Film / Chicago

"And that's show biz ... kid."
Roxie Hart

Chicago, based on a musical originally choreographed and directed by the legendary Bob Fosse in 1975, is the story of Roxie Hart, a wannabe cabaret star in 1920s Chicago. She sleeps around unknown to her husband, Amos, but has a falling-out with one of her lovers, shoots him and is arrested for murder. In prison, she develops a rivalry with the star Velma Kelly, who killed her own husband and sister.

Roxie, through bribing the prison warden, Mama Morton, gets the best lawyer in town, Billy Flynn. Billy is a smooth-talking trickster who has never lost a case. As tensions mount and the media make Roxie a star, fame begins to get to Roxie's head. But the press will love her even more if she is found guilty...

It is a satire of celebrity trials, the press and show business in general.

This film contains examples of:

  • Accidental Misnaming: A Running Gag in the film is Flynn repeatedly calling Amos "Andy". He does get it right once or twice, during the "We Both Reached For The Gun" number and during the trial when Amos is in the witness box, much to the latter's delight. He also does it to Roxie at one point.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: In the film, Roxie is blonde and Velma is a brunette, the reverse hair colors of what most musical productions give the two characters. This is mostly because brunette Catherine Zeta Jones was approached to play Roxie, but wanted to be Velma instead.
  • Adaptational Villainy: In the stage show, Mary Sunshine is a naive reporter who misguidedly tries to see the good in everyone. In the film, it's implied she's a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who is as corrupt as everyone else.
  • Alliterative Family: Velma and her sister Veronica that she killed.
  • Alliterative Name: Matron Mama Morton, the supervisor of Murderess Row.
  • All Take and No Give: Amos and Roxie's marriage, with Amos as the Giver and Roxie as the Taker.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Word of God is that Mama Morton is "kind of dykish" and there's a memorable scene where she calls Roxie "a pretty one" and strokes her hair. She also slips a pack of cigarettes into the garter of an inmate and slaps her thigh. And in the final performance, she's seen dressed in a tuxedo rather than a dress.
  • Amoral Attorney: Billy Flynn, who manages to acquit two murderers that we know of and likely dozens that we don't.
  • Anti-Climax: Roxie decries this in-universe, when her trial verdict does not make big news or lead to a great show biz career afterwards, because the media has become distracted by a new young female killer.
  • Anti-Hero: So many good examples, even though you usually end up liking their personalities.
    • Roxie killed a man for lying about having connections.
    • Velma killed her husband and sister when she "caught them in the kip together."
    • All Billy Flynn cares about is money.
    • Matron Mama Morton shows extreme corruption.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Funny Honey" starts off as a straight if hypocritical—given the adultery and all—love song, but then becomes this once Amos realizes Roxie lied to him and was sleeping with Fred.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: According to Velma, Roxie steals her lawyer, her publicity, her trial date, and... her garter.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Invoked; in "Cell Block Tango" the first proper lyric is "He had it comin'!" although at least some of them (especially the guy who received 'two warning shots' for chewing gum too loudly) are extreme cases of Disproportionate Retribution.
    • You probably won't feel very sorry for Fred Casely (though Roxie is no better person than him) or Kitty Baxter's husband either.
  • Attention Whore: Roxie
    Roxie: And the audience loves me. And I love them for loving me and they love me for loving them. And we love each other. 'Cause none of us got enough love in our childhoods...
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Billy Flynn gets both Roxie and Velma acquitted in the end.
    • Though they're quickly pushed out of the news by another similar crime, and driven into poverty while Roxie can only fantasize about the two of them teaming up to be a success.
  • Bait and Switch: At the start of "All I Care About", you see the silhouette of a well-dressed man getting his shoes shined. At first, you would think that this man is Billy Flynn, until the lights come up to reveal that Billy's the shoe shiner.
  • Berserk Button: Apparent in "Cell Block Tango", especially with the woman who shot her husband for popping gum too loudly.
  • Betty and Veronica: This could describe the relationship between Roxie and Velma towards Flynn's Archie.
