Cabaret (1972)

Cabaret is a musical set in 1930s Berlin. It explores a few stories, primarily one involving a cabaret dancer named Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli, for which she won an Oscar) and an English man named Brian (Michael York, who would later find his niche in the Austin Powers movies as Basil). One of the underlying themes throughout the movie is the rising power of Nazis in 1930s Germany, and it may be that historical aspect that really drives the movie home for me.

The movie is interesting among musicals because all of the songs (and dances) take place in the realm of realism. Every single song, save for one, is performed onstage at the Kit Kat Klub, and almost all of them involve the Master of Ceremonies played by Joel Grey. Grey, whose daughter Jennifer later starred in Dirty Dancing, is hands down the single greatest highlight of the film. The MC introduces the film and serves as a binding thread throughout the various different segments and tangents of the movie. Grey is energetic, charming as hell, and a fantastic host for this kind of movie. Whether he’s in drag or singing about his menage a trois, he lights up the screen and commands full attention. Grey also won an Oscar for his performance, and his performance is truly deserving. of it

Besides Grey, there’s still plenty to enjoy in the movie. Minelli is fantastic as Bowles, creating a character who is simultaneously enticing and frustrating through her textbook narcissistic personality disorder. York is also quietly charming, and you really feel for this guy whose life is turned upside down due to the decadence and enticement of the cabaret. The songs are memorable and catchy, and the camera work only excels the action during the various stage antics.

The movie slows down a bit when it delves deeper into the threeway relationship between Minelli, York, and a rich bisexual tempter played by Helmut Griem, but that storyline ends with a bang that ultimately justifies the time spent dwelling on it. The movie itself ends with an ominous look forward toward the future of Nazi Germany, one where Joel Grey’s MC will surely not be tolerated, and one where we can only hope the secondary Jewish characters who end up getting wed can escape and survive.

Cabaret is a fantastic musical, stringing entertaining musical numbers together with a number of interesting storylines, a glance at historical cause-and-effect, and all-around fantastic performances by the entire cast. I strongly recommend anyone and everyone see this movie.

Final rating: 9/10

–James A. Janisse





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