar-winning designer describes her thoughts for the designs for the movie showing sketches and wardrobe tests and mentioning specifically what she was going for in the disco sequence, the taxi dancer ballroom, the garage sequence, and the rooftop dance.

From Stage to Screen (9:01, SD): director-choreographer Bob Fosse describes his anxiety and delight in directing his first film. Behind-the-scenes shots show him at work rehearing the actors and blocking shots for later shooting.

Theatrical Trailer (1:39, SD)

Kino Trailers: Irma La Douce, What a Way to Go! Clambake, Daddy Long Legs.

Six-Page Booklet: contains color and black and white photographs and film historian Julie Kirgo’s earnest and embracing analysis of the movie.

Overall: 4/5

Bob Fosse’s Sweet Charity may not have been a box-office hit in its day, but looking at it in retrospect, it offers manifold evidence of the emergence of a major cinematic talent. The Kino Blu-ray release may not have all the bells and whistles that fans of the movie were hoping for, but it looks sensational and is a fine package of entertainment. Recommended!

Published by

Matt Hough

editor,member

31 Comments

  1. Wow! Slight disappointment that the Entr’Act or Exit Music was left out of this release, but that aside, who could ask for anything more? This disc sounds like it has met everyone’s expectations in PQ.

  2. Audio Commentary: attached to the alternate version, film historian Kat Ellinger provides a nattery, chattery commentary on the film that offers some facts on the production and the stars but often segues into long-winded unnecessary discussions of everything from Barbara Bouchet’s career (while completely ignoring the presences of Stubby Kaye, Ben Vereen, Lee Roy Reams, and Suzanne Charny) to Italian neorealism. She also makes errors (saying Charity was the one Tony nominated role Gwen Verdon didn’t convert into a trophy; she didn’t win for Chicago either) and spends too much time describing what’s on the screen.

    I once reviewed a disc where she spoiled the endings of no less than five other films which were completely unrelated to the film being commented on, while failing to provide any sort of useful information about the actual film playing onscreen. After a couple other similar less-than-stellar listens, I resolved to pass up any review disc where I’d have to review another such commentary.

    I understand that everyone has a different approach to a track and there’s no one right way to record one, but I find it generally preferable when the commentator talks about the movie the commentary track is on.

  3. Josh Steinberg

    I once reviewed a disc where she spoiled the endings of no less than five other films which were completely unrelated to the film being commented on, while failing to provide any sort of useful information about the actual film playing onscreen. After a couple other similar less-than-stellar listens, I resolved to pass up any review disc where I'd have to review another such commentary.

    I understand that everyone has a different approach to a track and there's no one right way to record one, but I find it generally preferable when the commentator talks about the movie the commentary track is on.

    Yes, her commentaries are a chore, made equally so here since the movie she's nattering away at is lengthy.

  4. Kat Ellinger does excellent commentary tracks. Her commentaries on Altman’s Images, Vampyres, The Forbidden Photos of a Lady Above Suspicion are great.

    Also great video pieces on titles such as Crimson Peak, Kill Baby Kill.

    I’m sure she would apologize for any mistakes of facts etc.

    Her love for cinema to me is infectious. From horror, drama, classics, foreign and more transgressive cinema – Just check out some of her Daughters of Darkness Podcasts with co host Samm Deighan.

    Their topics range from Stephen Throwers Nightmare USA, to exploitation film and even more recently director John Hayes.

  5. Josh Steinberg

    […]I understand that everyone has a different approach to a track and there's no one right way to record one[…]

    Albeit, there's no one right way to record one. But there's definitely a wrong way; and Kat Ellinger is it.

  6. Matt Hough

    Yes, her commentaries are a chore, made equally so here since the movie she's nattering away at is lengthy.

    Maybe they cut the Entr'acte and Exit Music to spare us from hearing 7 more minutes of her commentaries.:D

  7. “Kat Ellinger provides a nattery, chattery commentary on the film that offers some facts on the production and the stars but often segues into long-winded unnecessary discussions of everything from Barbara Bouchet’s career”

    Barbara Bouchet!!
    We’re talking Kalinda from Star Trek here.

    I wouldn’t be able to talk about anything else either.

    Counting down to Aug 20th when I receive my Sweet Charity package!

  8. Kyrsten Brad

    Barbara Bouchet!!
    We’re talking Kalinda from Star Trek here.

    I wouldn’t be able to talk about anything else either.

    Barbara Bouchet from In Harm's Way too, but most of all Barbara Bouchet from those glamorous publicity shots taken while she was working in London. Alas! They seem all to have disappeared.

  9. She's undeniably beautiful, but her brief role in the film hardly justifies the amount of time Ellinger spends discussing her credits especially since Ricardo Montalban is the focus of their scenes together and she BARELY mentions him later in the commentary, and Stubby Kaye, with a much more substantial role in the movie, isn't mentioned at all.