  • Big Beautiful Woman: Matron "Mama" Morton provides the page image; her introductory song features her shaking her stuff in a burlesque-show sort of setting, flashing leg and bouncing her breasts to the approval of the audience and rattling off bawdy double entendres.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Hunyak, the Hungarian woman in prison has a line during "Cell Block Tango" that is left untranslated. Considering that every other line is about women justifying murdering their loved ones because "he had it comin'!", you might be inclined to believe that her line is more of the same. In truth, she's innocent. Translated to English, what she says is:
    "What am I doing here? They say my famous lover held down my husband and I chopped his head off. But it's not true. I am innocent. I don't know why Uncle Sam says I did it. I tried to explain at the police station but they didn't understand."
  • Bi the Way: Implied with the late Al Lipschitz, who had an affair with somebody named "Irving."
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Mary Sunshine has hints of being this — she passes herself off as naive and optimistic, but she has a very shrewd expression a lot of the time, and, with the rest of the media, ditches Roxie when a hotter story comes along.
  • Black Comedy: Throughout.
    "And now, presenting Katalin Helinski with the famous Hungarian Disappearing Act!"
  • Black Vikings: Queen Latifah as Mama Morton. In 1920s America, there's no way that an African-American (no matter how smart and capable) would have been allowed to hold a position of authority over white people (no matter how dim-witted and degenerate).
  • Blasphemous Boast: Billy Flynn has a nice one to Amos.
    Billy Flynn: I don't like to blow my own horn; but, believe me, if Jesus Christ had lived in Chicago today and he had five thousand dollars and he'd come to me things would have turned out differently.
  • Blatant Lies: Most of Billy Flynn's role.
  • Bowdlerise: The soundtrack cover had the page picture... with the handguns digitally removed.
  • Broken Bird: Poor Katalin...
  • Brutal Honesty: The reason why Billy forbids Roxie to talk to the reporters.
    Roxie: I bet you all wanna know why I shot the bastard.
    • And later during the song "We both reached for the gun":
    Mary Sunshine: How're you feeling?
    Billy (voicing the Dummy!Roxie): Very frightened!
    Mary Sunshine: Are you sorry?
    Roxie (herself): Are you kidding?!
  • Butt Monkey: Poor Amos... he even has a song, "Mr. Cellophane", about it.
  • Cain and Abel: Velma kills her sister, because she finds her in bed with her husband.
  • The Cameo:
    • Lucy Liu as Kitty Baxter, an heiress who shoots her philandering husband.
    • Taye Diggs as the man who announces the songs in Roxie's heads.
    • Chita Rivera, the original Velma, is an inmate smoking a cigarette who Roxie has a brief conversation with when she first gets brought to prison.
  • Casting Couch: Roxie was sleeping with Fred Casely because he was lying about having connections in the show biz and finding her an act.
  • Character Tic: One of the women singing the Cell Block Tango lights matches and puts them out in rapid succession. She also murdered Ernie because he would pop his gum which got on her nerves.
  • Chewbacca Defense: "Razzle Dazzle" is this trope in song form.
  • Chorus Girls: Used in several numbers, "All I Care About (Is Love)," "Cell Block Tango," and "Razzle Dazzle" being notable examples.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: All of the guilty inmates in "Cell Block Tango" are shown dancing under blood-red lights and brandishing cloth of the same color. The lone innocent inmate instead has a striking motif of white.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: The play's humor.
  • Coordinated Clothes: At the end, Velma and Roxie perform their singing and dancing routine in matching outfits. They start in a long white robes with fur and then strip it, each wearing a silver sexy dress. They have various props like hats or sticks shaped like guns. Their hair styles contrast wonderfully - both have a bob, but Velma has black and straight hair while Roxie's hair is curly and blond. See the video at YouTube.
  • Courtroom Antic: All of Billy Flynn's role. Lampshaded with "Razzle Dazzle".
  • Crapsack World: Chicago is a corrupt place where murderers become celebrities, the one innocent prison inmate becomes the first woman to be hanged, and the most powerful lawyer in town can easily get criminals acquitted.
  • Crocodile Tears:
    • In "I Can't Do It Alone" Velma sings my sister is now, unfortunately, deceased. I know it's sad, of course... with no signs whatsoever of sincere grief. Velma was the one who killed her.
    • Roxie is trained to do this on the stand.
  • Cuckold: Amos
  • Damning With Faint Praise: Much of the song "Funny Honey" consists of this until it becomes a straight Anti-Love Song:
    He ain't no sheik
    That's no great physique
    And Lord knows he ain't got the smarts
    But look at that soul
    I tell you that whole
    Is a whole lot greater than the sum of his parts
  • Deadpan Snarker: Roxie and Velma get their fair share of zingers in.
    Roxie: I was there that night you were arrested!
    Velma: Yeah? You and half of Chicago.

