Roxie Hart Reviews
but that's the way Chicago rolls!
So okay. In [i]Roxie Hart[/i], Roxie has not killed anyone. Her husband starts by confessing, then accuses her. This part is true in both versions, as is the fact that she becomes the latest celebrity murderess in the Cook County jail. It's suddenly fashionable to be like her. She gets an astonishing amount of publicity, and it's generally considered impossible for her to be convicted; Cook County does not, they say, kill women. (We all know that Illinois doesn't kill [i]anyone[/i] these days, but never mind.) In [i]Chicago[/i], we see one woman actually get hanged--even though, as it happens, Illinois had moved over to the electric chair by then. Either way, if Roxie isn't acquitted, she will be on Death Row, not a happy place. So she declares she's pregnant.
[i]Chicago[/i] is the better telling of the story, and it's not just because there's more singing and dancing. (Yes, than in a Ginger Rogers movie. But it [i]is[/i] based on Fosse.) It's not even just that the singing and dancing is better, though it is. Ginger's one musical number is just her dancing with a bunch of reporters, and none of the guys are good dancers. It's the limitations of the Code. Roxie has greater limits placed on her in [i]Roxie Hart[/i], because she doesn't have to be the foul-mouthed, bitter, [i]actual murderess[/i] that we get in [i]Chicago[/i], both the movie and the original play. I mean, Ginger Rogers can't be a murderess either way, because she is, in fact, Ginger Rogers. It's one of the few places where I think Renee Zellweger is perfectly cast, because we can [i]believe[/i] her as the frankly dumb, petty, selfish Roxie. Rogers's Roxie is too sweet. I'm not buying it.
So let's get down to specifics. [i]Roxie Hart[/i], the first chronologically, is a saccharine little tale. Roxie is willing to confess to the crime and even be put on trial because she thinks the acquittal will help her show business career. When "Two-Gun Gertie" comes into prison, Roxie announces a pregnancy to get her publicity back (another area that both movies have in common, though the woman who sparks it is different--probably because the one in [i]Chicago[/i] involves cohabitation). She's naive, but she's not terribly brassy, if you will. This is a Roxie that wouldn't have an affair if she wanted to; she can't even really flirt with a guy unless her divorce comes through. At that, she can't get into a relationship unless that, too, implies marriage.
In [i]Chicago[/i], we have not only the implied Roxie of previous paragraphs but a second focus of Velma Kelly as well. Velma is Catherine Zeta-Jones, and she is delightfully wicked. She claims to have blacked out the murders she's in jail over, but she gives an aura of reliving them quietly and happily in the privacy of her own head when the lights go out. The loss of the Code also permits us to let both women really violate real laws. Velma is perfectly open about the fact that she, her husband, and her sister were [i]breaking the law[/i]. After all, this story is set during Prohibition. Velma says, in so many words, that they were having a few drinks. Various of the other women violated the same laws. There's astonishing corruption in that prison. And Billy Flynn, who admits in both to not caring if someone is guilty or not, is shown as a jerk in both, but he's a [i]likable[/i] jerk, because he's allowed to be, in this.
In case you needed another reason to be against the Code, I encourage you to compare these two movies. The one that didn't have to worry about the Code, that gave up and went for the PG-13, is more clever and more entertaining. I don't care about the swearing; let's leave the swearing out of this and look at the things that really ran up against the Code. Okay--Roxie gets away with murder. But does anyone [i]really[/i] want to be anything like her? Or do she and Velma both pretty much give you the creeps? Sure, you want a Billy Flynn to take your side, but as I said, Billy's kind of a jerk in both. The thing is, Roxie sells because [i]sex[/i] sells, and the Roxie of [i]Roxie Hart[/i] isn't sexy.