  10. I found her commentary unlistenable. People can’t help physical characteristics, but I found her voice like listening to chalk on a blackboard, or the calming voice of the peacock! Maybe I couldn’t do better, but I do not profess to do so!

  11. Matt Hough

    She's undeniably beautiful, but her brief role in the film hardly justifies the amount of time Ellinger spends discussing her credits especially since Ricardo Montalban is the focus of their scenes together and she BARELY mentions him later in the commentary, and Stubby Kaye, with a much more substantial role in the movie, isn't mentioned at all.

    Thank goodness Julie Kirgo was brought in to do the essay for "Sweet Charity";
    otherwise, we might have ended up with a thesis on the career of Bud Cort and an asterisked footnote on Downton Abbey to remind a newer generation that this is the same Shirley MacLaine.:roll:

  12. PMF

    Thank goodness Julie Kirgo was brought in to do the essay for "Sweet Charity";
    otherwise, we might've ended up with a thesis on the career of Bud Cort and an asterisked footnote alerting younger generation viewers that Charity is being portrayed by the same Shirley MacLaine who was sometimes seen in Downton Abbey.:roll:

    And about halfway between those two came a little thing called Steel Magnolias. Even that would have been more relevant to a commentary that's supposedly about Sweet Charity. Where do they dig up these people? Couldn't they get, oh gee, just for an example, Shirley freakin' MacLaine? She's still alive, you know.

  13. It’s too bad that they couldn’t branch the happy ending onto disc one, so you can choose which version you’d like to see. And have disc 2 have the shorter, neighborhood theatres, version for comparison. But I will get it anyway.

  14. Adding to MatthewA’s comment

    And Chita Rivera, Paula Kelly, Ben Vereen, Le Roy Reams, Suzanne Charney, Barbara Bouchet and many of the other Fosse dancers. A missed opportunity.

  15. Kat Ellinger is likeable, but her dialect does strain one’s ears (curious in one who has such a knowledge of movies, since that tends to standardize one’s English.) Her true genre love seems to be cult films of the horror variety. I know some West Hollywood musical experts who’d work cheap!

  16. MatthewA

    And about halfway between those two came a little thing called Steel Magnolias. Even that would have been more relevant to a commentary that's supposedly about Sweet Charity. Where do they dig up these people? Couldn't they get, oh gee, just for an example, Shirley freakin' MacLaine? She's still alive, you know.

    For that matter, lets just go all the way back to1955 (in the DeLorean :rolling-smiley:) to Artists & Models (1955) and a young Shirley MacLaine (The Bat Lady) pursuing a young Jerry Lewis.
    Dang, she was cute back then.

  17. MatthewA

    And about halfway between those two came a little thing called Steel Magnolias. Even that would have been more relevant to a commentary that's supposedly about Sweet Charity. Where do they dig up these people? Couldn't they get, oh gee, just for an example, Shirley freakin' MacLaine? She's still alive, you know.

    Shirley was probably unavailable, off on a set somewhwere. She’s still cranking ‘em out every year, God lover her. :wub:

  18. JohnMor

    Shirley was probably unavailable, off on a set somewhwere. She’s still cranking ‘em out every year, God love her. :wub:

    She watching Hadestown with me in late May. She enjoyed it very much and had know idea Charity was coming out on Blu-Ray. I asked her. Lol

  19. Got my copy yesterday and am deeply disappointed by the very low audio level on the dialogue track. I'm fortunate to have an excellent 5.1 system and have never had this problem with other musicals, concerts or operas on Blu-ray. When I first noticed how low the dialogue was, I immediately fired up test tones and everything was fine. I also checked out the Roadshow's 2.0 track – it was slightly better. I then switched to the Alternate Edition disc. Same problem. Even checked out the Dolby Commentary track – that track was very loud. Something is very wrong. I've been a television producer for years, having worked on a number of musicals – and I do know audio mixes.

  20. Gary Press

    Got my copy yesterday and am deeply disappointed by the very low audio level on the dialogue track. I'm fortunate to have an excellent 5.1 system and have never had this problem with other musicals, concerts or operas on Blu-ray. When I first noticed how low the dialogue was, I immediately fired up test tones and everything was fine. I also checked out the Roadshow's 2.0 track – it was slightly better. I then switched to the Alternate Edition disc. Same problem. Even checked out the Dolby Commentary track – that track was very loud. Something is very wrong. I've been a television producer for years, having worked on a number of musicals – and I do know audio mixes.

    If you go to the Robert Harris thread you will see I said this exact thing yesterday. Put your response there because that's where the discussion is ongoing. I had to crank the volume up about ten db to get it to my normal listening level for other films. The French Blu-ray's sound isn't low – it's perfect.

