Cabaret (1972): Bob Fosse’s Dazzling Musical Featuring Liza Minnelli in her Best, Oscar-Winning Performance Film

Bob Fosse’s dazzling movie musical Cabaret signaled a resurrection of the genre in a form more appropriate to the zeitgeist of the 1970s.

Thematically harsh and uncompromising, the movie tried to be faithful to the source material.  As a result, the movie succeeded in reinvigorating the conventions of Hollywood musical by refusing to make its subject matter and heroine more sympathetic or even empathetic.









The movie was released in the midst of the Vietnam War and after a decade of political assassinations.  The late 1960s have not been particularly good for the Hollywood musical–witness Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl,” which was O.K., and her “Hello, Dolly!” which was not, not to mention “Paint Your Wagon,” with Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin singing.

As an intelligent, socially conscious, and masterfully crafted version of the stage success, Cabaret managed to combine effectively stylized production numbers with an increased dosage of realism in handling the rather serious subject matter of the rise of Nazism in Germany–particularly for a Hollywood musical, a genre that has often been associated with an upbeat, cheery, and joyous mood.

Fosse rearranged some of the musical numbers and subplots, and a greater emphasis was placed on the authentic musical talent of the stars, particularly Liza Minnelli.











Fosse’s chilling musical about the moral and political decadence in the Weimar Republic is stylishly directed and choreographed, featuring a fantastic performance from Liza Minnelli, who won the Best Actress Oscar (see below). In “Cabaret,” Fosse made a huge leap forward as a filmmaker in command of technical skills, a promise he fulfilled in his later features..

Jay Presson Allen’s screenplay, based on Joe Masteroff’s stage play, John Van Druten’s stage play, “I Am a Camera,” and the writings of Christopher Isherwood, borrows a great deal from the Broadway musical’s book.  The filmmakers consciously use the decadent and cheap cabaret as a microcosm of German society at large.  The stage in the club is a prism through which the lives of the major characters are observed but not judged.

The story revolves around Englishman Brian Roberts (Michael York), who arrives in Berlin, takes a small flat where he meets the eccentric and promiscuous Sally Bowles (Minnelli), who earns her living as a singer at the seedy cabaret Kit Kat Club.

In a bravura turn, Joel Grey plays the sleazy emcee of the club in which she performs. And significantly, he is the one who is assigned the last line: “Where are your troubles now? Forgotten. I told you so. We have no troubles here. Here life is beautiful. The girls are beautiful. Even the girls are beautiful.”

Brian, a bisexual, becomes involved with Sally as well as with a wealthy German playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem).

Though most of the musical takes place indoors, often at the sleazy nightclub, the tale is set against the broader context of the rise of Nazism.

Liza Minnelli’s knockout performance nearly obscures the film’s social points, which become more obvious and poignant toward the end of the film. You will get shivers watching the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” in which a young fresh-faced youth is gradually transformed into a Nazi. The final fadeout imagery is indelible.

In her second Oscar-nominated turn, Liza Minnelli literally becomes a star before our eyes, even if her playing Sally Bowles’ tragic mediocrity is not plausible (Liza’s talent is huge as an actress, dancer, and actress).

Fosse wisely scrapped some weak songs from the original score and songwriters Kander and Ebb added some new ones. “The Money Makes the World Go Around,” sung by Joel Grey is a showstopper, and so is “Mein Herr,” in which Minnelli rivals Marlene Dietrich (“Blue Angel”) in evoking the Weimar-era decadence.

Commercial Appeal

Made on a budget of $2.3 million, Cabaret was a mega-hit at the box-office, earning 42.8 million. It has one of the best ratios of input-output (2.3 to 42.8) of any film nominated for the Best Picture.


It’s almost impossible to watch this film without thinking of The Blue Angel, Marlene Dietrich’s popular musical of 1930, also set in a sleazy night club in Berlin and revolving around an unstable if charismatic floozie.


Sally Bowles (Liza Minnelli)
Brian Roberts (Michael York)
Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem)
Master of Ceremonies (Joel Grey)
Fritz Wendel (Fritz Wepper)
Natalia Landauer (Marisa Berenson)
Fraulein Schneider (Elisabeth Neumann-Viertel)
Fraulein Maur (Sigrid von Richthofen)
Fraulein Kost (Helen Vita)
Bobby (Gerd Vespermann)


Allied Artists (ABC Pictures production)

Running time: 124 minutes

Produced by Cy Feuer

Directed by Bob Fosse

Script: Jay Presson Allen

Camera: Geoffrey Unsworth

Editing: David Bretherton

Music Ralph Burns

Art direction: Jurgen Kiebach, Rolf Zehetbauer

Choreography: Bob Fosse

Costume: Charlotte Fleming

Oscar Context

Though losing the Best Picture to Coppola’s The Godfather, Cabaret still holds the record of the only Oscar nominee to win 8 Academy Awards.

Oscar Nominations: 10

Picture, produced by Cy Feuer
Director: Bob Fosse
Actress: Liza Minnelli
Supporting Actor: Joel Grey
Screenplay (Adapted): Jay Allen Presson
Cinematography: Geoffrey Unsworth
Art Direction-Set Decoration: Rolf Zehetbauer and Jurgen Kiebach; Herbert Strabel
Editing: David Bretherton
Sound: Robert Knudson and David Hildyard
Scoring: Ralph Burns

Oscar Awards: 8

Supporting Actor
Art Direction