Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Roxie Hart

Roxie Hart (William Wellman, 1942) Think of it as Chicago without the music and dancing (except for a couple numbers), because that's exactly what it is. This version, adapted (by Nunnally Johnson and Ben Hecht,) from the play and 1927 movie version called Chicagotells the same story of a dancer, Roxie Hart (Ginger Rogers) near the end of her career, who decides to take the rap for the murder of booking agent Fred Casely, found dead in Roxie's apartment. Roxie didn't do it (a difference from the other versions, thanks to the Production Code), but like a certain hotel developer, when things are sagging somewhat, you should do something really crazy to get attention.

The movie is done in flashback in a bar (one run by William Frawley) that's a hangout for newsies. "The new kid" (Ted North) is working a murder investigation and is full of stories. In an ink-stained version of "Can You Top This?" veteran newsman Homer Howard (George Montgomery) tells him the story to end all bets—a murder case he covered in 1927.

George Montgomery serves as the Teller of the Tale at a bar frequented by newsies.
He tells the story of Roxie Hart and how, when the agent is murdered in the Hart apartment (presumably by her husband as the police suspect), she is persuaded to "takes the fall" because a woman would never be convicted of murder in Chicago. Besides, any publicity is good publicity. Her husband, Amos (George Chandler) hires courtroom sheister Billy Flynn (Adolphe Menjou) to defend Roxie by using the press to gain sympathy, depict her as a weak woman who acted in self-defense...and show a lot of leg to the all-male jury.
Roxie enjoys the headlines and the attention, confident that she'll never hang. But, then disaster strikes—another woman is convicted of a horrible crime and calls are made to be less lenient on female criminals and it knocks Roxie out of the headlines. The only thing to do is up the ante with more salaciousness and hearts and flowers.
For Rogers, who, after letting Astaire lead for most of her career, it was another opportunity to do something a little different and show off her comedy and acting gifts. With Roxie Hart, she takes a big gamble—looking unsympathetic to the audience. Roxie Hart is a deeply, cynical black comedy with a lot of laughs (it made Stanley Kubrick's "Top Ten Favorite Films" in 1963) and an assured directorial hand by veteran director William "Wild Bill" Wellman (who'd already straddled many genres with The Public Enemy, Nothing Sacred, A Star is BornBeau Geste, and the first "Best Picture" Oscar winner, Wings). Its stinging farcical tone still resonates—enough for Bob Fosse to update it in 1975, where the unholy marriage of justice, news-mongering, and fame felt remarkably contemporary.
But, even the resultant musical doesn't diminish the sense of raucous, crass fun in this film version of Roxie Hart.

In 1963, when asked by Cinema Magazine what his favorite films were, director Stanley Kubrick chose these:

I Vitelloni (Federico Fellini, 1953) 
Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1958) 
Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) 
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948)
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931)
Henry V (Laurence Olivier, 1945)
La Notte (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1961)
The Bank Dick (W.C. Fields, 1940)
Roxie Hart (William Wellman, 1942) Note: at one point, he said this was his favorite film
Hell’s Angels (Howard Hughes, 1930)

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