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The Great Bamboozle

Plot Overview

“Chicago” opens at a 1920s nightclub with headliner Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) performing solo what had been a sister act, extolling in song and dance her gay life­style. In the wings is her ardent admirer ex-chorus girl Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) imagining she were in Velma's shoes. Roxie hooks up with a guy Fred Casely (Dominic West) who promises to connect her with his producer friend. A month later, after thrice weekly assignations while her husband is away, Roxie discovers she's been had by Fred who has no connections what­so­ever (“You lied to me.”) Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

Her arrest gains Roxie instant notoriety, and from E-block, “Murderess Row,” she and Matron Mama Morton (Queen Latifa) conspire with star defense attorney Billy Flynn (Richard Gere) to get her off and launch her career on the publicity alone. Velma is now her competitor in the same boat, and before their 15 minutes of fame is over, they might do well to achieve some sort of détente.

Skillful editing cut back and forth between Velma's song and Roxie's tryst, the former embodying what Roxie hoped to gain from the latter, inter­rupted by the reality check of the DA (“This is a hanging case”) and the mute testimony of Roxie's diary (labeled Roxie) sitting on her dresser. This inter­twining of musical imagination and down to earth reality continues through­out “Chicago” for all the major characters, and some minor, meeting in the diary that's supposed to record motivations. So infectious is the music that we unavoidably end up rooting for the accused rather than for the murdered who, after all, “had it comin'.”


Everything comes to a head at Roxie's trial where Billy tells her not to worry, that “It's a circus, a three ring circus: these trials, the whole world.” So we should be able to take some­thing away from the show to apply to life out­side the film. The critical evidence introduced at trial was Roxie's diary. It was as lawyer author MacKenzie Canter wrote in one of his novels about: “get[ting] the journal admitted into evidence which enables me during my sum­mation to read, with approp­riate dramatic flair and gesture, the choicest entries. … ¶“The key is to make evidence come alive for the jury. Any good thes­pian knows the way to do that is to make it con­crete and vivid. … ¶“Strut­ting and fret­­ting on the stage, gener­ating sound, fury, and judicial results, if not justice” (106–107).

This diary that seemed like just a prop at the beginning, lying there on the dresser, doesn't make its appearance again until the trial where it's critical evidence. At trial we see another book, too, the Bible that Billy waves at the jury, Velma swears on, and in several scenes it just sits there next to the witness rail. Mightn't we maybe apply it else­where in the circus that is the world? In Billy's “Razzle Dazzle” number, he sings, “Back since the days of old Methuselah / Everyone loves the big bamboozelah.” Methuselah was the grand­father of Noah who preached up a storm while building his ark. Billy's point is every­one loves a show, even (or especially) from preachers. He includes in his song a seeming mala­propism: “Though you are stiffer than a girder / They'll let you get away with murder. / Razzle dazzle them / And you'll have a romance.” Some romances, some marriages people enter into, can seem like getting away with murder, meta­phoric­ally speaking. That's the application suggested at this crucial point.

Roxie's husband Amos (John C. Reilly) sings “Mr. Cellophane” about being ignored so much he might as well be invisible (“'cause you can look right through me, walk right by me and never know I'm there”), reminiscent, in terms of Bible writers, of the apostle Paul terribly prone to being mis­under­stood. Curiously, there is in fact one trans­parent part of the body, the cornea, and this movie opens with a shot looking into Roxie's eye, of the middle C in Chicago. Roxie's first news­paper publicity was when a boot­legger was accompanied by a “cute blonde Corrine,” reminiscent of Chicago's all night jazz joint on Saulsalito and Benson named “Sweet Corrine's.” Then there are all those Corinthian columns at the court­house and next to the picture of Lady Justice, in Billy's office. If we are going to look at the Bible for a romance that's like getting away with murder, we might consider Paul's epistles to the Corinthians.