  21. haineshisway

    If you go to the Robert Harris thread you will see I said this exact thing yesterday. Put your response there because that's where the discussion is ongoing. I had to crank the volume up about ten db to get it to my normal listening level for other films. The French Blu-ray's sound isn't low – it's perfect.

    So essentially we have perfect video on the Kino and perfect audio on the French. Ugh! Well, the French will have to see me through until I get a really good sale price on the Kino.

  22. The good news is it looks and sounds beautiful! It looks like 70mm. The colors and detail are incredible perfection. You can see every freckle on Shirley MacLaine. I enjoy the vintage documentaries and value their inclusion. It’s strange that on the roadshow version, they have the same title card and black section that is on the bootleg version on YouTube and the previous versions — minus the music! It’s like they just decided to leave it off. Very disappointing. Also, I don’t understand why Kino has decided to use commentators lately who only want to discuss the psychological and social meanings of the story and give you very little background on the actual production or the actors. I don’t think she even mentioned Stubby Kaye’s name.

  23. The good news is it looks and sounds beautiful! It looks like 70mm. Visually it is absolutely stunning. The colors and detail are incredible perfection. You can see every freckle on Shirley MacLaine. I enjoy the vintage documentaries and value their inclusion. It’s strange that on the roadshow version, they have the same title card and black section that is on the bootleg version on YouTube and the previous versions — minus the music! It’s like they just decided to leave it off. Very disappointing. Also, I don’t understand why Kino has decided to use commentators lately who only want to discuss the psychological and social meanings of the story and give you very little background on the actual production or the actors. I don’t think she even mentioned Stubby Kaye’s name.

  24. My “favourite” part of the commentary was the interminable comparison with the Fellini original, which I have heard of but never seen. How about including it for an extra if so many references were to be made. It certainly was valuable to see Lillom on the Carousel Blu ray.

  25. “Got my copy yesterday and am deeply disappointed by the very low audio level on the dialogue track. I’m fortunate to have an excellent 5.1 system and have never had this problem with other musicals, concerts or operas on Blu-ray. When I first noticed how low the dialogue was, I immediately fired up test tones and everything was fine. I also checked out the Roadshow’s 2.0 track – it was slightly better. I then switched to the Alternate Edition disc. Same problem. Even checked out the Dolby Commentary track – that track was very loud. Something is very wrong. I’ve been a television producer for years, having worked on a number of musicals – and I do know audio mixes.”

    I agree. This is the worst sound ever. Muffled, it sounds like it was recorded/dubbed in a tiny room far away. Music overwhelms dialogue.

  26. MDS

    It's too bad that they couldn't branch the happy ending onto disc one, so you can choose which version you'd like to see. And have disc 2 have the shorter, neighborhood theatres, version for comparison. But I will get it anyway.

    Yeah-Wasn't that part of the Blu Ray experience?

  27. PMF

    Albeit, there's no one right way to record one. But, by most accounts, there's definitely a wrong way; and Kat Ellinger is it.:D

    By some accounts, maybe. But Ellinger is rather well-respected in other circles, and certainly is held in high regard amongst a sizable group of her peers. Obviously, we're all entitled to our opinions, but know that there are plenty out there who would disagree with the vitriol being thrown her way here.

  28. MaxMorrow

    By some accounts, maybe. But Ellinger is rather well-respected in other circles, and certainly is held in high regard amongst a sizable group of her peers. Obviously, we're all entitled to our opinions, but know that there are plenty out there who would disagree with the vitriol being thrown her way here.

    Do note that I am all in for each and everyone's enjoyments of their particular tastes.
    If I am out with a group at a Steakhouse and the waiter asks us all, "How do you want your steak prepared?";
    you will never find me objecting as to how you or others might choose to enjoy their individual feast and fare.
    Now, I may make note that some prefer their steak the same way as I do;
    while others may have a clearly different preference.
    And no doubt, either one or more at the table may say, "Really? You like your steak that way? Not I."
    But, at least for me, that's where it stops;
    as I am never one who tries to sway another away from what makes them happiest.
    All kinds of tastes, all kinds of contributions; but never should there be a throwing out of the baby with the bathwater.
    Although, on the other hand, when it gets to discussions about a university punishing a deceased actor for 1915;
    or a Gary Barber type who sits idly by, while enabling and hastening vinegar syndrome upon a studio's OCN heritage;
    or my boycotts against piracy and thefts of intellectual properties;
    then, yes, that's when I want to impose a one-sided view with the hopes of swaying and influencing others.
    But never, my good Mr. Morrow, would I want to steer a fan away from anything or anyone that's given them pleasure.:thumbs-up-smiley:

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