Musical Monday: Sweet Charity

Posted on April 16, 2007

Yes, it’s Sweet Charity, the mod musical about a dumb hooker and her dead-end life!

Our story starts here, as Charity Hope Valentine, dressed as tackily as her name suggests, meets up with her fiance Charlie in Central Park. Now, you and I know that Charlie’s no good just by looking at him, but as we’ll see, Charity ain’t the sharpest knife in the drawer and instead she waves around her life savings, babbling and singing a truly shitty song.

To no one’s surprise but Charity’s, Charlie’s had enough and pushes her off the bridge while stealing her purse.

Charity heads back to her job as a “hostess” at the Fandango ballroom, where she informs her tranny co-workers of the day’s events. They sneer at her and tell her what a moron she is, as if being a tranny dance hall hostess is the height of accomplishments.

Although we’ll give these bitches credit: they sure can scare the hell out of a guy. Case in point:

LOVE THIS NUMBER. It’s like the whole concept of vagina dentata set to music! There’s more shitty songs than good ones in this film, but “Hey Big Spender” is a classic and with good reason. Paula Kelly and Chita Rivera bring the sass big time and the choreography is to die. More gay men have sung this song while getting ready for a night on the town than we can possibly count. It’s not quite a gay anthem, but it’s definitely the horny-gay-on-his-way-out-the-door anthem.

Later, Charity sees film star Vittorio Vitale (played by Ricardo Montalban in a rare case of his character having a more exotic name than him) as he has an argument with his girlfriend Ursula on the street. Charity has no class, so she stands there open-mouthed for the whole thing.

Through a series of events only unlikely enough for a musical, Charity finds herself Vittorio’s date for the night and he takes her to a mod swanky nightclub where she sees how the other half lives.

And apparently the other half lives in a world of outrageous Edith Head Gernreich-esque costumes and communicates only through fabulous Fosse choreography.

TO DIE, KITTENS. Fosse at his most Fosse. Lorenzo, back when he was a little baby ‘mo, used to gather around every Saturday night with his baby ‘mo posse and watch this number before they all decided what to wear for the night. He’d never admit it, but he clearly wanted to have an ass-length pony tail and elbow length opera gloves at one point in his life. And who can blame him? That bitch is the definition of fabulous.

Charity finds herself back at Vittorio’s place as he inexplicably dotes on her. It’s all too much for her since she’s used to guys with no money slapping her around and she starts to cry. Vittorio offers to slap her and steal her money if it makes her feel better, but she reveals that she’s upset because her girlfriends will never believe she was there.

Vittorio picks through his trash and offers her an old top hat and cane to impress her friends. Because every hooker dreams of spending the night with Fred Astaire.

It must have done the trick, because she hops around that apartment like a retarded monkey with her new toys.

With only a couple of exceptions, we tend to hate the songs in this film. “If They Could See Me Now” is okay, but not one of our favorites. The choreography’s Fosse-riffic, but Shirley Maclaine’s ceaseless mugging is annoying in every song she sings.

Of course, Ursula shows up demanding to be let in and begging for forgiveness…

…so the hooker gets shoved in the closet with a beer for the night.

The next day, instead of having the good sense to be embarrassed about her humiliating night, she brags about it to her co-trannies and shows off her hat and cane. They rightfully laugh at her for not getting a fur coat out of the deal. Listen to the trannies. They always know.
Chita, Paula and Shirley decide that “There’s Gotta be Something Better Than This” and dance their way to a promise to get the hell out of there.

It’s a pretty standard mid-sixties Broadway self-determination anthem, but we finally get to see Chita give Rita Moreno the finger and swirl her skirts on that rooftop even if she’s not doing it with a Puerto Rican accent.

Committed to making something of herself, Charity goes to an employment agency, where she is quickly laughed out the door when she reveals that her only skills are in the oral sex area.

Devastated, she gets on the elevator and heads down, a metaphor if ever we heard one.

Unfortunately, the elevator gets stuck (another metaphor!) and Oscar, her co-habitant, FREAKS



So naturally, she falls for him.

You know why there’s no self-help book entitled “When Dumb Women do Stupid Things?” NO ONE WOULD BUY IT. Dumb women are too busy running off and doing stupid things.

So we get your basic late ’60s “falling in love” montage of slow motion running through the park, museums, landmarks, etc. set to pseudo Mamas & the Papas music. We’re about ready to pass out from boredom when suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of the WEIRDEST musical number we’ve ever seen.

