First there was the play, Chicago, written in 1926 by Maureen Dallas Watkins, who based it on her experiences as a reporter. It was made into a silent film in 1927. I would really like to see that. It is two hours long, and the play is dialogue heavy. It was a real challenge to adapt plays like that to silent movies.
Then it was adapted into this film for Ginger Rogers and Adolph Menjou, scripted by Nunnally Johnson and Ben Hecht, directed by William Wellman. I think it’s safe to call it a screwball comedy.
Eventually came the 1976 musical by the legendary team of John Kander and Fred Ebb, staged by Bob Fosse. It is the second-longest-running show on Broadway, behind only The Phantom of the Opera. And last, the 2002 filmed version, which won the Oscar for Best Picture.
And of all those versions, this is the only one where Roxie Hart did not plug her lover with two shots to the chest. That was because in 1942 the infamous Production Code deemed it unacceptable that anyone should get away with murder. And, of course, the whole point of the frickin’ story is that people do get away with murder, particularly if they have a slick-talking shyster, a Chicago jury, and a terrific set of gams. Oh, the filmic atrocities committed in the name of the Holy Code. November 1, 1968 was a great day for the movies, when the Code was officially abandoned. (It was replaced with the MPAA rating system, of which I am no fan, but at least that just warns you that you might be offended, rather than forbids you to judge for yourself.)
Ginger plays Roxie as quite a bit more of a nitwit than either Gwen Verdon, Ann Reinking, or Renee Zellwegger did. She never quite seems to grasp that she might actually be found guilty, and is almost too stupid to learn the lines Billy Flynn gives her. But I always find Ginger Rogers appealing, and she had a real flair for comedy, as well as being one of the top five female dancers who ever cut a rug on celluloid.