Theatrical release poster by Charles Moll
|Directed by||Alan Parker|
|Produced by||Alan Marshall|
|Written by||Alan Parker|
|Music by||Paul Williams|
|Edited by||Gerry Hambling|
|Distributed by||Fox-Rank Distributors (United Kingdom)|
Paramount Pictures (United States)
|Box office||$2.8 million|
Bugsy Malone is a 1976 musical gangster comedy film written and directed by Alan Parker. The film was Parker's feature film directorial debut. A co-production of United States and United Kingdom, it features child actors playing adult roles, with Jodie Foster, Scott Baio, John Cassisi, and Martin Lev in major roles. The film tells the story of the rise of "Bugsy Malone" and the battle for power between "Fat Sam" and "Dandy Dan".
Set in New York City, it is a gangster movie spoof, substituting whipped cream "guns" for machine guns firing bullets. The film is based loosely on events in New York and Chicago during Prohibition era, specifically the exploits of real-life gangsters such as Al Capone and Bugs Moran. Parker lightened the subject matter considerably for the children's market, and the film received a G rating in the U.S.
Bugsy Malone premiered at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival, where it competed for the Palme d'Or. The film was released theatrically in the UK on July 12, 1976 by Fox-Rank Distributors, and in the U.S. by Paramount Pictures. The film was a commercial success in the UK but not in other territories. It received acclaim from critics for its screenplay, musical numbers, unique narrative and performances of the cast (particularly Foster's).
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. In 2008, Empire ranked it 353rd on their list of 500 greatest movies of all time. The film received eight nominations at the 30th British Academy Film Awards, including Best Film and won three: Best Supporting Actress and Most Promising Newcomer to Leading Film Roles for Foster and Best Screenplay for Parker. The film also received three nominations at the 34th Golden Globe Awards including Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
A mobster named Roxy Robinson is "splurged" by members of a gang, using rapid-fire cream-shooting "splurge guns". Once splurged, a kid is "all washed up... finished". Speakeasy boss Fat Sam introduces himself and Bugsy Malone, a boxing promoter with no money ("Bugsy Malone").
At Fat Sam's speakeasy, there is much dancing and singing ("Fat Sam's Grand Slam"). Fat Sam is worried that his rival Dandy Dan will try to take control of the speakeasy. Blousey Brown, an aspiring singer, has come for an audition, but Sam is too distracted to see her. Bugsy meets Blousey when he trips over her luggage. He is smitten and flirts with her. Fat Sam's is raided by Dandy Dan's men, who shoot up the place. Dandy Dan's men continue to attack Fat Sam's empire, eventually taking away rackets and splurging members of Fat Sam's gang. Fat Sam sends all his available men to see if they can track down the guns. They are trapped at a laundry and all are splurged by Dandy Dan's gang.
Bugsy returns to Fat Sam's to arrange a new audition for Blousey. Fat Sam's girlfriend, the chanteuse Tallulah, makes a pass at him. Although Bugsy rejects her flirtation, Tallulah plants a big kiss on Bugsy's forehead when Blousey enters; Blousey is jealous. Fat Sam hires Blousey after her audition, but she refuses to speak to Bugsy ("I'm Feelin' Fine").
Fat Sam hires Bugsy to accompany him to a meeting with Dandy Dan. The meeting is a trap, but Bugsy helps Fat Sam escape. Gratefully, Fat Sam pays him $200. Bugsy and Blousey reconcile and have a romantic outing on a lake; Bugsy promises to take her to Hollywood. When he returns Sam's car to the garage, he is attacked and his money is stolen. Bugsy is saved by Leroy Smith, who assaults the attackers and drives them away. Bugsy realizes that Leroy has the potential to be a great boxer. Bugsy introduces Leroy to Cagey Joe and helps him train ("So You Wanna Be a Boxer?"). Fat Sam again seeks Bugsy's aid after his assistant Knuckles is unintentionally killed. Bugsy resists, but Fat Sam offers $400, enough money to keep his promise to Blousey. Blousey is disappointed when she learns that Bugsy hasn't bought the tickets to California yet ("Ordinary Fool"). Bugsy and Leroy follow Dandy Dan's men to a warehouse, where the guns are being stashed. The two of them can't take the place alone, so Bugsy recruits a large group of down-and-out workers at a soup kitchen ("Down and Out").
They steal the crates of guns and take them to Fat Sam's, arriving just as Dandy Dan's gang arrives. Chaos ensues as a massive splurge gun fight erupts, covering everyone (except Bugsy and Blousey) with cream. Unarmed patrons throw cream pies. The piano player is hit from behind and falls onto the keys, striking a single bass note. The tone silences the room, and the cream-covered crowd performs in a final number ("You Give a Little Love"). They realize they can all be friends, and Bugsy and Blousey leave for Hollywood.
Bugsy Malone was Alan Parker's first feature film. Parker was trying to find a film project that was not "parochial" and decided upon an American gangster setting: "I had four young children and we used to go to a cottage in Derbyshire at weekends. On the long, boring car journey up there, I started telling them the story of a gangster called Bugsy Malone. They'd ask me questions and I'd make up answers, based on my memories of watching old movie reruns as a kid." His eldest son suggested children should be cast as the "heroes".
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". The students were unanimous in selecting John Cassisi, and Parker gave him the role. Florrie Dugger (Blousey) originally was cast in a smaller role; when the actress cast as Blousey suddenly grew taller than Baio, Dugger was promoted. She had been "discovered" at RAF Chicksands, an air force base in Bedfordshire where her American father was stationed. At the time of filming, all of the cast were under 17 years old.
