'Chicago's' expert sleaze

Chicago begins oddly (oddly for a movie musical) with a close-up of a woman’s eyes. Hungry eyes. Envious eyes. The camera moves closer and closer as if it would like to plunge into the mind behind them. Is this really a musical we are about to see or some sort of psychodrama? Both, as it turns out, plus a satire on an America so media-brainwashed and celebrity-obsessed that its legal system has become an annex of show business.

Those eyes belong to Roxie Hart, an unemployed third-rate showgirl of the 1920s who will do anything to become a star. Dumb enough to sleep with a furniture salesman just because he claims to have showbiz connections, Roxie is also sharp enough to realize, after she shoots her betrayer dead, that a front-page murder can be more fame-enhancing than a hit Broadway show, and that a murderess can be a superstar, even an acquitted superstar, if her lawyer is good enough and if the press gets on her side. But Roxie has to compete for publicity against Velma Kelly, another showbiz murderess in the cellblock. A Broadway show getting bad reviews may die at the box office. For Roxie and Velma to get bad reviews (that is, unsympathetic headlines) means to die at the end of a rope. This very real peril never snaps Roxie out of her celebrity-obsessed fantasizing. Whatever takes place in her imagination becomes a musical act in the nightclub of her mind, while whatever happens in the everyday worlds...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.