The Broadway inspired film musical on everybody’s lips is gonna be Chicago…
A married, one time chorus girl murders her lover. Through her lawyer’s publicity, soon her case is the talk of Chicago.
Chicago (2002) Official Trailer – Catherine Zeta Jones, Richard Gere Movie HD, Movieclips Classic Trailers and photos © Miramax
Chicago (2002) is the much-acclaimed musical movie that stars the always incomparable Catherine Zeta Jones as Velma Kelly. Zeta-Jones is an actress who always makes song and dance numbers seem effortless. Her co-star, Renee Zellweger is in one of her rare roles that make you forget she was Bridget Jones.
More support comes from three surprisingly unforgettable turns from Queen Latifah, Richard Gere and John C Reilly. Finally, there’s a spot the star moment, with Susan Misner from The Americans (2013-18), dancing her socks off. These stars and songs adding up to the six times Oscar-winning film which has always been a strong contender for my favourite film.
Originally Chicago was a play penned by a reporter, Maurine Dallas Watkins in 1926. The play was written just before those real-life atrocities of Bonnie and Clyde (1967). The jazz era of those 1920s and 30s was an era also of fictional crimes like Frank and Dora killing her husband in The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981). Both these crimes were made into successful movies.
Chicago however was a musical satire on the then trend of glamorising celebrity criminals (that didn’t go over my head). Watkins’ play was made into a silent movie, a Ginger Rogers romantic comedy film, Roxie Hart (1942) and a Broadway musical hit in the 1970s.
Much, much later made into the immersive jazz era film musical in 2002, that I’m reviewing here. These were all based on the same two non-fictional murderesses – but both given fictional names – known as Velma and Roxie.
The film tells of Roxie Hart (Zellweger), a one-time chorus girl who hopes to get back under the spotlight in a more commanding role. She watches Velma Kelly (Zeta Jones) – while she’s at a nightclub with her date, Frank Casely (Dominic West) – imagining herself in Kelly’s place.
Kelly is the epitome of a sultry, sexy and sassy singing star in her solo All That Jazz number. The audience expecting her in a sister double act are unaware Kelly just shot her sister and husband after finding them in bed together. Til the cops turn up at the club to arrest her.
Roxie returns back home – with a date in tow – whilst this song underway. Roxie and her lover Casely are all over each other. Yet, she introduces him to a neighbour as her brother. As the pair make frenzied love – intercut beautifully in time with the All that Jazz scene and reflecting the lyrics – we learn Roxie’s a married woman but not to Casely.
Afterwards, she asks Casely about his showbiz friend he’d promised to talk to about her talents. Casely cruelly retorts that he only said this to bed her, and she’s not that talented and pushes her away. Roxie is heartbroken on learning of these false promises of possible stardom and shoots him dead.
Roxie convinces her husband, Amos (John C Reilly) that Casely was a burglar. This until the truth of the “burglar”s identity, and this is revealed to Amos as he confesses to the crime to the police. Roxie is arrested. She’s taken to Crook Prison and to Death Row, gaining front page coverage.
In prison, she meets Mamma Morton (Queen Latifah), the apparently kindly and matronly warden who will do favours for money for her inmates. Morton taking advantage of those inmates who hope for fame and fortune or a bar of soap. Morton allegedly knows those all-important showbiz contacts.
Roxie – still hoping for stardom – is groomed to be a celebrity criminal by her lawyer, Billy Flynn (Richard Gere). Flynn teaching her how to play the press keep their attention and gain front page coverage in underhand ways. He shuns his then protege Velma Kelly in Roxie’s favour. This results in some animosity between the women.
Roxie becomes an instant celebrity with front page coverage, and Velma’s case coverage reduced to a small paragraph. The Press is led by the radio anchorwoman, Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski), and they become putty in Flynn and Roxie’s hands. Roxie herself is later seen as yesterday’s news – for Flynn, Morton and the Press – with a new murderess, Kitty (Lucy Liu) arriving on Death Row. Roxie ups her game as her court case beckons…
I adored the song and dance scenes in this movie, with fantastic performances by all the cast. These easily making these my favourite roles from the cast compared with their film and TV performances to date.
After seeing this film the first time, I played this catchy and engaging musical soundtrack constantly. Those stars singing performances are by the stars concerned (and not dubbed.) This makes it doubly wonderful. After seeing and hearing this cast, I really couldn’t see these characters as anyone else. Darlin Husband once told me Bristol, British TV Presenter, Justin Lee Collins has played the role of Amos Hart, but for me, it’s John C Reilly all the way.
