Sweet Charity (1969): Bob Fosse’s Debut, Starring Shirley MacLaine

Choreographer and stage director Bob Fosse made his screen debut with the musical Sweet Charity, a screen version of his stage musical, written by Peter Stone, and music composed by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.

Shirley MacLaine, a bigger name, took over the role that Gwen Verdon had originated most successfully on stage.

The secondary cast includes John McMartin, Sammy Davis Jr., Ricardo Montalbán, Chita Rivera.

The stage musical in turn was loosely based on Fellini’s 1957 masterpiece, Nights of Cabiria. However, where Fellini’s film concerns the romantic ups-and-downs of an ever-hopeful prostitute, the musical makes the central character a dancer-for-hire in New York.

Charity Hope Valentine works as a taxi dancer along with her friends, Nickie and Helene. She longs for love, but has bad luck with men, being robbed and pushed off Gapstow Bridge in Central Park by one ex-boyfriend. She has another humiliating encounter with famous movie star Vittorio Vitale (Ricardo Montalbán).

After failing to find a job through an employment agency, Charity meets shy Oscar Lindquist in a stuck elevator. They strike up a relationship, but Charity does not reveal her profession. When she finally confides in him, he initially seems to accept it, but finally tells Charity that he cannot marry her. The optimistic Charity, alone again, faces her future hopefully.

An alternate ending found on the DVD versions picks up after Oscar leaves Charity. Oscar starts to go crazy in his apartment and, feeling suffocated, goes for a walk in the park. He sees Charity on their bridge in Central Park and thinks she is going to jump. Racing to rescue her, he trips and falls in the water. Charity jumps in after him, but can’t swim so Oscar rescues her. Oscar realizes Charity is the only good thing in his life, proposes again, and she accepts.

Fosse thought the ending was too corny, but shot it in case the studio would demand a happy ending. 

Oscar Nominations: 3