The anomaly is Billy who sings, “All I Need is Love” while his real-world persona shows him enjoying the good things of life. In song he exemplifies St. Symeon the New Theologian: “Tell me, you futile men, if you under­stand this: what person having gained Christ, needs any of the good things from this world?” (119), but he dresses in tailored suits and rides a fancy limousine as if following Paul: (1 Cor. 3:21b–22) “For all things are yours; Whether … the world, … or things present, or things to come; all are your's.”

1 Corinthians 7Billy quite agrees with Paul when portraying Roxie as a saint who went astray, he auctions off her pos­ses­sions to finance his fee: “They'll buy every­thing: shoes, dresses, per­fume, under­wear.” A saint can have all these things of the world (“things present”), and there's nothing wrong with some­one acquiring them, either (“things to come.”) This past and present things of the world carries over into 1 Cor. 7 where Christians generally agree Paul has said a Christian may remain in a marriage to a non-believer so long as the other is willing, and for the sake of the children, but they'll think you're trying to get away with murder if you go and marry one. However, Paul has just allowed for the future tense as well. And Roxie's story reflects the same criteria, acting so as not to “hurt the baby” and defending her­self by saying it was mutual (“They both reached for the gun.”) I've diagrammed Cor. 7 on another page.

From a theological perspective, Jesus answers Peter's question at the end of Matt. 19 telling him that by forsaking the things of the world, he will receive a full measure of Christian fellow­ship in this world and inherit eternal life in the next. He illustrates that with the parable of the laborers in which those called to a full day's work receive the same penny wage as those hired for just the last hour. Some people are called to enjoy more things of the world than are others, but they'll all receive like award with full Christian fellow­ship and eternal life, whether they've married another Christian or just some­one unsaved they are to be an example to. In the Movie Roxie the erst­while wannabe seems able to team up with Velma who had the “perfect double act,” but they listed their names alpha­betic­ally, the first being last and the last first.

Production Values

“Chicago” (2002) is an adaptation of the hit Broadway musical “Chicago.” It was directed by Rob Marshall. Bill Condon wrote the screen­play, from Bob Fosse, Fred Ebb, and John Kander's book of musical play: Chicago, from Maurine Dallas Watkins's play “Chicago.” The emphasis is on singing and dancing, fleshing out an other­wise simplistic plot.

It stars Renée Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Richard Gere. The acting was all good, but I don't think the parts were all that challenging. It's at singing and dancing where every­one shines. Queen Latifa displayed a powerful trained voice, and Catherine Zeta-Jones had some stage back­ground that came in handy as well. The rest did just fine under good directing, although that wasn't their forte.

The editing was amazing, the way the scenes cut back and forth between actual and imagination. Seamless. A nice touch was the red scarves the jail­house women used to illustrate their bloody deeds, and the white scarf of the one innocent one.

Review Conclusion w/ Consumer Recommendation

“Chicago” is my second favorite movie of all time. I went to a late show to catch it a seventh time before it closed, and more recently I saw it in the theater again as a classic. In 2002 I bought a consumer VHS machine so I could watch it at home, and I bought the CD of the music, but then I had to buy a CD player, too. But it was worth it. You know, when one has only one CD in his collection, there's only so many times he can play it before he tires of it.

I loved the whole movie, every bit of it, and all of the songs. It has my highest recommendation, although some of the language is a bit rough—it gets sorted out a little in the songs.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes

Suitability for Children: Suitable for children 13+ years

Special effects: Well done special effects

Viewing Format VHS

Video Occasion: Fit For a Friday Evening

Suspense: A few suspenseful moments

Overall product rating: Five stars out of five

Works Cited

Scripture quoted from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769. Software.

Canter, MacKenzie. The Indictment. New York: Carroll & Graf Pub., 1994. Print.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymn 19 (ed. Johannes Koder, SC 174 [Paris: Cerf, 1971] p. 98, lines 50-52) as quoted in: Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra. The Church at Prayer. Edited and annotated by The Holy Covenant of the Annunciation, Ormylia. Athens: Indiktos; Alhambra, CA: Sebastian Press, 2012. Print.