My thoughts on this movie, on first watching it were varied. I was captivated and transfixed by everyone’s stellar performances. But the first time I felt Richard Gere was not my idea of a good Billy Flynn, however on the rewatch he was perfect. Gere’s good looks and charisma added to his masquerade.
This lawyer’s charming facade covering up his character’s true self of a slimy and manipulative advocate. Gere now had my attention, noting a few more moments from this character that I’d missed before. His acting, singing and dancing complementing his role to perfection.
This made him as irreplaceable as those leading actress co-stars. Especially after reading his role could have been John Travolta’s, which now seemed so wrong a choice. Gere’s energetic scenes as Flynn in the courtroom and with the Press showed his character at his most cunning and crafty.
Catherine Zeta Jones was flawless. IMDb reports she was bagged for the role after the film’s producer, Martin Richards spotted her talents as she sang Christmas carols with her family. Bearing in mind her family consists of her husband, Michael Douglas and her father-in-law Kirk Douglas, this no-mean feat.
Her strengths as a musical talent led to an offer of the Roxie Hart role. I was then happy to learn, Zeta-Jones asked to play Velma Kelly instead. Zeta Jones is much more suited to this sassy, flirty and gutsy character and this is seen in Zeta Jones’ perfect performance. On a side note, Zeta-Jones sports an enviously chic short bob and I’m glad she took the chop rather than keeping her long locks.
Like Zeta Jones, Zellweger a natural choice for her character. This compared to those many other famous names on the shortlist including Charlize Theron. Zellweger easily convinces as the innocent chorus girl who shot in self-defence, with her initially gaining your sympathy. Later she turned into a more manipulative Roxie after learns just how to get the press at her beck and call through her scrupulous lawyer. Even teaching him a thing or two.
It’s easily my favourite role from this actress with her showing just how fabulous she is in a sing and dance number. This role leading to her musical inspired scene with Ewan McGregor (who had starred in Moulin Rouge (2001)) in Down with Love (2003). I love Zellweger in both these films, her Bridget Jones films not so much.
This film’s catchy musical numbers and their mesmerising use in the film were wonderfully executed. These songs never seeming out of context to the plot, more natural and complementing their place in the storyline perfectly. The choreography and dance used with these songs always seemed well thought out.
Examples of these include Roxie as the dummy to Flynn’s ventriloquist as she faces the press, with her now fabricated life designed for stardom. This scene showing Flynn seen literally and figuratively pulling The Press’ strings as puppets under his command with his new “star”, Roxie.
Zeta Jones showed her strengths as a singer and dancer in all her appearances but in I can’t Do It Alone she is exemplary. Here she demonstrates how Velma and Roxie could be that perfect double act. There are so many wonderfully imagined scenes…
Roxie dreams of a leading lady role in her song Roxie, reminiscent of a Marilyn Monroe performance. John C Reilly shows himself as a clown who fell for Roxie’s lies in Mr Cellophane. I could go on forever about these credible, fantastic performances.
Ironically this plot was a 1920s satire on celebrity criminals and the transient side of stardom. How stars were created for the front page before becoming yesterday’s news as fish and chip paper. This film kinda ironically putting those Chicago murderesses back in the spotlight.
This argument is still valid today with certain people trending on social media when they make a film or when they pass away. Then apparently social media forgets them, although they live on in our hearts. Their enduring stardom promoted by film bloggers is seen in our reviews and blogathons.
Flash forward to the present, Catherine Zeta Jones, I’m delighted to say that after gaining a Best Supporting Actress for this film. This actress gained a recent Tony Award and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE). She’s also still with her silver fox husband, Michael Douglas (and so the envy of my teenage self).
But the jury’s out on Judy (2019), Renee’s Zellweger’s new film. Her film is based on the life of the singer and actress, Judy Garland. There are reservations from me for this film. Particularly after seeing Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows (2001), the excellent mini-series was written by Garland’s daughter Lorna Luft (yes, Luft did star in the musical Grease 2 (1982)). I just hope Zellweger does Judy Garland justice. But I’ll just wait until I see it, after all, the proof is in the pudding.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦😦😦😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
The Second Annual Broadway Bound Blogathon 2019, No 29
This film review was added to Taking Up Room‘s The Second Broadway Bound Blogathon. With more from this cast in reviews here with Renee Zelleger starring in Down with Love, Miss Potter and more. Catherine Zeta Jones in Rock of Ages. Christine Baranski in Mamma Mia and Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. Richard Gere in Pretty Woman and Runaway Bride.