Bugsy Malone (1976)
Bugsy Bugs Me
Suddenly everybody wants to be in show business - Tallulah
A gangster movie starring children, it's a novel idea which could work. And to be honest for about the first 20 minutes "Bugsy Malone" does work with plenty of amusement coming from children acting like gangsters straight out of the prohibition era, gang warfare involving Splurge guns and a surprising amount of musical numbers. But sadly the novelty wears off and where as the children acting like gangsters is amusing, the high pitched voices and dodgy accents becomes annoying as does the ultimately pointless storyline. What remains is some catchy tunes and musical scenes as well as a performance from Jodie Foster as Tallulah which stands out from the rest.
There is a turf war going on and local boss Fat Sam (John Cassisi) finds his empire under attack from new comer Dandy Dan (Martin Lev) who unleashes their new weapon, the Splurge gun, on Sam and his heavies. In the midst of this turf war is Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) who having met wannabe singer and actress Blousey Brown (Florrie Dugger) promises that he will get her a job at Fat Sam's bar. But whilst Bugsy and Blousey hit it off the vampish Tallulah (Jodie Foster - Taxi Driver) has her sights set on Bugsy. And to make matters worse Bugsy finds himself being drawn into the turf war as Fat Sam employs him.
Okay so the big selling point when it comes to "Bugsy Malone" is that we have a gangster story acted out by children. That actual gangster story isn't really that special and reminds me of the later "The Cotton Club". So what you get is one boss being threatened by a new boss in town who is trying to take over his business by any means necessary, which usually means attacking his men with Splurge guns. And accompanying this is the story of Bugsy Malone himself, a ladies man who falls for wannabee starlet Blousey Brown but finds himself drawn into the trouble thanks to mob boss Fat Sam and the flirtatious Tallulah. It is shall we say a very simple storyline and in a way you don't expect it to be any more complex because "Bugsy Malone" is all about filling kids imagination with thoughts of being gangsters.
What makes "Bugsy Malone" more interesting is the various musical numbers which litter the movie. Now it has to be said that some musical numbers are much better than others, the solemn song sung by the cleaner at Fat Sam's bar is really nice and the whole song and dance numbers such as "My Name is Tallulah" and "So You Wanna be a Boxer" are a couple of the best parts of the movie. But there are some such as "You Give a Little Love" which don't work and the reason why some of the musical numbers are better than others is down to how well the young stars manage to act out the songs. Jodie Foster looks like she is really singing "My Name is Tallulah" but sadly every time that Florrie Dugger has a musical number it feels lifeless and false.
But the big selling point when it comes to "Bugsy Malone" is that this is a gangster movie featuring children and as such adapted into a child's world. And as already mentioned that novelty works to start with but after about 20 minutes it wears off. The trouble is that the children such as Florrie Dugger, Martin Lev and John Cassisi all create amusing characters especially John Cassisi as Fat Sam but the amusement fades and some of them end up becoming annoying with their dodgy accents. Even Scott Baio as Bugsy Malone ends up grating with all the over the top slickness and false mannerisms. Now maybe director Alan Parker wanted almost caricature like characters and encouraged the young actors to go over the top but for me it ruined what started out so well.
On the other hand there is Jodie Foster as Tallulah who just shines through out "Bugsy Malone". To put it simply Foster delivers every aspect of a confident actress who knows what her character is about. There is no over acting just scene after scene of solid acting and in those musical numbers she brings every ounce of a 1920s showgirl to her performance, flirting with her audience in an astonishingly great way. It is very much Jodie Foster's performance which for me keeps "Bugsy Malone" an average movie rather than one which is less than average.
What this all boils down to is that "Bugsy Malone" starts well but the novelty of children as gangsters soon wears thin and as such the weaknesses in the movie from the simple storyline and over acting start to really show. It is mainly down to some memorable musical numbers and an astonishingly good performance from a young Jodie Foster which makes "Bugsy Malone" an entertaining but average movie.
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