Yes, that’s Sammy Davis, Jr. popping up out of nowhere in all his pink Nehru jacket glory and singing the goofiest damn song imaginable. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie and truth be told, we could have written this entry without ever referring to it, but YouTube has the clip and we’d be remiss if we didn’t point you in its direction.

Those were some mighty fine drugs they were doing back then.

And speaking of mighty fine drugs, the cops show up and our couple hides out in some tires, when Oscar realizes he no longer suffers from claustrophobia and it’s all due to Charity. See? We told you she had impressive oral sex skills.

Anyway, this realization causes the two of them to act like even bigger spazzes as they…

roll candy-colored tires down a ramp…

bounce around like spastic morons…

…and jump over random fire hydrants on Sesame Street.

We’d love it if Mr. Snuffleupagus wandered out and ate these two right about now.

Charity heads back to the Fandango and realizes that now that she’s jerked around in a garage with the man she loves, this is no longer the life for her and she quits, vowing to tell Oscar the truth about what she does for a living and just how many notches she’s got on her bed post. Hint: her bed post is a toothpick by now.

So she meets up with Oscar and tells him everything. Except he already knew and he says he doesn’t care.

And then he utters the three words she’s been dying to hear her whole life: “smear-proof mascara.”

No, he says “I love you” of course.

Which for some reason, causes her to head out to the nearest Gay Pride parade.

Like we said, good drugs.

Anyway, he asks her to marry him and she once again demonstrates the kind of judgment that only 35-year-old hookers have by taking him to the dance hall to meet her tranny co-workers as well as every guy she ever slept with. Just brilliant, Charity.

In the end, Oscar decides that claustrophobia is looking a lot more desirable than syphilis, and he dumps her just before the wedding. Frankly, we would have dumped her just for wearing that dress.

Devastated, she tries to call her tranny posse and tell them…

….but they’re so thrilled that one of them managed to pass as a woman that they never give her a chance.

Her dreams shattered to the point that she can’t even go back to her nightmares, Charity wanders the city singing some crappy song and passes out on a park bench. Then Gene Kelly and his magnificent ass show up and dance her away to utopia.

Actually, that last bit didn’t happen, as much as we wanted it to. Instead, a group of mystical hippies give her a flower and wish her peace and love.

Are you fucking kidding us? ALL musicals are dated to some extent, but man, this one is EMBARASSINGLY dated.

The magic hippies bid her farewell and wander off to the wilds of Central Park to protest the war and spread venereal diseases.

And Charity?

Oh please. The only reason the movie ends here is because Fosse couldn’t figure out how to set her inevitable heroin addiction to music.

Next week: Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly, bitches! It’s Showboat!


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  • Bill

    “but they’re so thrilled that one of them managed to pass as a woman that they never give her a chance.”

    Screamed out loud with a laugh and made a few coworkers poke their heads out of their cubes. You guys never fail to kill me.

    I love this Broadway show but do not like the movie version. But the Rich Man's Frug is to die for and "There's Gotta be Something Better Than This" is great fun thanks to Chita & Paula.

    The movie cuts one of my favorite Broadway showtunes, “Baby Dream Your Dream.”

    Oh – and there are a bucket full of sort of known folks in those dance sequences.

  • Mike

    “Big Spender” is the only reson I own the DVD.. When I watch it, I jump to Big Spender, then Frug, the put it up…

  • Bill

    Rich Man’s Frug Dancers include:
    Screaming Broadway queen Lee Roy Reams, Laugh-In regular Chelsea Brown, Mouseketeer (Bonnie) Lynn Fields, and Lorene Yarnell of 'Shields & Yarnell' mime fame (if one considers miming fame worthy).

    Rhythym of Life Dancers include: character actor Lance LeGault (often a military guy, you might know him as the Colonel in Stripes), Blues Brothers movie choreographer Carlton Johnson who was an Ernie Flatt dancer on Carol Burnett, and Oh Mickey singer/choreographer/80’s camp icon Toni Basil.

    Bud Cort (Harold & Maude) is in there as a hippie. One of the cops is Jeff Burton who everyone should know as Dodge, the African American astronaut who ends up stuffed in a museum in Planet of the Apes. Lonnie Burr, another famous mouseketeer, is in the movie as well.

