Ditched by her hoodlum boyfriend Charlie and spurned by slumming movie star Vittorio Vitale, Charity Hope Valentine finds unexpected happiness with insurance actuary Oscar Lindquist until he discovers that she's a hostess at the Fandango Ballroom and calls off their wedding.
Bob Fosse had given Shirley MacLaine her big break in the mid-1950s by promoting her to be Carol Haney's understudy in the Broadway version of The Pajama Game. So, when she learned that the head of Universal Studios, Lew Wasserman, was looking for a project to cash-in on the musical boom following The Sound of Music, MacLaine suggested Neil Simon's adaptation of Federico Fellini's 1957 classic, Le Notti di Cabiria, which Fosse had steered through 608 performances in New York.
But while Wasserman was prepared to take a chance on Fosse directing his first feature, he insisted on Fosse’s wife-star Gwen Verdon stepping down in favour of MacLaine, who was desperate to prove that she was capable of better things than Can-Can and What a Way to Go!. Having already lost the former to MacLaine, Verdon passed with good grace and agreed to coach her through the demanding dance routines. However, MacLaine lacked Verdon's technique and grace and she struggled to hold her own alongside Ballroom buddies Paula Kelly and Chita Rivera, although she was scarcely helped by Fosse's angulated postures, typically fussy business with props and his excessive use of zoom lenses and gimmicky camera moves that were intended to catch the viewer up in the kinetic energy of the choreography. Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields's score held up well, with `Hey, Big Spender!' and `If My Friends Could See Me Now' being the standouts, while Stubby Kaye's `I Always Cry at Weddings' and Sammy Davis, Jr's `The Rhythm of Life' provided diverting asides. But time often hung heavy during the 157-minute running time, which was eventually trimmed after a disappointing roadshow release. Many of the problems lay in MacLaine's performance, which was brassy and needy and utterly devoid of the vulnerable charm that had made Giulietta Masina's screen original both adorable and authentic. Moreover, falling between the vibrant realism of West Side Story and the period pizzazz of Hello, Dolly!, Sweet Charity also failed to capture the distinctive Big Apple atmosphere and it returned only $4 million on a $20 million outlay.
This has a lot of good ingredients but just doesn't quite manage to pull it off. It's looks dated and Shirley Maclaine doesn't quite capture the sympathies of all audiences.