    Velma: [song: I Can't Do It Alone]
    Roxie: So... Where was the part where you blew her brains out?
  • Death by Woman Scorned: A recurring theme in "Cell Block Tango" — Velma killed her husband and his lover (her own sister), Annie poisoned her boyfriend after finding out he was already married to six other women, and Mona killed her boyfriend after finding out he had three other girlfriends and a boyfriend.
  • Diegetic Music: One of the film's big innovations is that while every number is sung to an audience, none of them are sung to the audience: singers are either in a Show Within a Show, or the song is taking place as an Imagine Spot inside Roxie's head, making her the Surrogate Audience. Every number is diegetic music. By extension, this allows Chicago to have a Fourth Wall and adds to the credibility of the presentation.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: "So I fired two warning shots...into his head." For popping bubblegum too loudly.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: After you watch "Cell Block Tango", ask yourself if they really could have gotten away with playing the song for laughs if it had been a group of male inmates gleefully singing about murdering their wives and girlfriends.
  • Double Entendre: All over "When You're Good To Mama".
  • Downer Ending: No-one in the audience gets what they want. Anyone supporting Roxie or Velma will be disappointed that they stay small-time. Anyone wanting them sent down, will be sad they got off. Amos is still left with nothing, and the only inmate who was innocent is the one who dies. The two most unsympathetic characters, Mama and Billy, get away scot free. Billy Flynn's double-dealing destroys the career of the only non-corrupt ADA in the city.
  • Dream Sequence: Almost every song scene is actually Roxie's imagination. The difference between her daydreams and the reality are underlined a number of times.
  • Dripping Disturbance: A dripping tap is one of the noises Roxie hears as she tries to get to sleep on her first night in prison. It turns into part of the rhythmic accompaniment to "Cell Block Tango".
  • Dumb Blonde: Roxie isn't the brightest bulb.
  • The Eleven O'Clock Number: "Razzle Dazzle".
  • Everyone Loves Blondes: Roxie seems to get this treatment, especially after Billy uses it to improve her chances of getting acquitted.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The rivalry between Roxie and Velma.
  • Fake Pregnancy: Roxie Hart fakes a pregnancy in order to gain public attention and sympathy leading up to her murder trial.
  • Fanservice: Loads of it.
  • Feet-First Introduction: Velma. We first see her heels as she gets out of a taxi on her way to the Onyx. We don't see her face until she starts singing her "And All That Jazz" number over a minute later.
  • Freudian Excuse: "I'm a star! And the audience loves me. And I love them. And they love me for loving them, and I love them for loving me. And we love each other. And that's because none of us got enough love in our childhood. And that's showbiz... kid."
  • Gainaxing: Matron Mama Morton does this at one point in "When You're Good To Mama". It's...nice, and appropriately timed, too!
    "You put in for Mama, she'll put out for you!"
  • Gender Flip: In the stage musical, Mary Sunshine is eventually revealed to be a man dressed in drag. The film omits this gag and rewrites the character as an actual woman.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Mama Morton suggests that Velma suck up to Roxie due to the former's dwindling and the latter's thriving fame, she adamantly refuses... cut to the opening of "I Can't Do It Alone", where she does exactly that.
  • Girls Behind Bars
  • Guilt by Association Gag: The one innocent person in "Cell Block Tango" is the one who gets killed. It's implied that the only reason she got blamed/killed in the first place is because no one understands her Hungarian, and it's said that she's the first woman in the area to get executed at all.
  • Gun Struggle: Roxie and Billy's version of the shooting. Also the page quote for this trope.
    Billy/Roxie: He had strength, and she had none! And yet we both reached for the gun.
  • Humble Pie: Roxie is acquitted, but moments later, a new heinous crime is committed and all the reporters rush out of the courtroom, leaving her all alone and without the fame and adoration she had been seeking.
  • Hypocrite: Roxie remarks that, if she ever caught her husband sleeping with another woman, she'd kick him out. She says this to the man she was cheating on him with!
  • "I Am" Song:
    • "When You're Good To Mama" for Mama.
    • "All I Care About Is Love" for Billy.
    • "Mr. Cellophane" for Amos.
  • "I Am Great!" Song: "Roxie" for ... Roxie.
  • Implausible Deniability:
    • Two of the murderesses in "Cell Block Tango" deny things this way:
