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, before the rise of the Nazis under Adolf Hitler.
The film is loosely based on the 1966 Broadway musical Cabaret by Kander and Ebb, which was adapted from the Berlin stories of Christopher Isherwood and the play I Am a Camera which they inspired. Only a few numbers from the stage score were used; Kander and Ebb wrote new ones to replace those that were discarded. In the traditional manner of musical theater, characters in the stage version of Cabaret sing to express emotion and advance the plot, but in the film version, musical numbers are confined to the stage of the cabaret and to a beer garden. Only two of the film's major characters sing any songs.
Cabaret was nominated for 10 Academy Awards in 1973, and nearly performed a clean sweep, winning 8, including Best Director (Bob Fosse), Best Actress (Liza Minnelli), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joel Grey), and winning for Cinematography, Editing, Music, Art Direction and Sound (losing Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay to The Godfather). It won 7 BAFTA awards, including Best Film, Best Direction and Best Actress, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy). Cabaret was produced by ABC Pictures and first distributed in the US by Allied Artists. Warner Bros. is the current US distributor.
Cabaret was shot mainly in low light and has a film noir feel, even though it was filmed in color.
Brian tells Sally he has tried to have romantic relationships with women, all of which have failed. The unlikely pair become friends, and Brian is witness to Sally's anarchic, bohemian life in the last days of the German Weimar Republic. Later in the film, Sally and Brian become lovers despite their earlier reservations, and Brian and Sally conclude with irony 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, epitomized by a scene in which the three dance intimately together in a wine-induced reverie. Max eventually loses interest in the two, and leaves them back in Berlin. When Sally triumphantly tells Brian that she slept with Max, Brian begins to laugh and reveals that he slept with Max as well. After the ensuing argument, Brian storms off and picks a fight with a group of Nazis, who beat him senseless. Brian and Sally make up in their rooming house, where Sally reveals that Max left them an envelope of money.
Later on, Sally finds out that she's pregnant and is unsure whether Brian or Max is the father. Brian offers to marry her and take her back to his university life in Cambridge, but Sally realizes they could never coexist in such a life (and fears that Brian will turn to men) and proceeds with a planned abortion. When Brian confronts her, she shares her fears and the two reach an understanding. The film ends with Brian departing for England by train, and Sally continuing her life in Berlin.
The club's (unnamed) master of ceremonies (Joel Grey) is seen only in his stage persona, but provides repeated knowing looks to the camera that the party is about to end. One brief moment in a sequence of Sally's memories, towards the end, shows the master of ceremonies holding her breasts - hinting that she may have had sexual relations with him at some past time, though this is left deliberately ambiguous.
A subplot concerns Fritz Wendel, a Jew passing as a Christian. Fritz eventually reveals his true background when he falls for Natalia Landauer, a wealthy Jewish heiress. Although they marry, we are left wondering what their fate will be.
The Nazis' violent rise is a powerful, ever-present undercurrent in the film. Though explicit evidence of their actions is only sporadically presented, their progress can be tracked through the characters' changing actions and attitudes. While in the beginning of the film Nazis are sometimes harassed (one was kicked out of the Kit Kat Club originally), a scene towards the end shows everyday Germans rising in song to rally around Nazism. At the end of the film, the camera passes by a mirror at the Kit Kat Club, showing many Nazis in the audience.
The rise of the Nazis and their increasing influence on German society is dramatically demonstrated in the beer garden scene: A boy - only his face seen - sings to the seated guests what first seems an innocent lyrical song about the beauties of nature. This gradually shifts to the strident "Tomorrow Belongs To Me" as the camera shifts to show that the boy is wearing a brown Nazi uniform and lifts his hand in the Nazi straight arm salute. One by one, nearly all guests in the beer garden (except a bewildered old man) get up and join in the singing and saluting - evidently out of social pressure rather than any physical coercion, which is clearly not used.
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 Club performance.
Fosse cut all the book songs that advanced the plot, leaving only the songs that are sung within the confines of the Kit Kat Klub. One exception is "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," which is sung in a beer garden. In the stage play, it is sung at a private party. Another is "Married," which is played on a phonograph record when Sally and Brian are having a picnic in the woods. Kander and Ebb wrote several new songs for the movie and removed others; "Don't Tell Mama" was replaced by "Mein Herr," and "Sitting Pretty" (retained in various instrumental versions) was replaced by "Money, Money." Several characters were cut (including Herr Schultz, with Fraulein Schneider's part greatly reduced and the whole romantic subplot removed) and several from Isherwood's original stories put back in. The entire score was re-orchestrated, with all the numbers being accompanied by the stage band.
The following songs from the original Broadway production are missing in the film version, but are still available on the Original Broadway Cast album: