Kid gangsters and foam guns on target in witty spin on movie

Kid gangsters and foam guns on target in witty spin on movie

Bugsy Malone
By Alan Parker
Published by HarperCollins
ISBN 978 0 00 744122 8

Of all the recent movies you've seen at the cinema, how many were adapted from a novel or comic? The cinema greedily eats up stories from elsewhere and spits them out as films. But Bugsy Malone reverses the trend.

Here is a thrills-and-spills novel adapted from a film. And for added interest, the book has been written by Alan Parker - the English director and screenwriter of the original film. Parker's other successes include Evita, starring Madonna, and Fame.

The movie Bugsy Malone was released as a musical - with child actors playing the parts of adults - in 1976, starring a 13-year-old Jodie Foster (on the book cover, with Scott Baio, as Bugsy). It was a big hit with both adult and teenagers. It won numerous awards, and over the years, young theatre groups have performed stage versions.

If you have never met the gangster Bugsy, now's your chance. The novel is a new title in HarperCollins' Essential Modern Classics series.

The story of Bugsy and his friends and enemies takes place in New York in 1929. The Big Apple is a city of would-be gangsters out to make a fast buck, showgirls hoping to get on Broadway and dreamers that want a better life. Yet just like the film, in Bugsy's New York, all the characters are kids.

It opens with a great line, "If it were raining brains, Roxy Robinson wouldn't even get wet." When a novel starts with a witty introduction to a character like that, then you know fun is certainly about to follow.

We meet the hoodlum Roxy as he is caught in an alleyway; his enemies have just burst in with guns.

As the guns go off, poor Roxy is hit with foam and custard pies. His career as a gangster is over: he has been "splurged"... custard and soapy foam cover his motionless body on the floor of the alleyway.

Yet custard pies and the creamy foam play a big part in Bugsy Malone: "splurge guns" are the weapons of choice in this New York. It means the city is always very messy after a splurge shooting. It needs a hero to clean up the mess and sort out the rival gangs that are competing for the top position.

By the time our hero arrives on the scene, we are ready for someone special. And he is.

He's got style; he is a very smart dresser; he is just on the right side of being the good guy; and he knows how to charm the ladies. His name is, yes ... Bugsy Malone.

In the rival corner are the gang leaders Fat Sam and Dandy Dan. May the best man win the ultimate of all splurge attacks!

Parker writes beautifully and his plot moves along with terrific pace and verve. And for once in a comedy-adventure novel, his central female characters, showgirls Tallulah and Blousey Brown, are both as cool and crucial to the story as the guys.

Parker has a good ear for snappy one-liners and crackling dialogue.

All in all, the novel is a treat that should not be missed. It most certainly is an essential modern classic.

John Millen can be contacted at



To post comments please
register or