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Bugsy Malone (1976)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Bugsy Malone (1976)
35mm, colour, 93 mins
Directed byAlan Parker
Production CompaniesNational Film Trustee Company; Rank Organisation
Executive ProducerDavid Puttnam
ProducerAlan Marshall
Written byAlan Parker
Cinematography Michael Seresin, Peter Biziou
Words and MusicPaul Williams

Cast: Scott Baio (Bugsy Malone); Florrie Dugger (Blousey Brown); Jodie Foster (Tallulah); John Cassisi (Fat Sam); Martin Lev (Dandy Dan); Paul Murphy (Leroy Smith)

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In 1929 New York, Bugsy Malone's love life gets complicated when he becomes involved in a turf war between rival gangsters Fat Sam and Dandy Dan.

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Rather tentatively promoted as 'Quite possibly the most unique motion picture for years', Alan Parker's debut as a movie writer-director is an imaginative and daring conception that has become a firm favourite with children, both on film and in its various stage incarnations.

Parker had already demonstrated his sure touch with young actors with The Evacuees (BBC, tx. 5/3/1975) and his 'Ben and Mary' series of adverts for Birds Eye beefburgers (1974-76), but Bugsy Malone goes much further, set in a parallel universe in which there are no adults, in which sex is thankfully restricted to quick pecks on the cheek or forehead, and where there is no real violence, as exemplified by the film's best-known prop, the 'Splurge' gun, a Tommy Gun which fires custard pie pellets. It's the kind of film that the Children's Film Foundation might have made had it had the resources and the sheer chutzpah.

The cast was almost entirely under the age of 14, the sole exception being the late Martin Lev, who was 16 at the time. Lev is excellent as the smooth, aristocratic gangster Dandy Dan, who is trying to oust the voluble Fat Sam (a hyperactive John Cassisi), although the real acting honours belong to Jodie Foster, who at 13 was already an extraordinarily mature performer and who also got to 'sing' the score's outstanding number, 'My Name is Tallulah'. The music and lyrics are by pint-sized singer-songwriter Paul Williams, who had recently scored Brian De Palma's Glam Rock musical spoof The Phantom of the Paradise (US, 1974). All the songs on the soundtrack were actually performed by adults, including Williams himself, in his unmistakable high-pitched voice, and lip-synched by the cast.

Parker's film is an eclectic mixture of film genres and references, a spoof gangster/boxing musical populated with comic criminals reminiscent of Guys and Dolls (US, 1955), while also recalling classic 1930s Warner Bros. melodramas like 42nd Street (US, 1932) and Angels With Dirty Faces (US, 1938), which featured the teenage 'Dead End' kids. The artificiality of the film (mostly shot in and around Pinewood Studios) is highlighted by such moments as when one of Fat Sam's henchmen is forced to read the film's subtitles to understand his boss' Italian imprecations.

Three decades after its release, Bugsy Malone now seems to be among the most enduring of Parker's films, being equipped with that most elusive and desirable of characteristics: charm.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Bad guys (4:43)
2. Splurge (1:49)
3. Tallulah (2:41)
4. Fat Sam (2:46)
Production stills
Fletcher, Dexter (1966-)
Hambling, Gerry (1926-)
Parker, Alan (1944-)
Puttnam, Lord David (1941-)