What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of something called Hollywood’s Hispanic Heritage Blog-A-Thon being hosted by Once Upon A Screen. This isn’t the first blog-a-thon I’ve done with her; I took part last year in one dedicated to character actors. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time I get to participate in one of her projects!
To see all the participants in this blog-a-thon, click here.
First and foremost, this movie fits the theme for a Hispanic Heritage blog-a-thon as it features the man on the banner, Ricardo Montalban. Despite the fact Montalban’s role of “Vittorio” is much larger, one can make an argument that Chita Rivera’s “Nickie” is nearly as important to the overall progression of the film.
Having said that, “Sweet Charity” centers around Charity Hope Valentine (played by Shirley MacLaine). This movie represents Bob Fosse’s directorial debut, and it is based on the screenplay of a Federico Fellini’s black-and-white “Nights of Cabiria.” Fellini’s version revolves around the romantic ups-and-downs of a prostitute in her quest for true love. Fosse’s version uses the metaphor of Charity being a Times Square taxi dancer; a prostitute wasn’t likely to be seen as a sympathetic character. That’s going to be important later.
Charity is seeking to escape her current life; the film opens with her being robbed and pushed off a walking bridge in Central Park by her gigolo boyfriend. She shares her dream of a new life with fellow dancers Helene (played by Paula Kelly) and Nickie (played by Chita Rivera). Her hopes grow immensely as she almost literally stumbles into a relationship with the movie star Vittorio Vitale (played by Ricardo Montalban).
The problem is Charity sees love where there isn’t any, and her affair with Vittorio has a humiliating end. At the point it seems that Charity is about to hit rock-bottom; she has just failed at finding a new job through an employment agency, she meets the quirky introvert Oscar Lindquist (played by John McMartin) in a stuck elevator. From the jump, it’s clear this will be a burgeoning relationship, but there’s a problem. This is the part where the whole “taxi dancer/prostitute” metaphor becomes important.
While Charity does not reveal what she does for a living, there’s a scene where Oscar admits he followed her to the dance hall, and that he knows what she does. Even after she admits it, Oscar is initially accepting, but it becomes clear during the “going away” party the dance hall throws for her that he’s had a change of heart. Of course, he doesn’t have the stones to tell her this until they are literally in the courthouse at the very door where one goes to get married.
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
Sports fans may not know it, but they know the “Charity Valentine” story nearly by heart. In this movie, Shirley MacLaine pulls of a masterful performance melding the comic with the tragic in a search for “greener pastures.” As such, Charity Valentine represents nearly the exact same struggle faced by a professional athlete who is at the end of their career, but isn’t ready to retire just yet. Whether you’re a taxi dancer or an aging free-agent, the name of the game is offering your services to the highest bidder. But when the bids aren’t quite what they want, or the bids stop coming at all, they both have some tough decisions to make.
What complicates all this is when guys like Lindquist pick a crucial time in the process of “sealing the deal” to stop being honest. The problem isn’t that Lindquist changed his mind; it’s that he waited until the absolute last minute to tell Charity. In the sports world, Oscar Lindquist would be the general manager who has been in negotiations with the aforementioned free-agent, but who likewise has had a change of heart. They both involve “pulling the plug” late in the process, and they both involve not being honest about what is happening.
From the moment Oscar changes his mind, he uses the exact same tactic used by gutless general managers. Instead of simply saying “the deal is off,” he keeps changing the terms in the hopes the other party will break off the negotiations. However, in this case, Charity keeps agreeing…she just wants to close the deal no matter the terms.
Eventually he backs himself into a corner and has no choice but to cut her down at home plate, thus maximizing the “heartbreak” factor. Again, the issue here isn’t that Oscar is going to do a very shitty thing; it that’s he does it in the worst manner possible, all because he has no guts.
Once again, this is where that “taxi dancer/prostitute” metaphor is crucial to the efficacy of this film. Nobody would feel sorry for Charity if she were a hooker; but if your heart doesn’t break for her at the end of “Sweet Charity,” you likely don’t have one.
The Moral of The Story:
In the immortal words of Robert Duvall in “Lonesome Dove”…”Even whores have hearts.”
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