Bugsy Malone movie poster
|Directed by||Alan Parker|
|Produced by||Alan Marshall|
|Written by||Alan Parker
Paul Williams (Lyrics)
and Martin Lev
as Dandy Dan
|Music by||Paul Williams|
|Editing by||Gerry Hambling|
Robert Stigwood Organisation
|Distributed by||Fox-Rank (UK)
Paramount Pictures (USA)
|Release date(s)||September 15, 1976 (USA)|
|Running time||93 min.|
Bugsy Malone is a 1976 musical film, very loosely based on events in Chicago, Illinois in the Prohibition era, specifically the exploits of gangsters like Al Capone, as dramatized in cinema. Featuring only children, director Alan Parker lightened the subject matter considerably for the children's market; the film received a G rating.
This was the first feature film for Parker, and introduced actor Scott Baio as well (it is Baio's first listed credit at the IMDb). It also featured Jodie Foster (already a veteran actress at the time) near the beginning of her transition from television child star to award-winning film actress; she was awarded two BAFTAs (see Awards, below).
The film opens with a brief action sequence in which a gangster (Roxy Robinson) is "splurged" by a rival gang of mobsters (Dandy Dan's gang) using rapid-fire custard-shooting "splurge guns". (Once splurged, a kid is "all washed up" and his career in crime is over—the splurged gangsters are never shown as dead or even unconscious, merely "finished".)
At Fat Sam's, there is much dancing and singing, but Sam himself is worried about his rival Dandy Dan. He has just found out about the splurged gangster, who was one of his men. Blousey Brown, an aspiring singer, has come for an audition, but Sam is too distracted. Our hero, Bugsy Malone, cutely meets Blousey when he trips over her luggage. He is smitten, and flirts with her, but she plays hard-to-get. Suddenly, Fat Sam's is raided by Dandy Dan's men, who shoot the place up. Sam declares, "This means WAR!"
Bugsy offers Blousey a lift home (although he actually has no money for cab fare). At a cafe, Bugsy explains that he is a boxing promoter—he finds and develops raw, talented boxers and helps them with their careers. Then Bugsy demonstrates his (allegedly) criminal nature, by trapping the waitress in a phone booth, as they skip the check.
Sam and his girl Tallulah leave the bar, where Fizzy the caretaker sings about how he never gets a chance to audition and is always told to come back tomorrow, and being a dancer, while a chorus girl dances slowly. Blousey finds more disappointment in her job search; when she argues with Bugsy, he tells her he knows Sam, and can arrange another audition for her.
Meanwhile, Dandy Dan's men continue to attack Fat Sam's empire, eventually taking away even his "sarsparilla" and grocery-store rackets, and splurging most of Sam's gang. During one such raid, Dan's man Doodle accidentally drops one of the splurge guns, which had been kept secret from Sam. For this bungle, Doodle is wiped out by the gang (Custard Pied), after Dan places a rose in the buttonhole of each member except him.
Fat Sam calls his gang in and has now learned of the guns. He reacts by sending all his available men to see if they can track down the guns; only his right-hand man Knuckles remains with him. At a Chinese Laundry, the men are trapped, and all splurged by Dan's gang.
Back at Sam's, Bugsy has come to arrange Blousey's audition. There, he finds Tallulah instead, who tells him that she likes him. Although Bugsy rejects her flirtation, when Blousey enters, Tallulah plants a big kiss on Bugsy's forehead, leaving a very visible lipstick mark. She thus succeeds at making Blousey jealous. Blousey manages an audition at Fat Sam's Speakeasy. Sam has decided to call in an outside "expert" by the name of Looney Bergonzi. Rejected by Blousey after he tries to explain, Bugsy runs into Sam, who hires him to come along to a meeting with Dandy Dan. This meeting turns out to be a trap. Looney is quickly wiped out by Dan's men, but Bugsy helps Sam escape. Gratefully, Sam pays him $200 and lends him his car as a bonus. Tallulah gets a solo on the stage when the speakeasy is full again.
