Film review: Bugsy Malone (1976), written and directed by Alan Parker, music by Paul Williams
“Never work with animals or children” is a saying in film, and what did Alan Parker go and do with his gangster musical? Made a whole feature length film where every single role is played by children. Not an easy feat, but what an incredible result!
Bugsy Malone is about two rival gangster gangs in the 1920s Prohibition era. One of the gangs is lead by Fat Sam (John Cassisi), owner of a speakeasy, an illegal bar. The other is lead by the posh man Dandy Dan (Martin Lev). The danger is not to get shot, but rather “splurged” – in a very child-friendly manner the guns are merely filled with cream. Once you’re hit, your career is finished, so no one dies or gets injured, but they’re still taken out of the story.
Caught in the middle, you might say, is Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio), a penniless boxing promoter. He stumbles on the aspiring singer Blousey (Florrie Dugger), who has come to Fat Sam’s for an audition, but Fat Sam tells her to come back “tomorrow”. Maybe Bugsy can help Blousey achieve her dreams of singing on stage? Just like Tallulah (Jodie Foster, merely 13 years old at the time), Fat Sam’s girlfriend.
I heard Alan Parker interviewed on the radio some time at the end of last year, where he was talking about Bugsy Malone, and when I saw it coming up on TV I thought it would be a good idea to give it a watch, since I was probably the same age as the children in the film last time I saw it! Very glad I did.
Soon came to realise that the songs weren’t sung by the children themselves (with a few exceptions), but by adults. This didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the songs or the film itself. It’s very strange to see a whole bunch of children dressed up and acting like adults in a film, because it’s so unexpected and unusual, but it works. They do a fairly good job too, even if most of them probably have not been seen again – with the very notable exception of Jodie Foster, although Scott Baio has also been in a number of not-so-high-profile productions.
The plot was a little haphazard, I felt, but the music more than made up for it. In fact, as soon as I had finished watching the film, I went online and ordered the soundtrack. Many good songs on there, although my favourite is without a doubt So You Wanna Be A Boxer?
If you’re looking for high-brow cultural endeavours, you should probably look elsewhere than here. If you’re looking for a charming, child-friendly and lighthearted gangster film with catchy music, this is the one. It’s not particularly brilliant as films go, but it’s absolutely delightful, and will have you humming the songs for days afterwards.
3.7 out of 5 splurge guns.
(Update August 2021: Since 2020 I have really gotten into gangster films, and I still really enjoy Bugsy Malone. In fact, I’d love to see a version of it made for adults – where the Splurge guns are actual Tommy guns. But that might just be me. 😅)