Sweet Charity (1969)

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Released 27-Jul-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Musical Main Menu Introduction
Main Menu Audio & Animation
Scene Selection Animation
Featurette-From The Stage To The Screen
Alternate Ending
Featurette-Costume Design By Edith Head
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1969
Running Time 147:35
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (80:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Bob Fosse

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Shirley MacLaine
John McMartin
Chita Rivera
Paula Kelly
Stubby Kaye
Barbara Bouchet
Ricardo Montalban
Sammy Davis Jr.
Suzanne Charney
Alan Hewitt
Dante DiPaolo
Bud Vest
Ben Vereen
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $29.95 Music Cy Coleman

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes, and lots of it. By cool people! Watch out!
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

   Dancer, choreographer, director and philanderer: the late, great Bob Fosse was a heck of a guy. In one year, he won an Oscar (for directing Cabaret), an Emmy (for directing Liza With A Z), and a Tony (for directing Pippin) – and then he had a heart attack. I’ve been fascinated by the guy ever since I saw his heavily, laceratingly autobiographical film All That Jazz. Imagine my delight at getting the chance to watch his first film, Sweet Charity! Imagine my disappointment afterwards! And then my reconsideration! And then my un-reconsideration! And then… Well. Before your head explodes trying to follow the to-ings and fro-ings of my critical judgment, let me just say that I’m of two minds about this picture.

   On the one hand, Sweet Charity is a monstrously bloated, hopelessly self-indulgent, terribly overlong, horribly dated abomination that helped pound the final nail of silliness into the leaden coffin of the musical. On the other hand, Sweet Charity is full-to-bursting with great songs, amazing choreography, and rapturously enjoyable set pieces. And if you bring those two hands together and squish ‘em, you get a maddeningly wearying cavalcade of bits and pieces you love that don’t work as a whole.

   So it’s a mess. But what’s it all about? Charity Hope Valentine, played with gusto and heart (and a wee dram of cartoonishness) by Shirley MacLaine, is a hopeless, yet perennially hopeful, romantic. She’s thirtysomething, works as a taxi dancer in a seedy New York dance hall, and has dated a succession of nogoodniks in her tireless quest for someone to love her. The plot, such as it is, is very very simple: Charity (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) gets dumped, then meets a nice guy, who she almost marries – only to get dumped again. And that’s pretty much it, plotwise. The rest of the near-Fellowship Of The Ring running time is filled out by a number of mostly entertaining but uniformly unimportant episodes. Charity meets a dashing-but-imperious Italian movie star (Ricardo Montalban) and goes to an insanely chic discotheque; Charity and fellow dancers Nicky (Broadway legend Chita Rivera) and Helene (the wonderfully sassy Paula Kelly) dream of a better life; Charity and nice guy Oscar (John McMartin) attend a scat-laden sermon by hippie religious huckster Big Daddy (the one and only Sammy Davis, Jnr). There’s more, of course, and plenty of splendid performers are involved – most notably Stubby Kaye as surly dance hall manager Herman.

   Most of the musical numbers are terrific; the songs are witty and catchy (except for a couple of anemic ditties penned solely for the film version), and wonderfully staged. Big Spender, If They Could See Me Now, There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This, The Rhythm Of Life, and I Love To Cry At Weddings are simply magical. Bob Fosse makes his dancers move in extraordinary ways, especially in the incredible, wordless (and from a plotty point of view, pointless) Rich Man’s Frug. This sequence essentially stops the film for a set of three dances that feature no characters and have nothing whatever to do with anything except looking good. And the sequence is great. But why is it there? Because the director loved it and couldn’t part with it, and because it offered the chance for interesting camerawork and choreography, and because it was big in the Broadway show and how could you not put it in?

   Those factors are the reason why this movie is hard to sit through twice and something like Chicago (which is based on Fosse’s original show and pays homage to his choreography) is endlessly entertaining. Chicago strives to justify its musical numbers – to make sure that they don’t break the reality of the film and that they do tell us something important about the characters even as they amuse us. Sweet Charity is constantly confused about what its numbers actually are – whether they’re part of a reality where people just start singing, or whether they’re dream sequences, or whether they’re simply on the soundtrack. The characters exist to sing the songs, no matter how irrelevant. Fosse’s experimentation with still frames, flowery captions, and montage make this a rather-too-busy film on the technical side. And the exaggeration and over-the-topness of Charity herself make the central emotional spine of the movie too weak to sustain all the excess, no matter how fabulous the pieces or how wholeheartedly MacLaine throws herself into the role. In short, Sweet Charity is best enjoyed in small doses – which is a bit of a pity, since it’s one hundred and forty seven minutes long.

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Transfer Quality


   While far from flawless, this transfer often looks remarkably good.

   The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, varying in some of the bigger numbers to 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced.

   Sharpness is not terrific. Even closeups look a little soft, while middle and background details can get lost. There’s not a lot of shadow detail – but then again, there’s not a lot of shadow in this brightly lit film. No low level noise is present.