    And the old woman on the bench in the park is Judith Lowry who was one of the nuns in “The Trouble with Angels’ (I’m obsessed with that flick), played Barabra Parkins aunt in Valley of the Dolls, and was most famously Mother Dexter on the MTM spinoff “Phyllis”.

  • BG

    What the hell? This is one f-ed up musical. I can’t remember the last time a band of stylized hippies counseled me in a park, but my life isn’t nearly as fabulous.

    Also: the number in the nightclub reminded me that there must have been a time when celebrities felt that “night on the town” didn’t mean “vagina on show”. Huh. Who knew?

    Yes that was sarcasm, Paris Hilton.

  • Dova1965

    I tip my hat to you, Bill. I suspect you would be an incredible guest at one of my smart dinner parties. Do let me know when you’re in the Chicago area. I could sit up all night listening to you regale me with tv and movie trivia. LOVE it!

    And I hate hate hate Sweet Charity. It was dated the minute it opened.

  • Gorgeous Things

    Oh thank you for brightening up this dreadful storm-soaked day with Fosse and Fabulosity. “Listen to the trannies. They always know.”

    How true!!!!

  • Anonymous

    Just an interesting little tidbit, but “What is the first name of Fandango hostess Valentine?” was a question on Jeopardy this past week. Who knew Jeopardy was so hip?

  • Jeff

    You guys make my Mondays. Mixed feelings about the film…love the Fosse; hate the endless Panavision closeups of crying Shirley MacLaine. But I’m sorry; Sammy Davis Jr. is AMAZING in that number.

    Oh, and please, do “Kiss Me, Kate!” some day. It’s a death match: Ann Miller’s legs vs. Kathryn Grayson’s jugs. You’ll love it to pieces.

  • Marius

    Let me just say: I love Shirley MacLaine. Great post!

  • Bill

    dova1965 – while a lot of it pours out of my head from years of soaking up the tv/movie trivia, I must confess that I am aided and abetted by the fabulous resources of the Internet Movie Database. While I know the names and bits of their careers, I couldn’t possibly recall those cast lists without it.

  • aimee

    You know, I used to think that nothing could make me look forward to Monday, but you fabulous boys have changed all that with these musical recaps. I can’t wait for Showboat, and speaking of Gene Kelly’s fabulous ass, *when* will you do Singin’ in the Rain?

  • macasism

    You bitches are gonna get me fired one of these days, I know it.

    Shirley MacLaine’s endless mugging. Thank you. She seriously bugs. But Fosse is a god, n’est-ce pas?

  • macasism

    You know, Fosse did set addiction to music. It was called All That Jazz. You should do that one, too.

  • Anonymous

    Bill said it best, this show is MUCH better as a stage production rather then a film. I was lucky enough to see the trial runs of the revival when it ran in Chicago a while ago with Christina Applegate (of Married with Children fame) and loved it, I have watched the movie and walked away to do dishes.

  • BrianB

    This is another one of those movies, where when I hear it’s coming on TV, I make a big deal of sitting down to watch and 5 minutes in to it, I’m reading a magazine, looking at the computer, cleaning the toilet…. I don’t know why I can’t concentrate on it! I love how you guys turn these movies on their ears (or asses) and make them so much better!

    My favorite John McMartin moment is when he shows up as Dorothy’s date, the priest, on Golden Girls. Some of the best lines in the series!


  • thombeau

    You guys are SO funny! And you know fabulous when you see it. This movie is all about the Fosse-ness of it all.

    We did this show in high school. How’s that for appropriate?

  • frogboots

    i didn’t even know this movie existed. after this recap, i’m not sure my life is any better for knowing about it.

    can you go back to musicals with pretty ladies in them, please?

    or at least some killer hats?

  • Anonymous

    Okay this post almost made me fall out of my chair. Love you gayboys! Thank you for brightening my day! MWAH

  • potty mouth princess

    Tim Leary had to take yet more acid to endure what could only be descibed as a bad trip.

  • Abi

    Very long time lurker, first time comment.

    Hilarious! I’ve never seen this one, and I think I can safely skip it now, since I don’t think the actual movie could possibly be as entertaining as the write up!

    My absolute favorite Shirley MacLaine musical is “What a Way to Go.”

    Thanks for giving me a reason to look forward to Mondays!