Bugsy and Blousey reconcile, and have a lunch and a romantic outing on the lake. Back in the city, Bugsy promises to buy tickets for them to leave for Hollywood. However, when he returns Sam's car to the garage, he is attacked, and his money stolen. He is saved by one Leroy Smith, who punches his attackers; seeing this, Bugsy realizes he has the makings of a great boxer and helps him begin training at Joe's Gym. Cagey Joe (the owner of the gym) tests Leroy to see if he has what it takes to be a boxer.
Sam once again enlists Bugsy's aid, offering him $400 this time, but Blousey is not happy to hear of the delay, and hangs up on him and she is angry with herself for thinking that she could trust Bugsy. Bugsy and Leroy then follow Dan's men to Dock 17, where they discover the guns are being stashed. The two of them can't take the place alone, so Bugsy and Leroy find a large group of down-and-out workers who are having their free lunch and Bugsy persuades them to join him. Bugsy manages to enlist the aid of this army of down-and-out workers, including Baby-Face, who agree to take on Dandy Dan's gang at the warehouse.
They steal the crates of guns, and return with them to Fat Sam's, just in time to meet Dan's gang as they've come to finish off Sam once and for all. Chaos breaks out, with cream flying in every direction; everyone is covered in the melee of custard. Eventually, the piano player Razmataz gets their attention and stops the fight with a single, ringing piano note, and all present realize they can be friends. Blousey and Bugsy then escape to Hollywood, and the credits roll.
Bugsy Malone was Alan Parker's first feature film. Parker was trying to find a film which his children would enjoy, and his eldest son suggested one featuring a cast of only children.
The director chose to cast several unknown actors in the film. To find his Fat Sam, Parker visited a Brooklyn classroom, asking for "the naughtiest boy in class". They were unanimous in selecting John Cassissi, and Parker gave him the role. Actress Florie Dugger was originally cast in a smaller role; when the actress cast as Blousey suddenly grew taller than Baio, Dugger was promoted. At the time they filmed, all of the cast were under 17 years old.
Parker made the somewhat unusual choice of Paul Williams to score the film in order to get a more "palatable" modern sound, and simply because he liked him. Williams had scored Brian De Palma's commercial failure Phantom of the Paradise, but had also written huge pop-radio hits (such as We've Only Just Begun (lyrics), and (Just An) Old Fashioned Love Song). In fact, Williams would soon win an Oscar for his song Evergreen from the 1976 film A Star Is Born. (He would also go on to become very well known for his work in children's films, such as The Rainbow Connection from his score for The Muppet Movie).
Williams felt that "...the challenge for me was to provide songs that reflected the period ... and yet maintained an energy that would hold the young audiences attention." According to Parker, Williams was writing while on tour, recording songs in different cities, and sending the completed tapes to Hollywood. Arriving during pre-shoot rehearsals, the songs had to be accepted and used as they were, with voices by Paul, Archie Hahn and others.
Neither the director nor the songwriter was entirely comfortable with the results. Williams later wrote "I'm really proud of the work and the only thing I've ever doubted is the choice of using adult voices. Perhaps I should have given the kids a chance to sing the songs." Parker also commented: "Watching the film after all these years, this is one aspect that I find the most bizarre. Adult voices coming out of these kids' mouths? I had told Paul that I didn't want squeaky kids voices and he interpreted this in his own way. Anyway, as the tapes arrived, scarcely weeks away from filming, we had no choice but to go along with it!"
The "splurge guns" proved to be problematic. After initial experiments with cream-filled wax balls proved painful, Parker decided to abandon the idea of filming the guns directly. Instead, the guns fired ping-pong balls, and a fast cut to a victim being pelted with "splurge" was used to convey the impression of the rapid-firing guns.
Released in 1977, the film was a modest success, bringing in just over $2.7 million in the US. However, Paramount released it limited, usually dumping it onto second-tier theaters in a double-bill with The Bad News Bears, which had already been out for six months, and was no longer much of a draw. The film performed well in the UK, however, and was also big in Japan.
