Bob Fosse’s film came out of nowhere. The show it was based on was a qualified success. A B-movie studio had come up with the money to produce it. Fosse himself was considered a second-tier talent. No one in the cast was a box office name - and not surprisingly, the film opened unspectacularly.
But after it won three Golden Globes and was nominated for eight Oscars, it became a legend. Viewed forty years later Cabaret is nothing short of a masterpiece. The film won Best Actress in a musical or comedy (Liza Minnelli) and Best Supporting Actor (Joel Grey). A month later it picked up seven Academy Awards including the real shocker, Best Director (Bob Fosse) even though Francis Ford Coppola had won both the Golden Globe and the Directors Guild awards for The Godfather.
Following Liza Minnelli’s win, she was featured on the cover of three national magazines – her big competition that year was Diana Ross in Lady Sings the Blues – and became the screen’s most sought-after actress. John Kander and Fred Ebb wrote two new songs for the movie, neither of which was nominated by the Academy. The Hollywood Foreign Press nominated one, “Mein Herr,” which was later incorporated in subsequent revivals of the show.
The film is uniquely an integrated musical, which means it’s essentially a drama. Nobody burst into song in the film. All the musical numbers are performances given at the Kit Kat Club. Even the Hitler Youth has a stirring (ironic) song (“Tomorrow Belongs to Me”).
The genesis of the show goes back to the 1930s when Christopher Isherwood published his Berlin Diaries. Ten years later John Van Druten turned it into an Award-winning play called I Am A Camera, which made a star of Julie Harris. She even appeared in a film version of it. 20 years after that Sandy Wilson, who had created The Boy Friend, attempted to turn Van Druten’s play into a musical only to find that Harold Prince had acquired the rights. Kander and Ebb were assigned to write the score, and the show had a successful run on Broadway winning eight Tonys including Best Musical. After the success of the movie, the play was revived in 1994 in a much-celebrated production by Sam Mendes.
But it is the 1972 film that everyone remembers. For the record, the other nominees for Golden Globe Best Musical or Comedy that year were Avanti, Butterflies Are Free, Travels with My Aunt, and another Broadway musical, 1776. Oh yes, there was one other Broadway musical made into a film that year, Man of La Mancha. The less said the better.