  • KingRoper

    Oh, Charity… I’m in agreement that this flick is definitely hit-or-miss. Too bad Gwen Verdon didn’t get to reprise her role – she could dance rings around Shirley (and the choreo was made for her body -as the cast album liner notes say, who else has ‘valentine hips’?) and WITHOUT the constant mugging. I have several tapes of Verdon doing numbers… still jaw-droppingly brilliant dancing.

    Now that you’ve seen this, watch the movie it was based on – Fellini’s ‘Nights of Caberia’. They toned it down for the musical (Charity is an Italian street whore, not a dancehall hostess), but as depressing as it can be, it’s also glorious.

    Don’t forget there is also an alternate ending that was filmed – Oscar is at home and has an attack of claustrophobia, so he goes searching for Charity in the park (and of course finds her) and they go off ‘hopefully ever after’…

    This was Fosse’s first film, and it shows. But check out the crazy inventive camera work… he was just developing his directing style. The movie bombed at the box office and nearly ruined his film career – only to come roaring back with ‘Cabaret’.

    Loved your comments – has there ever been a more tranny-looking chorus line?

    But WHICH Show Boat (it’s two words, boys) are you doing? I recommend the Irene Dunne (she sings ‘Galavantin’ Around’ in blackface) over the MGM big-hair color version.

  • Kat

    One of the many reason to love the movie Bring It On, is that in the “we need a really original great routine” montage, the musical dance they rip off is the heavyweight dance from the night club.

    I love Bring it On.

  • lsaspacey

    Hey! How come they all have trannie packs for support? Funny Girl, 7Br/7Brothers, Brigadoon? What’s up with that and how come I never noticed it before?

  • Muse of Ire

    I hate, hate, hate this movie.

    But I love, love, love your recaps.

  • Anonymous

    I saw Sweet Charity in its original theatrical release (yes, I’m that old) and the one saving grace was Paula Kelly. Shirley and Chita are legends, but Paula was the one to watch. She could really move. And I’d still kill for her arms!

    You guys showcased the best 2 songs, although the Broadway version of “Big Spender” will always be the one to listen to for me. And the Fosse choreography in L’s favorite dance sequence strikes me now as having this sanitized “Laugh In” quality to it, partly because of the clothes and the pandering to some of the 60’s dances, but partly because I know how much edgier Fosse could be.

  • lsaspacey

    Oh, I also saw Ben Vereen in that cool frug clip during the “Big Finish” section. So both Sammy and Ben were in this!

  • valpal

    Bill: please update your photo! You are way too cool to still be hanging out with that cage match loser (but keep the honey bun on the other side!)

    As always, love to T&L and love to you. And today, I also love Fosse.

  • Anonymous

    God, when I scanned these shots – I didn’t read the captions. I thought it was Lucille Ball. I never liked her in any colored movie.

  • Anonymous

    Marius said…

    Let me just say: I love Shirley MacLaine. Great post!

    Love this movie for the kitsch value alone. Ricky Montalban is totally hot even though his rug leaves little to the imagination (toupee technology has certainly advanced). Then there's the very underrated gorgeous Paula Kelly. She plays this fab Gambling Diva named Madame Zenobia in this great '70's flick I watched 10,000 times growing up called Uptown Saturday Night w/ Bill Cosby & Sidney Poitier. Love. Her.
    What’s the name of the flick where Shirley gets to marry Dean Martin, Dick Van Dyke, Gene Kelly, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, et al. They all get famous because of her then they get killed (except Dean Martin)? It was almost a musical ’cause Gene did a song/dance number and there was a dream/dance sequence where Shirley wears all of these crazy clothes? Haven’t seen it in years. Does that sound familiar to anyone or am I having a crack moment? I’d better run over to imdb to check.

  • Karen

    “Those were some mighty fine drugs they were doing back then.”


    Wowza. I haven’t seen most of the musicals you fabulous bitches have been ripping, but man oh man my eyes have been opened to the craptacular. Thanks for the laughs.

  • Anonymous

    I first saw this movie when I was just a wee liitle mo of only 5, and have pretty much disliked Sirley Maclaine ever since. When I was a kid (and not yet old enough to appreciate technicolor trannie hookers) my favorite part was the Sammy Davis “Rythmn of Life” number. Didn’t he have eyes painted on the palms of his hands, or did I just imagine that?

  • Anonymous

    i sent “there’s gotta be somthing better than this” to a couple of the gals i work with. we’ve all decided it should be our new company theme song.

