28 October 2017 | dglink
Delightful Julie Harris as Sally Bowles
Unfortunately for Henry Cornelius's "I am a Camera" and its delightful star, Julie Harris, that film will forever lie in the shadow of Bob Fosse's Oscar-winning musical, "Cabaret." This 1955 film, the 1972 Fosse musical, the original 1951 stage play, and the 1966 Kander and Ebb Broadway musical were all based on stories by Christopher Isherwood; the tales relate the writer's time spent in Berlin during the early 1930's, where he met and enjoyed a platonic relationship with the irrepressible Sally Bowles, a cabaret singer and aspiring film star. Bookended by Isherwood in voice-over recalling Bowles and Berlin to colleagues at a reception for the publication of Bowles's memoirs, "I am a Camera" is a highly enjoyable movie that has unjustly been eclipsed by the subsequent musical version.
Comparisons between the two movie versions are inescapable. "I am a Camera" was filmed late in period when the Motion Picture Production Code and the Legion of Decency ruled Hollywood; any mention of homosexuality, bisexuality, promiscuity, or abortion were forbidden, and those subjects are only alluded to with veiled references. However, by the time Fosse filmed the musical remake, the Code and the Legion were history, and, in "Cabaret," Christopher openly liked boys, Sally had an abortion, and Sally's straight boyfriend, Clive, in the earlier film, had become the bisexual Maximilian von Heune, who bedded both Sally and Chris. Although the rise of the Nazis and anti-Semitism were depicted in both films, "Cabaret" hit the subject with more force.
Julie Harris created Sally Bowles on stage, and her performance in "I am a Camera" is wonderful; she is alternately touching, exasperating, thoughtless, endearing, and always flamboyant as a nightclub singer of lesser talent, who dreams of big things, but always chooses the wrong men in her pursuit of the good life. Laurence Harvey is quite good in the less showy role of Chris; his overlong pouffed hair, prudishness, and indifference to Harris's physical charms wordlessly suggest his sexual orientation. Anton Diffring and Shelley Winters are also effective as the Jewish lovers, Fritz and Natalia, who cautiously court, while the threat of Naziism swirls around them. Ron Randell is also fine as Clive, Sally's wealthy party-loving beau.
Although short and censored, "I am a Camera" is possibly truer to Isherwood's stories and the real Sally than was "Cabaret." Based on a play by John van Druten, John Collier adapted and likely sanitized Isherwood for the screen. Shot in black and white by Guy Green, the film retains some staginess, but maintains a decent pace. However, most importantly, "I am a Camera" preserves the Julie Harris performance that created the unforgettable Sally Bowles.