   Colours are plentiful, thanks to lavish sets, trippy lighting and Edith Head’s striking costumes. The film as a whole has a Technicolor brightness to it; sometimes this makes it look dated, but often it makes the colours look fabulous – as with the glittering scarlet globe in the background of Big Spender at 13:45, or the differently coloured dresses worn by Charity, Nicky and Helene in There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This at 60:00. I found no colour artefacts.

   There were no real MPEG artefacts, although aliasing is often a problem, as on the lights at 11:42, the cigarette and eye makeup at 15:33 and 16:13, and the steps at 119:34. Telecine wobble affects the opening credits, and all the shots where freeze frames, montages, or burned-on titles are used. Those titles also cause the shots they appear in to become extremely grainy and muddy, thanks to what must have been an especially crude and dated optical titling technology. The overture and intermission stills of Charity look particularly horrid. Most of the film is pretty grainy anyway, though, and there’s a lot of specks, flecks and lines in the image.

   The subtitles are in an oddly blocky font; they’re perfectly readable, but they look weird. Dalek subtitles! Maybe. Anyway, the bad thing about them is that they over-condense the dialogue, and are VERY INACCURATE for the songs. How hard could it be to simply type up the lyrics? Instead, we get ruined rhymes and lost lines. Phooey!

   This is an RSDL disc, with a layer change at 80:06, during the intermission.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


   This movie should sound much, much better than it does.

   There are five audio tracks: English and Spanish tracks in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 192 Kbps, and French, German and Italian tracks in Dolby Digital 5.1 at 448 Kbps. I listened to the English track.

   Not remixing the English track to 5.1 is acceptable – such remixes are often almost worthless anyway. What is not acceptable is the lamentable dialogue quality that afflicts so much of the movie. Some songs, such as the opening number, sound terribly studio-bound; but the bigger problem is that when people are not singing, they sound hollow, boomy and muffled, as at 9:50, 18:00, 102:00, and 111:45. I don’t know how much is due to poor decisions in the making of the original soundtrack, but the result is that a lot of the talking here sounds shoddy.

   A lot of dialogue is looped, and of course all the numbers are lipsynched to playback. Most of the time this is carried off pretty well, but sometimes the sync is poor or absent, as at 124:50.

   The music by Cy Coleman is excellent, full of swagger and heart, even if it is so much of its time as often to sound like it belongs in Austin Powers. It could have sounded a bit more vigorous in this transfer, but I didn’t think it was too bad.

   The surrounds are not called upon in this 2.0 transfer.

   And except for any redirected bass your system might send, neither is the subwoofer in demand.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


   A set of small but high-quality extras add genuine value to this disc.


   The menus are nicely introduced, well designed, animated, 16x9 enhanced, and feature a good, jazzy, nonspecific piece of music from the film.

Featurette: From Stage To Screen (9:02)

   This short documentary was made to help promote the movie back in 1969. It’s plenty grainy and fairly faded, but the content is worthwhile. Bob Fosse himself talks us through some of the filmmaking process, and although he is clearly giving a sanitised version of it all, he’s still interesting and the footage still fascinating.

Alternate “Happy Ending” (6:44)

   I’m not really sold on the ending that’s in the movie, but I’m glad they had the guts not to use this too-cute pat resolution, which makes a mockery of the closing caption “And she lived hopefully ever after.” As presented here it’s not 16x9 enhanced, but otherwise doesn’t look or sound any worse than the movie itself.

Featurette: Costume Design With Edith Head – The Art of Exaggeration (7:31)

   Also made for promotional purposes at the time of Sweet Charity’s release, this excellent little film is presented by the legendary Edith Head, costume designer for a billion Hollywood classics and winner of almost as many Oscars (several of which she helpfully has beside her as she speaks to us). Head walks us through the design aesthetic of satire and exaggeration that informed the final costumes, and the integration of those costumes into the performers’ work. This is really good stuff, and it’s wonderful to actually see Head after all this time. Major flecks and hairs are present, unsurprisingly for a little made-for-televison doco filmed 35 years ago. It’s presented in 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio at 192 Kbps.

Theatrical Trailer (1:35)

   Annoying but mercifully brief, this is a relic of a distressingly bombastic era of trailer making. If you simply must watch it, be ready for extreme softness, faded colours, and squished-looking widescreen scenes shoehorned into a television aspect ratio. Dolby Digital 2.0.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

   The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

   The video quality and feature list are identical between the versions, but the slightly higher audio quality swings it for Region 1.


   Sweet Charity is a movie of great parts, and too many of them.

   The video quality is acceptable for a film of this age.

   The audio quality is regrettably compromised.

   The extras are short but sweet.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Tennant Reed
Thursday, December 16, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS730P, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE500E projecting onto 100" screen. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR601 with DD-EX and DTS-ES
SpeakersJensen SPX-7 fronts, Jensen SPX-13 centre and rear centre, Jensen SPX-4 surrounds, Jensen SPX-17 subwoofer

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Comments (Add)
R1 Wins hands down - Michael Q (read my bio)