Life & Culture

Cabaret film review: 'Timely and unflinchingly hard-hitting even 50 years later'

Bob Fosse’s iconic musical film makes a welcome return to the big screen this week to celebrate its 50th anniversary


Liza Minnelli in Cabaret

To mark its 50th anniversary, Bob Fosse’s iconic musical film Cabaret will be making a welcome return to the big screen nation-wide from this week.

On top of huge critical acclaim on its release, Cabaret won a total of eight Oscars, including Best Director for Fosse and Best Actress for Broadway legend Liza Minnelli. Jewish actor-dancer-singer Joel Grey took home the Best Supporting Actor prize for his electric turn as Master of Ceremonies, a role he has reprised several times since on Broadway.

Set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic and under the threat of rising Nazi ideology, Cabaret is based on the 1966 Broadway musical of the same name by Kander and Ebb (Chicago, Zorba, Kiss of the Spider Woman). The show itself was adapted from Christopher Isherwood’s 1945 semi-autobiographical anthology The Berlin Stories.

Set in Berlin 1931, where young American singer Sally Bowles (Minelli, pictured) is a regular performer at the Kit Kat Klub, the city’s foremost hedonistic night spot.

Sally’s life is turned upside down by the arrival of handsome, but reserved British writer Brian Roberts (Michael York) who moves into the boarding house where she lives.

After a fleeting affair, Sally admits defeat when Brian confesses that his sexual preferences lie elsewhere.

Minelli’s spellbinding performance coupled with Fosse’s impeccable artistic direction and gorgeously intricate show tunes make this into one of the most loved musicals of all time.

Capturing the wild and decadent nightlife of Weimar Berlin in all its glory, the film has a certain end of days feel about it throughout.

As Sally and Brian begin to wonder about their future and safety in Nazi Germany, it suddenly seems like it could already be too late for those around them who have nowhere to run. This is demonstrated in a subplot in which Fritz (Fritz Wepper), a German Jew passing as Christian falls for Natalia (Marisa Berenson), a Jewish heiress who doesn’t know about his secret.

With a heavy sense of impending doom running through its narrative, Cabaret is still both timely and unflinchingly hard-hitting even 50 years later.

Fosse’s film is as timeless as it is of its moment all the while attempting to do something truly unique and spectacular with the genre. A true masterpiece that deserves to be seen on the biggest screen you can find.

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