My relationship with Chicago can best be described as dysfunctional. When it was released I was in the 6th grade, and I was absolutely obsessed with it. Part of the appeal was certainly the raunchiness, as it was possibly the dirtiest movie I had seen at that time (sex scenes! garters! loose morals!) but as I get older the shock wears off. (Duh.)
With age and repeat viewings, I also find myself more critical of it. The film’s “protagonist” Roxie Hart becomes less and less likeable and the sound editing rather gimmicky. The choices in directing mesmerized me in my youth, but now I find them rather obvious and dull.
However, while the content is less impressive to me, its style and what the movie represents bring the movie significant more weight and, in my opinion, make it more and more essential. The musical numbers are all very well staged, particularly the unforgettable “Cell Block Tango.” Furthermore, Chicago has the honor of being possibly the only noir movie musical.
Yes, it’s a musical (black) comedy, but there’s no one to root for here; everybody’s got loose morals, and in the end, two murderesses beat the system and become celebrities. What?
Movies like this would never have flown in classical Hollywood, so Chicago is a jewel in the noir crown. The take-home message, essentially, is that we can get away with terrible crimes and that we should stop at nothing to get what we want. It’s the standard Hero’s Journey, but with murder and dishonesty as tools to use to achieve our ends.
While I do think the film runs a bit long, for the most part it is a supremely entertaining movie harkening back to a time when the movies were meant to be fun; the characters are cynical and conniving, but doggone it they’re gonna sing and dance and we’ll all have a good time.
This is a movie where the sum of its parts is greater than the whole, with fantastic musical numbers but a few lagging dialogue scenes in the second hour, but the film has such an important role both in modern noir and in the modern musical where it is undoubtedly an essential viewing for contemporary cinema. “Isn’t it swell?”