  • calleigh

    We did Sweet Charity my senior year in high school (a decidedly grown up choice for some innocent Catholic [sic-whores]) and after “Rythym of Life,” my mom actually came backstage and was like, “I don’t care if you ARE Charity Immafloozie Valentine, young lady, that last number was unacceptable. What was it about?”

    Oh, Fosse…

  • Bill

    Valpal – I changed my photo just for you! Joan was getting a bit stale. Had I ever met Stanwyck, you can be certain she’d be up there.

    I don’t have any classic Hollywood Dames or Divas to put up, but Ms. Redgrave comes close. She fits for Musical Mondays (if you recall the not-quite-right Camelot movie musical with a luminous Redgrave as Guinevere along with Richard Harris and Franco Nero – with whom she had a son). And Redgrave is a Commander of the British Empire which is one step below being a “Dame”.

  • Anonymous

    It’s Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria”! God, Masina was great as Cabiria. “Sweet Charity” is going to the top of my queue.


  • girlincity

    Please, please do West Side Story. I would also love A Chorus Line, although not sure you guys want to analyze a musical about making musicals, well, about Bob Fosse really.

  • girlincity

    Oooh, and it would be great to see the newer musicals like Chicago and Moulin Rouge. Not classics yet, but destined to be!

  • valpal

    Love la Redgrave!

    But Bill: How do you meet these people???

  • Bill

    valpal – I’m a crazed stalker and follow them for days… actually, we just go to see them in shows and hang around the stage door afterward. We sometimes send flowers backstage to particular favorites. And sometimes, we literally just run into them in restaurants or on the street and chat them up. Most of the “famous” people we are interested in meeting are pretty friendly and approachable.

  • Sewing Siren

    I remember after watching this on T.V. on the Saturday afternoon movies in the 1970’s, I wanted to be a taxi dancer when I grew up. Is this the one where she sticks her head in the gas oven at the end (but doen’t do it)? I think of that scene a lot too ;).

  • Anonymous

    In high school choir, we sang “Rhythm of Life” all the time; our choir director loved that song. But I don’t remember “Daddy” or “cats” or any 60s slang from the song I grew up singing. We were given altered, sanitized verses intended to imply that the rhythm of life is choral music.

    – Sarah

  • KingRoper

    How could I have forgotten about the ‘sanitized’ version? We did this in school, too, and when I heard the real version I was shocked…

    Daddy started out in San Francisco
    Tootin’ on his trumpet loud and mean
    Suddenly a voice said ‘Go forth, Daddy-
    Spread the picture on a wider screen!”
    And the voice said, ‘Daddy there’s a million pigeons
    Waiting to be hooked on new religions!’
    Hit the road Daddy
    Leave your common-law wife
    Spread the religion of the Rhythm of Life

    When I started out in San Francisco
    Feelin’ all alone and kinda mean
    Suddenly a voice said, ‘Go forth, Stranger!
    Spread the picture on a wider screen!’
    And the voice said, ‘Stranger, there’s a million reasons
    Why you should rejoice in all four seasons!’
    Hit the road stranger
    Leave your worries and strife!’
    Spread the religion of the Rhythm of Life!

    I loved singing this song – especially the ‘Doo-bee, Doo-bee’ chorus…

  • dkellergrl

    :::Bravo:::Bravo:::: I know I’m 4 days late in commenting, but better late than never.

    I LOVE Sweet Charity. It took me years to realize that Ben Vereen was in the filmed musical. If I could ever “redo” my life, I would love to be a Bob Fosse dancer. Those bitches (male and female dancers) were awesome during Fosse’s heyday.

  • Suzanne

    Fosse dancers are a unique breed….kind of like being a Kabbahlist as opposed to being just plain Jewish. His stuff is impossible. I had a student of mine who did Fosse on Broadway call me in tears midway through learning Stem Heat saying in his career it was the most difficult thing he has ever had to learn and though Rich Mans Frug looks easy- its brutal!!

    I know- I am late- I’ve been SOOO busy!!

    Please do West Side Story!!

  • aimee

    Ooh! West Side Story! Yes, please.

  • catherine

    Oh my gosh! The second video that was put up, the dancing in the nightclub–beyonc√© did a take on that in her music video for ‘get me bodied’. I remember thinking how beautiful the choreography was…well no wonder, it was fosse!

  • I just realized Shirley Maclaine also played Coco Chanel. And this sorely needed her ‘from tacky to classy’-touch.