|Threesome: Minelli, Griem,York|
"I feel just like Kay Francis!" --Sally.
Brian: "Screw Maximilian!" Sally: "I do!" Brian: "So do I!"
In 1931 Berlin a language teacher named Brian (Michael York) becomes best chums with the free-spirited entertainer Sally Bowles (Liza Minelli) as Germany begins taking a Nazi turn for the worse. As two pupils -- Fritz (Fritz Wepper) and Natalia (Marisa Berenson) -- fall in love, Brian begins a romance with Sally that is complicated by the addition of handsome millionaire Maximilian Van Heune (Helmut Griem). Odd that this musical version of I Am a Camera is franker than the original in some respects, and tiresomely regressive in others. Michael York is appealing as the conflicted Brian, as is Marisa Berenson as the wealthy Jewish Natalia. Liza Minelli is less irritating in some ways than Julie Harris was playing the same part, although Harris is the better actress; that said, Minelli is not bad at all, although hardly deserving of the Best Actress Oscar she was awarded. Helmut Griem has little to do but look kind of sexy, but that he does perfectly well. I have to confess I found two things in this movie rather repellent: a made-up, simpering Joel Grey, although he's effective enough as the emcee; and Liza Minelli when she tries to act all sexy. The most unconvincing thing in the movie is the "romance" between Brian and Sally.
In I am a Camera, the "Brian" character was actually Camera writer Christopher Isherwood (Laurence Harvey), and he was so named. Herein Isherwood has been turned into an alternate Chris Isherwood but it never quite works -- his gayness is going to burst out no matter what. [Of course, one is tempted to say this isn't the first time Liza Minelli had a gay boyfriend!] Early in the film Brian explains that he tried sex with women three times and it was always a disaster. When he successfully has sex with Sally, she remarks they must have been the wrong three girls, that godawful creaky business about how you're only gay until you meet the right woman! This is somewhat redeemed by the revelation that Brian has been intimate with Max, but any sequences, erotic or otherwise, relating to this, are completely unexplored. All we know is that Brian and Max have had an argument, there's tension in the air, and Max seems very angry. But whether it's because Brian won't remain his "fuck buddy" [out of concern for Sally or the fact that Max is married] or because he prefers to stay with Sally (highly unlikely) is never revealed. The scene quoted above, in which Sally learns the two men are screwing behind her back, was considered quite controversial in its day and York's second line was always cut on network television. Michael York also played a character who slept with both men and women in Something for Everyone.
When Cabaret came out I liked the movie very much, but it's gone downhill in my estimation. Most of the characters are not well-developed, the film is coy and dated about sexuality, and aside from the snappy title number and "Tomorrow Belongs to Me," I didn't much care for the Kander and Ebb song numbers [they wrote the German youth's song in that style]. It also doesn't have enough period atmosphere despite the location filming. While Cabaret deals more with the encroaching Nazis than I Am a Camera did, it doesn't really get across that sense of doom until the final chilling image. And at least I Am a Camera didn't invent a phony romance. NOTE: I have only seen the film versions of John Van Druten's "I am a Camera" and of the Broadway musical "Cabaret," so I can't comment on the stage originals.
Verdict: Some nice things in this, but overall I'd rather watch Something for Everyone. **1/2.