Plenty of films over the years have depicted Chicago during the gang-ridden Prohibition Era. How many of them were musical comedies starring kids as pie throwing gangsters? Only one that we know of – the unforgettable 1976 classic, Bugsy Malone. Starring Scott Baio (Chachi from Happy Days), a very young Jodie Foster, and featuring the lyrics and music of composer Paul Williams, Bugsy Malone was a tongue-in-cheek ode to a violent era, and full of loving jabs at 1930s gangster films.
Two rival gangs led by Fat Sam and Dandy Dan are waging an ongoing battle against each other for control of the windy city and Sam is losing. He recruits a poor, down-on-his-luck boxing promoter named Bugsy (Baio) to be his driver and help protect his business interests from Dan, who has developed a seemingly invincible pie-shooting tommy gun (custard, as it turns out, is the deadly weapon of choice around these parts).
Sam sends Bugsy to steal this weapon from Dan and the war is on. Complicating matters for Bugsy is the fact that, although he has a girlfriend named Blousey Brown, who he hopes to take to Hollywood one day, he is also getting a little flirtatious with Fat Sam’s lady, Tallulah (Foster), a singer at the local speakeasy. And along the way, there are plenty of pie battles to be waged and plenty of songs to be sung. Somewhat strange (OK, it’s all somewhat strange) is the fact that all of the songs are actually sung by adults and lip-synced by the kid actors in the film.
Which begs the question – It’s hard not to wonder how a film about singing, pie-throwing, prepubescent gangsters actually got green lighted in the first place? And yet, Bugsy Malone somehow found its way onto the big screen, in all its custardy glory. It didn’t do quite as well as Hollywood had hoped, but memories of this quirky film continue to linger, enough so that it was resurrected in the 90s as a popular stage musical. It may be a sugary sweet depiction of one of the most violent eras in history, but wouldn’t life be a little better if we just replaced bullets with pie? An intriguing thought from an unforgettable film.
If you have fond memories of watching Bugsy Malone as a kid, perhaps even had a fantasy or two of aiming your own custard-armed weapon at a sibling (or substitute teacher), we welcome your thoughts and recollections in our comments section.