The 1980s which was a decade that really didn’t deliver much in the way of film musicals, especially integrated ones like ANNIE. There were plenty of diagetic musicals and jukebox musicals and musical biopics during the decade, but the traditional integrated musical was not really a popular genre during this decade. There were of course films like THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, GREASE 2 and some others, but the decade was dominated by dozens of non-integrated musicals such as FOOTLOOSE, THE COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER, THIS IS SPINAL TAP, THE BLUES BROTHERS and FAME.
The stage musical of ANNIE is a rather dark musical, not only in it’s design or mood, but even in it’s themes as it really does explore the affects of the Great Depression and the anger of poverty stricken New Yorkers during the 30s and 40s, and this is highlighted in songs like “We’d Like To Thank You Herbert Hoover” which was ultimately cut from the film. The film is a lot brighter and a lot cheerier than the stage production which was originally conceived and directed by the extraordinarily talented Mike Nichols who of course directed brilliant films like WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?, THE GRADUATE, THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN, CARNAL KNOWLEDGE and WOLF to name just a few.
Hollywood legend John Huston took the reigns as director of ANNIE and was integral in the stage to film translation and adaptation. He made some major changes to the story – setting it in Summer instead of Winter, removing a number of songs and replacing them with new ones, including supporting characters from the Harold Gray comic strip such as Punjab, The Asp and Mr. Bundle, changing the fate of the perpetually drunk and gleefully abusive Miss Hannigan and much more.
But with these changes, Huston’s film is incredible and works on every level. The score is captivating and rich, the lyrics pin point perfect and inspired and the authenticity to the comics the film is based on is electric and energetic. There is no beat missed here. It’s also great to see a film where kids are allowed to be grubby and filthy and not just relegated to overt cutesiness. These kids are tough and rough and ready and truly do live the hard knock life.
And for me, what makes this film extremely good is the phenomenal cast – Carol Burnett is a treat, truly worthy of an Oscar nomination here as the mean booze riddled man crazy Miss Hannigan, Albert Finney revels in the aggressively stoic and stuffy role of capitalist Oliver Warbucks, Bernadette Peters sizzles as the opportunistic gangster moll-type Lily St. Regis, Tim Curry oozes sleazy charm as the lascivious Rooster, Ann Reinking with all her incredible dancing highlighted in the number “We Got Annie” brings her Bob Fosse sass and elegance to the big screen as Grace Farrell, Ed Hermann as president FDR and Geoffrey Holder as Punjab are clearly having a ball playing such iconic roles belonging to both the worlds of fact and fiction and Aileen Quinn as Annie, heading an amazing cast of ridiculously talented little girls playing the orphans, is a true star. Her singing of “Maybe”, a risky number, risky that it’s a sombre ballad that opens the show, truly captures the idea of longing and loneliness.
It’s a fun and moving film boasting composer Charles Strouse’s glorious music. ANNIE will charm you and remind you that you’re never fully dressed without a smile!