Set in a mythical Prohibition America, freewheeling hero Bugsy Malone finds himself in the middle of a gang war between Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. As things hot up, he corals a bunch of down-and-outs to fight the cause, while trying to impress Blousey Brown, a new girl in town desperate to make it as a singer.
It is always funny to note that Alan Parker, who would go on to be best known as a director of full-blooded, archly styled dramas, began his career with this sprightly gangster-themed musical cast entirely with kids albeit representing adult counterparts. That it works so well is down to the high quality, low-mawkishness of his chosen youngsters, the elaborate production design built across Pinewood stages, and an excellent set of songs by Paul Williams. Easy as that, except when most others try such a hazardous concept they come skidding off the road.
Good thinking goes on from the top down — replacing lethal Tommy guns with the splurge equivalent (firing globules of what looks like gloopy wallpaper paste), having pedal powered sedans, and keeping the script thrumming with cod-period dialogue all work a treat. The film is wryly mocking its sources, but with a sense of easy love. The host of whippersnappers draped in adult cloth, in Jodie Foster’s case brazenly sexualising her, live up to the test of carrying this hybrid off. Foster is the stand out, saucily experimenting with the role of Fat Sam’s moll, but Scott Baio, Florrie Dugger and John Cassisi’s plaintive Fat Sam are all decent. Parker had a knack splicing youth and music he would utilise with Fame and The Commitments.
Clearly as well as his good eye, he has a very good ear. The songs slip easily into the gangster drama in miniature: My Name Is Tallulah, So You Wanna Be A Boxer and Down And Out all served up with drama school gusto. The big finale, when all splurge has been spent, is close to magnificent — a thumping piano chord silencing the battleground and the gentle strains of I Could Have Been Anything That I Wanted I Be begins, segueing into the entire cast joining together for a rendition of You Give A Little Love. Of course, its cheesy as hell, but the film has earned its send off. You can’t help but smile along.
The songs and set pieces are still fresh and infectious and most of the child cast are mesmerisingly good. I defy anyone not to be caught up in the charm and nostalgia.