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Category:    Home > Reviews > Comedy > Gangster > Musical > Children > Teens > Bugsy Malone (Gangster/Musical)

Bugsy Malone (1976/Gangster Musical)


PLEASE NOTE: This is a DVD that it is supposed can only be operated on machines capable of playing back Region 3 DVDs in the NTSC format, though this one actually played on all the NTSC U.S. Region 1 machines we tried.  This great title can be ordered from our friends at HKFlix.com through their website:




They have this and hundreds of other great, usually very hard to get titles that are often long overdo to his the U.S. DVD market.  Be sure to visit their site for more details on that as well.




Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extra: D     Film: B



Alan Parker is a director who has had as many commercial and critical hits as misses.  For every Midnight Express, Pink Floyd – the Wall and even Evita, there has been a Life Of David Gale, Come See The Paradise, Mississippi Burning and (yes) Fame and Commitments.  It is ironic then that his feature film directorial debut, Bugsy Malone, is still one of his best films ever.  It is a Gangster film in the 1920s/1930s genre mode, but it is also a Musical, which seems more likely now than in 1976 as the genre went into slow decline.  However, Parker wrote the script and the big twist here is that the entire cast features children.


In one of his best-ever role, Scott Baio is a natural in the title role of the very popular “Lucky Luciano” type who everyone likes.  This helps him to some extent when a gangland war breaks out between two gang bosses.  Fat Sam (John Cassisi stealing at least as many scenes as Foster.  He later was on TV’s Barney Miller and its spin-off Fish) is the Italian crime boss ready to duke it out on every level with Dandy Dan (the late Martin Lev doing a really strong job of capturing that type of sophisticated gentleman from the era just about every “prestigious, respectable” actor today has fallen on their face trying to do often today).  Jodie Foster is on the cover of the DVD case instead of Baio as singer/sex siren Tallulah, though I wish some of the poster art was included somewhere.  The cast also includes Florrie Dugger as “tough good girl” Blousey Brown, Dexter Fletcher as Baby Face and Jonathan Scott-Taylor (Damien from Omen 2) as a reporter.  Most of them are unknowns, but they are exceptionally good and not the precocious brats most Hollywood films offer today.


The music is one of the best things composer/singer/songwriter Paul Williams, who was red-hot in the 1970s.  He even played the title character in Brian De Palma’s awkward The Phantom Of The Paradise (1974) where he also wrote all the music, but has fared much better as The Penguin in the most recent animated cycle of Batman.  Here, his work shines in what is one of his most lasting works.  Not bad for a guy who wrote standards like We’ve Only Just Begun, Rainy Days & Mondays, Evergreen (with Barbra Streisand), Just An Old fashioned Love Song and Where Do I Go From Here? from director Michael Cimino’s directorial debut Thunderbolt & Lightfoot with Clint Eastwood.  The songs featured include:


Bugsy Malone (the title song)


I Could Have Been Anything I Wanted To Be

Fat Sam’s Grand Slam Speakeasy

I’m Feeling Fine

So You Want To Be A Boxer

Ordinary Fool

Down & Out

You Give A Little Love

Chinese Laundry

That’s Why They Call Him Dandy

Bad Guys

and the show-stopping My Name Is Tallulah



Foster initially voiced that last track like all the music by the cast members, though she commented later in bewilderment why her voice was replaced with a Betty Boop-sound alike voice, which contradicts her Mae West appearance as Tallulah.  All the voices were later replaced/dubbed by adult singers, which is ironically why the tracks sound so good, being cut under stricter recording studio control.  There are remarkably no extras, despite the history of the actors and filmmakers, nor any piece on the film in its recent revival as a stage musical.  I wonder if the original singing of the cast survives somehow.  However, for the record, this was one of Gene Siskel’s favorite films and rarely had he been more right about a little-seen film.  I bet The Coen Brothers used this film as one of their models for their amazing Miller’s Crossing (1990, reviewed elsewhere on this site).





Though the DVD case says this is a Region 3 NTSC DVD, the fact is that it played well on all of our Region 1 players, a big break to those who know the film and are sick of waiting for it to come out in the U.S., most likely from Paramount.  The case also says this is a 4 X 3/1.33 X 1 full screen presentation, the film is letterboxed for the first time ever on home video.  Though not anamorphic, the 1.85 X 1 image looks terrific and was shot by two cinematographers Parker would spend his career working with:  Peter Biziou and Michael Seresin.  Biziou shot Pink Floyd – the Wall and Mississippi Burning, while Seresin shot Midnight Express, Fame, Birdy, Come See The Paradise and Angel Heart.  Needless to say this film features the best of both their work in one place, which says something because of their exceptional camera eye.  Add the amazing costumes, production design and detail, and you get one of the moist underrated Musical films ever made.


Paramount did issue it full frame (tunnel vision?) in a 12” LaserDisc so old, it did not even have digital sound or stereo.  Instead, it had analog FM monophonic sound, which is the same as the Hi-Fi on old VHS & Beta tapes!  Film prints in the U.S. have also always been monophonic as well, so imagine the shock when this turned out not only to be a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix, but one of the best we had heard lately?  The music at least had to have been preserved in stereo, possibly magnetic tracks, because the sound here is a revelation in its depth, fullness and detail.  Sounding like Dolby at its better 448 kilobits-per-second rate, the film comes alive in ways it never has before and the balance of bass is unusually good for any Dolby presentation.  Sure, the sound shows its limits versus the latest recording technology, but there is not as much harmonic distortion as expected.  I would love to hear this in MLP or DTS of any kind.



The only issue that is left to address is the choreography.  Gillian Gregory handled that.  Though not as sloppy as the kind of quick-shooting dancing of MTV music videos (which even Paula Abdul was guilty of at her peak), but it certainly is not as tight as the best dancing from the MGM and similar Hollywood Musicals.  Still, it works well enough for the film, being more of a hit than miss in itself.  Parker and Williams had to know that Gangster and Musicals were the big genre films that sound brought in.  The controversial David Puttnam (Chariots Of Fire) executive produced this film, the man who said when he took over running Columbia Pictures that the big salaries of stars had to go when Coca-Cola first bought the company was quickly gone from that studio, but he was a good film producer just the same.  Bugsy Malone is one of his best works too and with a great DVD like this from Panorama, it is a must see for everyone.  If you did not like the film if you have actually seen it, try this edition and be surprised by the difference.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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