For the first time since ‘Cabaret’ in 1972, musical lovers were given a wonderful musical to tap their toes along too. There had been ‘All The Jazz’ (brilliant, but not really a musical), ‘Moulin Rouge!’ (a little odd) and ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ (inspired), but nothing that crept back to the glory days of Gene Kelly, Judy Garland or Roger & Hammerstein, until ‘Chicago’ came along.
‘Chicago’ is a musical set in 1920s Chicago about Roxie Hart (Renee Zellweger), a wannabe singer who kills her boyfriend when he tries to split up with her. She is sent to the same prison as Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta Jones) who killed her sister and husband after catching them together. Whilst in prison they are put under the control of Mama Morton (Queen Latifah) who holds the key to top lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). The top cast is finished off by John C Reilly as Roxie Hart’s drippy husband, Amos.
Despite the rather dark subject matter of murder, ‘Chicago’ is a riotous and witty film from start to finish. There are some wonderful lines in the film. A personal favourite is during the court scene. Flynn is defending Hart, when the district attorney produces a diary. Flynn objects, ‘My client has never held a diary! And even if she did, this would be... invasion of privacy, and violation of the fourth amendment, and... and illegal search without a warrant!’. Roxie Hart steps in: ‘Yeah. And she broke the lock’. Despite reminding me of the glory days of musicals it is also has a very modern feel about it, with black backdrops during the musical numbers and it oozes sex in a very modern, very un-Sound of Music way. There is nothing dated or old-fashioned about it.
The musical talent of the women is outstanding, especially Zeta-Jones. She is outstanding as the rival: excellent comic timing, brilliant singing voice and slick sharp dancing. This film is her shining point. Latifah is sassy as the prison warden and Zellweger is good in the lead, although unfortunately is at times overshadowed by her co-stars, and her best moments are when she is on her own (during the numbers ‘Roxie’ and ‘Funny Honey’).
There are some wonderful song and dance routines in this film. It gets off to a flying start with the most famous number, ‘All That Jazz’, but the fun continues with Latifah’s ‘When You’re Good to Mama’ and ‘We Both Reached for the Gun’. The highlight of the film, however, is the absolutely wonderful, ‘Cell Block Tango’. Six murderesses on death row tell Hart how they killed their lovers through this feisty number: witty lyrics and a sexy Tango routine.
I was delighted that ‘Chicago’ won the Best Picture Award. It had been over 30 years since a musical had won and when one finally did win it was one of the best winners of the decade.