Parker cast Baio after he slammed down the script and stormed out of his audition. Baio later remembered:
I had quit the business, because I didn't like driving into Manhattan. Well, the long and the short of it is that I wanted to play with my friends after school, but it happened to be raining that day, so I went to the city to meet with Alan Parker. I read it, but I just barely read it. I didn't even want to be there. He was English, but I didn't even know what that was. He was just this weird guy with long hair, and I didn't know what he was. [Laughs.] So I sort of read the script, threw it at him, and walked out the door. That was it: I'd gotten the part before I got home.
Parker chose 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 film A Star Is Born (1976).
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 the first pre-shoot rehearsals, the songs had to be accepted and used as they were, with voices by Williams, Archie Hahn and others.
Neither the director nor the songwriter were 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 film was rehearsed and shot in England, largely on Pinewood Studios' "H" stage, with locations in Black Park Country Park (Wexham, Buckinghamshire) and primarily the former Huntley & Palmers buildings in Reading, Berkshire.
The "splurge firearm" proved to be problematic. After initial experiments with cream-filled wax balls proved painful, Parker decided to abandon the idea of filming the firearms directly. Instead, the firearms 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 firearms.
Baio later said making the film was "awesome":
A kid's fantasy: You get to dress up as gangster, you get to shoot guns that fire whipped cream, you get to drive cars with pedals that look like real cars, and you get to talk like a grown-up. I mean, you couldn't ask for a better first big gig. Talk about getting you hooked on a business! It was fantastic.
On Rotten Tomatoes, Bugsy Malone currently holds a score of 83% based on 23 reviews, with an average rating of 6.54/10.
Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and called it "a charming one" with "yet another special performance by Jodie Foster." Gene Siskel also gave the film three-and-a-half stars out of four and said that "what makes 'Bugsy Malone' really worth watching--as opposed to being just a cute idea--are the fine performers, terrific choreography, catchy songs, and bright photography."Variety wrote that the film had "charm, neat acting by an all-youngster cast, a tongue-in-cheek script and dialog, lilting songs and score," but that audiences may find it "a bit fragile over its hour-and-a-half duration, and its content and approach just that bit too clever."Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote "The world that Alan Parker has created in 'Bugsy Malone' is very peculiar indeed, but he is remarkably successful considering the terrible odds against such a stunt in the first place." Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times called it "a rare, original, tuneful, lighthearted, charming and preposterously innocent family film." Gary Arnold of The Washington Post panned the film as "a freakish embarrassment" and an "icky misconception," though he singled out Jodie Foster for praise as an actress whose "precociousness is truly extraordinary."Pauline Kael of The New Yorker called the film "nothing but its godawful idea," writing "We're not watching actors in a story, we're watching kids doing a stunt, and so we're primed to ooh and aah, the way the audience does for a chimp on the Carson show."
Bugsy Malone was not a commercial success in the U.S., bringing in just over $2.7 million. Paramount gave it a limited release, usually in second-tier theaters in a double-bill with The Bad News Bears, which had been out for six months and was no longer much of a draw. According to Parker, the film was "quite successful" in the United Kingdom. By 1985, it had earned an estimated profit of £1,854,000.
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, and an Oscar for "Best Original Song Score" (Paul Williams). The film was in competition for the Palme d'Or at the 1976 Cannes Film Festival. Jodie Foster received 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. Alan Parker received the BAFTA Award for Best Original Screenplay, and a nomination for Best Direction. Geoffrey Kirkland won the BAFTA Award for Best Production Design. Additionally, Paul Williams received a nomination for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, and Monica Howe a Best Costume Design nomination. The film received a Best Picture nomination.
In the early 1980s, Bugsy Malone was released on VHS. On 16 April 1996, it was re-released by Paramount on VHS. A region 2 DVD has been available since 2003 and although the film has never been released on Region 1 DVD, it has been available through Internet sites as an Asian import supporting Region 1 (US). On 9 September 2008, Arista/SME 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.
The album was originally released as an LP in 1976. In March 1996, Polydor UK released the soundtrack on CD.
A cast recording of the National Youth Music Theatre stage 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, with music arranged by John Pearson.
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. In 2005 Bugsy Malone was voted 39th on a list of the 100 greatest family films (also compiled by Channel 4) ahead of Beetlejuice and The Princess Bride and behind Bedknobs and Broomsticks and It's a Wonderful Life. 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 in two forms. A 2003 television 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. The documentary reported that Dugger, who (unlike her co-stars) had never acted again, had chosen to pursue a career in the United States Air Force Medical Service.
In 2010, UK band Silvery included a cover of "You Give a Little Love" on their second album Railway Architecture, and Olly Murs, runner-up in the 2009 UK series of The X Factor, sampled "So You Wanna Be a Boxer" in his song "Hold On" that can be found on his debut album.
In 2017, the song "You Give A Little Love" was sung by a children's chorus at the end of a Netflix Black Mirror episode (Season 4 episode 3 "Crocodile").
Some time in the 2000s, Coca-Cola Ltd. (Canada) made an animated ad using 'You Give A Little Love' that was only screened in movie theaters before any trailers.
Parker wrote the book for a stage adaptation of Bugsy Malone, using Williams' music. This premiered in the West End in 1983 at Her Majesty's Theatre and ran for 300 performances. It was directed by Michael Dolenz and the cast featured Catherine Zeta-Jones as Tallulah. In 1997, the National Youth Music Theatre mounted an all-youth version. It was revived at the Queen's Theatre in 1997, starring Sheridan Smith and Jamie Bell. Another revival played in 2015 and again in 2016 at the Lyric Hammersmith theatre, where it was nominated for the Olivier Award for best musical revival.