Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 31, 2021)
If anyone ever questions the notion that the 1970s offered a trippy era, the existence of 1976’s Bugsy Malone should set them straight. A musical tale of 1920s gangsters – with a cast made up entirely of children.
Who greenlighted that? I don’t know, but they must have been smoking something good.
Set in 1929, Bugsy Malone (Scott Baio) works as a boxing scout. When he visits a speakeasy run by mobster “Fat” Sam Staccetto (John Cassisi), he meets Blousey Brown (Florrie Duggar), an aspiring singer.
The two become a romantic item, but matters complicate when Sam’s girlfriend Tallulah (Jodie Foster) – and Bugsy’s former girlfriend – enters the equation. Bugsy finds himself involved in underworld shenanigans as Sam’s lieutenant as well as part of this love triangle.
I was nine in 1976 so a “G”-rated kiddie flick like Malone should’ve been right up my alley. Honestly, though, I can’t remember if I saw it. I don’t believe I did, but if I viewed it 45 years ago, it left my memory decades ago.
Perhaps the concept seemed too idiotic even for a dopey nine-year-old like me. If I did skip the flick in 1976, congrats to my younger self, as he avoided a catastrophe.
I know I used the trippy nature of the 1970s as an excuse, but I still wonder: what were those involved thinking? Malone brings a bizarre, misbegotten mix of parody, genre flick and curious experiment, none of which comes together in even a vaguely satisfying manner.
Take my plot synopsis and throw it out the window, as Malone really barely attempts a story. Instead, it comes more as a mix of wacky scenes that attempt to delight us with the quirky juxtaposition of kids in adult positions.
They don’t, partly because the movie’s universe never makes much sense. Are these supposed to be young actors who simply portray adults, or should we view this as a world in which only kids exist?
I never figured out that one, though since some of the actors sport facial hair, I guess it’s the former. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as the choice to cast only children exists as nothing more than a gimmick anyway.
Unfortunately, this decision just makes the whole package more perplexing, especially because someone figured that even if Malone presents a tale in which kids play adults, they shouldn’t use deadly weapons. Granted, this seems wise, as a movie in which 12-year-olds literally kill each other wouldn’t have flown even in the wilder days of 1976.
However, the choice to have the kids use cream pies and marshmallow guns for their “hits” just seems silly. When a character gets assaulted with these weapons, the movie treats them as though they’re dead, and that never makes a lick of sense. Why would a pie to the face be the equivalent of a bullet to the head?
Perhaps I expect too much logic from a movie of this sort, and that’s a fair criticism. If we swallow the general premise of the kid-populated gangster flick, we should probably take plenty of other leaps of logic.
And maybe I would accept these if the resultant story didn’t offer such a mess. Like I said, my synopsis becomes fairly irrelevant, as Malone barely attempts an actual narrative.
Instead, we flit from one scenario to another without much logic. Sure, we follow Bugsy’s romantic path as well as Sam’s gangster exploits, but none of this sticks.
It all just feels like an excuse for more of those quirky “kids act like adults” juxtapositions. Nothing about the flick makes much sense, but it seems clear no one involved cared, as they simply felt too intoxicated with the basic nature of the movie’s gimmick.
With Foster and Baio in the cast, at least we get to see future stars in their youth. However, both acted in enough other projects that even this factor doesn’t offer much appeal.
None of the young actors can do anything with their roles. Some seem stiff and flat, while others overact relentlessly, with virtually nothing in between.
Toss in terrible songs from Paul Williams and everything about Malone flops. Director Alan Parker would go on to a good career that took flight with his next film, 1978’s Midnight Express, but Malone offers a terrible feature debut.