If you’re willing to accept that the musical truly came of age with the arrival of Judy Garland at MGM, there’s a fitting irony that her daughter Liza Minnelli played the lead in this musical drama – based on the 1955 film I Am A Camera which in turn was based on the writings of Christopher Isherwood – set in the decadent and increasingly dangerous Berlin of pre-WWII. Truly we were not in Kansas anymore . . .
Brimming as it is with sex, drugs and racially motivated violence to accompany the beguiling and frequently confronting songs by Joe Masteroff, Cabaret meant the musical genre was never going to be the same.
The nightmarish character of Joel Grey’s lewd and anti-Semitic androgynous Master Of Ceremonies commenting on the main action from the sanctuary of Berlin’s Kit Kat Club was an ideal symbol for the seductions of Nazism and a brilliant counterpoint to the naive British writer, Brian Roberts – played by Michael York.
At the film’s centre, however, was 25-year-old Liza Minnelli who never truly escaped either her mother’s legacy or the perfection of her casting (in only her fourth feature) as ingénue Sally Bowles – an American diplomat’s daughter stranded in Germany on the eve of Europe’s cataclysm.
Sexually uninhibited with a taste for luxury, Sally is a hedonistic modern whose deep-seated, hidden desire is to find true happiness. beneath her decadent exterior we are shown more and more of the childish, vulnerable woman she really is.
Brian at first seems immune to Sally’s erotic advances, but eventually falls madly in love with her. It is a happy romance until the wealthy, young and rather attractive aristocrat Baron Max von Heune (Helmut Griem) enters their world.
A love triangle is spoken of in jest initially, but it soon becomes reality. Both of them sleep with the affluent Baron and Sally, it turns out, is pregnant.
While Sally and Brian are busy tackling their personal catastrophes, the Nazis take to the streets of Berlin in preparation for their meteoric rise to power.
It seems the couple’s lifestyle is doomed, for the epidemic of fascism spreading throughout the nation seeks to extinguish all that is urban and modern.
In its place, the Nazi movement prescribes conservative and provincial values for the German people. Brian decides to return to England, while Sally decides to stay on in Berlin and try her luck at acting.
Cabaret won an astounding eight Academy Awards in 1972. From this point on, Minnelli would look naked without a bowler hat and a wooden chair to place her foot on.
The famous Tomorrow Belongs To Me sequence with the slow pull back to reveal the Hitler Youth was not originally devised by director Bob Fosse, but tweaked in the editing room by editor, David Bretherton.
This scene was originally to have been cut for German audiences, but after a number of critics protested loudly about the decision, the sequence was restored.
Maximilian von Heune
Master of Ceremonies
Sigrid Von Richtofen