Something of a late ‘60s time capsule (for better & for worse), Bob Fosse’s directing debut came close to ending his film career. It sure threw Shirley MacLaine for a loop, downsizing her to tv before she took a five year sabbatical. Whatever happened? Fosse had a big B’way success on this adaptation of Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA/’57 that turned Giulietta Masini’s too-trusting tart into an NYC taxi-dancer, giving his fabulous wife, Gwen Verdon, the lead. (Tantalizing, incomplete clips of her in ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ are on YOUTUBE.) But on this first pic, Fosse tries too hard to make everything ‘filmic’ and New Wavy, with zoomy zooms, reversed footage, daft angles and Sammy Davis, Jr., all in those day-glo period colors & costumes. Worse, in the age of the RoadShow movie-musical, even a family unfriendly production was expected to come in two sizes too large & 40 minutes too long. Shirley MacLaine gives it her all; that’s a problem, too. Her natural kook routine had hardened into a commodity and she never developed the musical-comedy ‘chops’ to reenforce her instinctual gifts. Maybe if Fosse had some idea of where to plant the camera, he might have run cover for her. But can' find a decent angle until well into the second half, leaving her horribly exposed. Check out the little subway scene between MacLaine & her nice boy friend to see the difference a couple of good camera placements can make. Then Fosse tosses in another needless large-scale production number that ignores his principals, leaving them, and us, stranded. On stage, this gave Gwen a breathing break; on screen, it’s what you leave on the cutting room floor.
SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Future star spotters can find early appearances from Ben Vereen (dancing in ‘Rich Man’s Frug,’ one of those good, but dispensable numbers) and the remarkably open face of young Bud Cort, playing a Flower Child. Best of all, at least for B’way mavens, is a chance to see WEST SIDE STORY’s original Anita, Chita Rivera, stealing every bit of ‘There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This’ which Fosse seems to have modeled on Jerome Robbins’ choreography for ‘America.’ Chita not only outdances co-stars MacLaine &; Paula Kelly, but also any memory of Rita Moreno playing her part in the movie version of WSS.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: As mentioned, Fellini’s NIGHTS OF CABIRIA/’57, with Mrs. Fellini, Giulietta Masini.