Cabaret is a 1972 American musical film directed by Bob Fosse and starring Liza Minnelli, Michael York and Joel Grey. The film is set in Berlin during the Weimar Republic in 1931, under the presence of the growing Nazi Party.

The film is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret by Kander and Ebb, which was adapted from the novel The Berlin Stories (1939) by Christopher Isherwood and the 1951 play I Am a Camera adapted from the same book. Only a few numbers from the stage score were used for the film; Kander and Ebb wrote new ones to replace those that were discarded. In the traditional manner of musical theater, every significant character in the stage version sings to express his / her own emotion and to advance the plot. In the film version, the musical numbers are entirely diegetic, taking place inside the club, with one exception ("Tomorrow Belongs to Me"), the only song not sung by either the MC / or Sally. In the sexually charged "Two Ladies", about a ménage à trois, the Master of Ceremonies is joined by two of the Kit Kat girls.

After a box-office disaster with his film version of Sweet Charity in 1969, Bob Fosse bounced back with Cabaret in 1972, a year that would make him the most honored director in show business. And he was not the only winner in this case, as the film also brought Liza Minnelli her first chance to sing on screen and win the Academy Award for Best Actress. With Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey), Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, Best Sound, Best Original Song Score and Adaptation, and Best Film Editing, it holds the record for most Oscars earned by a film not honored for Best Picture. However, it is listed as number 367 on Empire's 500 greatest films of all time. 

Cabaret opened to glowing reviews and strong box office, eventually taking in more than $20 million. In addition to its eight Oscars, it won Best Picture citations from the National Board of Review and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and took Best Supporting Actor honors for Grey from the National Board of Review, the Hollywood Foreign Press, and the National Society of Film Critics. But the biggest winner was Fosse. Shortly before the 45th Academy Awards, he won two Tonys for directing and choreographing Pippin, his biggest stage hit to date. When months later he won the Primetime Emmy Award for directing and choreographing Liza Minnelli's television special Liza with a Z, he became the first director to win all three awards in one year.

Liza Minnelli as Sally Bowles
Michael York as Brian Roberts
Helmut Griem as Maximilian von Heune
Joel Grey as Master of Ceremonies
Fritz Wepper as Fritz Wendel
Marisa Berenson as Natalia Landauer
Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel as Fräulein Schneider
Helen Vita as Fräulein Kost
Sigrid von Richthofen as Fräulein Mayr
Gerd Vespermann as Bobby
Ralf Wolter as Herr Ludwig
Georg Hartmann as Willi
Ricky Renee as Elke
Oliver Collignon as Nazi youth

In 1931 Berlin, young American Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli) performs at the Kit Kat Klub. A new British arrival in the city, Brian Roberts (Michael York), moves into the boarding house where Sally lives. A reserved academic and writer, Brian gives English lessons to earn a living while completing his doctorate. Sally tries seducing Brian and suspects he may be gay. Brian tells Sally that on three previous occasions he has tried to have physical relationships with women, all of which failed. They become friends, and Brian witnesses Sally's anarchic, bohemian life in the last days of the German Weimar Republic. Sally and Brian become lovers despite their earlier reservations; they conclude that his previous failures with women were because they were "the wrong three girls".

Sally befriends Maximilian von Heune, a rich playboy baron who takes her and Brian to his country estate; it becomes ambiguous which of the duo Max is seducing. After a sexual experience with Brian, Max loses interest in the two and departs for Argentina. During an argument, when Sally tells Brian that she has been having sex with Max, Brian reveals that he has as well. Brian and Sally later reconcile, and Sally reveals that Max left them money and mockingly compares the sum with what a professional prostitute gets.

Sally learns that she is pregnant, but is unsure of the father. Brian offers to marry her and take her back to his university life in Cambridge. At first they celebrate their resolution to start this new life together, but after a picnic between Sally and Brian in which Brian acts distant and uninterested, Sally starts to doubt continuing with the pregnancy, and is disheartened by the vision of herself as a bored faculty wife washing dirty diapers. Ultimately she has an abortion, without informing Brian in advance. When he confronts her, she shares her fears and the two reach an understanding. Brian departs for England and Sally continues her life in Berlin, embedding herself in the Kit Kat Club, but the final shot shows men in Nazi uniforms in the front row of the club, intimating that its days are numbered.


A subplot concerns Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper), a German Jew passing as a Christian, who is in love with Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson), a wealthy German Jewish heiress who holds him in contempt and suspects his motives. The worldly Sally gives advice which eventually enables Fritz to win her love. However, in order to get her parents' consent for their marriage, Fritz must reveal his true religious and ethnic background – a highly dangerous act considering what is in store for Jews under the coming Nazi regime. Even while the Nazis are not yet in power, one night some of them kill Natalia's beloved dog – a small intimation of very much worse to come.

The Nazis' violent rise is a powerful, ever-present undercurrent in the film. Their progress can be tracked through the characters' changing actions and attitudes. While in the beginning of the film National Socialist members are sometimes harassed and even kicked out of the Kit Kat Klub, the final shot of the film shows the cabaret's audience is dominated by Nazi party members. The rise of the Nazis is also dramatically demonstrated in the rural beer garden scene. In a sunlit outdoor setting a boy — only his face seen — sings to a relaxed audience of all ages what at first seem innocent lyrics ("Tomorrow Belongs To Me") about the beauties of nature and youth. The camera shifts to show that the singer is wearing a brown Hitler Youth uniform. He lifts his hand in the Nazi salute as the accompanying music becomes strident. One by one, nearly all the adults and young people watching are caught up in the hysteria and rise to join in the singing and saluting. Max and Brian return to their car after witnessing this show of growing support for the Nazis, Brian asking Max "Do you still think you can control them?". Later, Brian's one-man confrontation with Nazis in the street is a brave but futile gesture, leading to nothing but his being beaten up.

 While he does not play a role in the main plot, the “Master of Ceremonies” (Joel Grey) serves in the role of storyteller throughout the film. His surface demeanor is one of benevolence and hospitality ("Willkommen"), his intermittent songs in the Kit Kat Klub are increasingly risque and pointedly mock the Nazis – especially the one where he pretends to be in love with a female ape and sings "If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn't look Jewish at all".... In a scene when Sally experiences delirium, the Master of Ceremonies is seen holding her breasts – the significance of this is never explained, and it is not clear if it is memory or fantasy.

Although the songs throughout the film allude to and advance the narrative, every song except "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" is executed in the context of a Kit Kat Klub performance. The voice heard on the radio reading the news throughout the film in German was that of Associate Producer Harold Nebenzal, whose father Seymour Nebenzahl made such notable Weimar films such as M (1931), Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), and Threepenny Opera (1931).

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  • Thursday, May 19, 2016
  • By Ahmt Han

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Ahmt Han

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