I can’t think of many World War II period pieces set in Germany where Nazis are at the front and center of the film, but “Cabaret” surprised me in that regard. While the film is largely about an English scholar (Michael York) and a floozy dancer/singer at a night club (Liza Minnelli) falling in love, the film is set in 1931 Berlin, just a few years before the Nazis came into power and we get to see what life was like before the Third Reich – grimy, unclean and paranoid about both the past and the future.
The nightclub that Sally works at is the Kit Kat Club, where the cares of the world seem to fade away and the host loves to ridicule forces trying to control the world. Whether it is an afternoon dance number or gaudy night routine in a packed house, everyone seems to be having a good time and let loose.
But from the beginning of the film, we can see the first hints of Nazi influence. First as a weak kid trying to sneak in the show, then as a boy on the street handing out flyers, the Nazis start to creep into the movie. And each time, they seem to be getting stronger, as they beat up one of the men who turn them away from the club, or grab hundreds of flyers after some of them get slapped out of their hands. It is never the focus of the movie, but their threats always seem to be lurking in the background, waiting for their power to grow before they pounce on everyone and take what they want.
By the end of the film, the audience is full of men in Nazi uniforms and the host that once mocked the Third Reich is now supporting them more than anyone else in the crowd. They have taken over and their musical number, “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” has come to fruition.
“Cabaret” works a subtle reminder of how silently and swiftly the Nazis took over everyday life in Germany, and their growing necessity of fear.
Outside of that though, “Cabaret” is fine love story between two competent actors, with Minnelli standing out more than York due to her vivacious and carefree attitude where she wants to be friends and lovers with everyone she meets. The pace is slow and many scenes go on much longer than they need to, especially in the middle of the film. Overall, I came for the musical numbers but stayed for the creeping Nazis.
Final Grade: C