The film garnered 15 award nominations, including "Best Motion Picture (Musical/Comedy)", "Best Original Score" and "Best Original Song" (for the title track) from the Golden Globes, an Oscar for "Best Original Song Score" (Paul Williams), and the prestigious Golden Palm at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Actress Jodie Foster was the only one to win, receiving two BAFTAs, "Best Supporting Actress" and "Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles", however, both her nominations were for her previous year's work in Taxi Driver in addition to her work on Bugsy Malone.
In the early eighties, the movie was released on VHS. On April 16, 1996, it was re-released by Paramount on VHS. Although the movie has never been commercially released on DVD in the US, it has been available through Internet sites as an Asian import supporting Region 1 (US). On September 9, 2008, BMG/Arista released a Blu-Ray version, encoded for "all regions", as a United Kingdom import. This edition includes a director's commentary as well as other special features; however, as of October, 2009, the blu-ray version has been discontinued. A US DVD (Region 1) release was listed around 2003/04 as being available soon, however the movie has yet to be released in this format.
In March 1996, Polydor UK released the soundtrack on CD. It has yet to be released in the US on CD but is available through various outlets as an import. It was released as an LP in 1976. Performers include Paul Williams, Archie Hahn, Julie McWirder, and Liberty Williams. The track listing is:
A cast recording of the National Youth Music Theatre Stage Show version of Bugsy Malone was released in 1998. Like the stage show, this recording featured two songs originally written by Williams, but not used in the film: That's Why They Call Him Dandy, and Show Business. (There is also some additional incidental orchestral score, such as an Overture and Exit Music.)
In 2003, Bugsy Malone was voted #19 on a list of the 100 greatest musicals, as chosen by viewers of Channel 4 in the UK, placing it higher than The Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and The King and I. Bugsy Malone ranks 353rd on Empire Magazine's 2008 list of the 500 greatest movies of all time.
Bugsy Malone has been adapted into a stage show. A TV documentary called Bugsy Malone: After They Were Famous features a reunion and interviews with Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, John Cassisi and Florrie Dugger. The British actors who played Fat Sam's gang are also reunited at Pinewood Studios. It was aired in December 2004 on ITV in the UK.
In 2007 during the Super Bowl XLI, an animated Coca-Cola commercial was based around the song You Give a Little Love from Bugsy Malone. It was animated to look like the action computer game Grand Theft Auto. But they replaced the character's normal actions of anger and crime with opposite redeeming actions. The version of the song in the commercial features vocals by Moses Patrou. The episode "Dissolution" of Spaced, a British situation comedy written by and starring Simon Pegg and Jessica Stevenson, pays a subtle and brief homage to Bugsy Malone. A cake fight occurs during Daisy's birthday dinner. The waiter signals angrily to the pianist to end the fight. The brief piano piece heard at the end of Bugsy Malone's final splurge gun fight and as an incidental throughout the movie is played.
The 13th track on British rapper Dizzee Rascal's 2007 album, Maths + English, entitled 'Wanna Be' references the Bugsy Malone track 'So You Wanna be a Boxer'. The song "Ordinary Fool" has been performed on recordings by Karen Carpenter, Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé.
The Swedish EBM band Spetsnaz performed a cover of "Down and Out", which was released as an extra track on the "Hardcore Hooligans" single. The Newcastle based band Moira Stewart (named after the British newsreader) included a cover of "You Give A Little Love" (with a slight change of title to simply "Give A Little Love") on their début album "Sweetness, Yes!".
In the 2009 comedy, In the Loop, a character played by Gina McKee remarks, after seeing that most of the top positions in D.C. are staffed by young college graduates, "They're all kids in Washington. It's like Bugsy Malone, but with real guns."
There are many scenes which resemble those from 'The Godfather', for example the scene in which the young Vito Carleone steals a rug is mimicked in Bugsy Malone when the characters carry a similar looking rug up a similar flight of stairs.
Bugsy Malone 'splurge' guns are based on the Thompson sub-machine gun