Bugsy Malone (1976)
As a teen, I loved Grease (1978), Star Wars (1977) and The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) but at age 11, I discovered cinema and my life was never the same.
In 1976, my family relocated from England to Australia by ocean liner, which was like being on a cruise for six weeks and at a time when kids could roam freely on a massive ship without cause for concern. The onboard cinema showed a number of movies on rotation and so I would watch them over and over again. I loved The Slipper and the Rose (1976) and That’s Entertainment Part II (1976), which instilled a love of MGM classics, but it was Alan Parker’s wacky musical, Bugsy Malone, that made a lasting impression. I loved it so much, I named my first child after Jodie Foster’s character Tallulah.
Watching it as an adult, it’s a brave concept and I can’t imagine it would be made today. It’s a 1920s gangster film, complete with hoodlums, corrupt bosses, speakeasies and molls and all the characters are played by kids. The machine guns fire cream pies, the cars are pedal-powered and the action is slapstick but there is a subtle social and political subtext that only adults would understand. It’s not the pretend violence that causes discomfort, nor the wholesome though stilted romance between Bugsy (Scott Baio) and Blousey (Florrie Dugger) but the sexualisation of the female performers in Fat Sam’s speakeasy. When a 13-year-old Jodie Foster as vamp Tallulah sings “No one south of heaven’s gonna treat you finer, Tallulah had her training in North Carolina”, any adult knows that it’s not dance training she’s talking about and it’s a decidedly uncomfortable experience.
There’s some great music – it surprises me to watch the film forty years later and realise I know every word – and some decent characters of colour with some gentle lessons about racism. It was Scott Baio’s first role and several actors went on to bigger things – see if you can spot PC Dave Quinnan from The Bill as one of the policeman.
What was your favourite film as a kid?
Posted as part of the 30-Day Fillums Challenge, created by me. If you want to see what’s coming up, have a look at my post here and feel free to join in by commenting each day with your own choice.
Coming Next: Day 21: Your guilty pleasure film