      "And then he ran into my knife! He ran into my knife ten times!"
      "I was in such a state of shock, I completely blacked out. I can't remember a thing. It wasn't until later, that I was washing the blood off my hands, that I even knew they were dead."
    • The denial is made by a cheating boyfriend while he's still in bed with two other women: "Who you gonna believe, your own eyes or me?"
  • Irony: The only prisoner on Murderess Row to be executed throughout the course of the film is the only one who is innocent of the homicide she's alleged to have committed.
    • Velma Kelly sings a song about how she cannot do her double-act alone - while doing both her and her sister's part.
  • It's All About Me: Roxie, Roxie, Roxie. Velma, too, to a less obtrusive extent.
  • Jerkass: Nearly everybody, but the most prominent examples are unusual in that they're the ones you'd expect to be sympathetic: the murder victim, the detective who arrests Roxie, and the incorrupt assistant D.A. The victim is a married man with kids in a relationship with a married woman, stringing her along by pretending to have connections, and then abruptly dumps her when he's bored of her. The detective refers to Amos as "Goofy" while he's present, acts rudely to everyone, and flouts the fact that Roxie will be hanged. The assistant D.A. seems to push the death penalty for everyone, gets the innocent Hunyak hanged, and drops all charges on Velma Kelly, murderer of two, in exchange for testimony against Roxie Hart, murderer of one.
  • Karma Houdini: Velma, Roxie, and Billy Flynn.
  • Knitting Pregnancy Announcement: Invoked when Roxie is made to knit during her public trial to play up the claim of her being pregnant.
  • Lack of Empathy: Mama Morton shows this during her song "When You're Good To Mama":
    So if there's something that upsets you, makes you unhappy in anyway... don't shut your fatass mouth off to me, because I don't give a shit. NOW MOVE IT OUT!
    • Billy Flynn also shows this toward Roxie during the trial, which can also double as a sort of Foreshadowing:
      You are a phony celebrity. You're a flash in the pan. In a couple of weeks, no one's gonna give a shit about you. That's Chicago.
  • Lady in Red: Mama Morton wears a dark red sequinned dress for "When You're Good To Mama", and is bathed in a red stage light to illustrate the effect.
  • Language Barrier: Katalin Halinski doesn't speak English, and it has tragic consequences. She's unable to testify about her husband's murder, is accused of it, found guilty and executed, even though she's innocent.
  • Lovable Rogue: Roxie's a lying, scheming, glory-seeking, Jerkass murderess but still manages to be endearing at several points. Ditto for Velma and Billy.
  • Love Makes You Evil Or something like it. We see eleven murders described and ten revolve around sexual jealousy (the other was just Ax-Crazy).
  • Madness Mantra: Pop, six, squish, uh-uh, Cicero, Lipschitz...
  • The Makeover: From dowdy housewife to "sweetest little jazz killer in town".
  • Male Gaze: Used intentionally in "All I Care About Is Love": Billy Flynn is singing about how all he cares about is love, and wants a girl with long hair and big eyes who needs him, while the camera is full of gyrating besequined butts.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Played with. Roxie pretends to be pregnant to gain the press and jury's sympathy. Her husband Amos is excited until it turns out that he couldn't possibly be the father of the child and gets very upset about Roxie being pregnant with another man's baby. It's Roxie's disclosure to him that she was never pregnant that prompts him to divorce her.
  • Mind-Control Music: “The Press Conference Rag” ends up having this effect on the journalists.
    Journalists: Oh yes, oh yes, oh yes they both, oh yes they both reached for the gun, the gun …
  • Mood Whiplash: "Funny Honey" goes from a sweet ballad about how Roxie feels about her husband, as he lies to the police to save her from going to jail, to a scathing tirade as he realizes the truth and rats her out. Of course, even the "sweet" part of the song has some Lyrical Dissonance.
  • Morality Ballad: "Press Conference Rag" poses as—and satirizes—this to sell Roxie's image as reformed sinner.
  • Musical World Hypothesis: The film uses the 'All In Their Head' version. Any songs that aren't performed on stage are supposed to be just figments of Roxie's imagination.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • Most of the TV promos for the movie made Roxie look like a more sympathetic character whose actions really were in self defense.
    • In the trailer, Velma tells Roxie "keep your paws off of my lawyer," when in fact the real line in the film is "keep your paws off my underwear."
  • Pep Talk Song: "Razzle Dazzle" (see Pet the Dog).
  • Pet the Dog: Mama seems genuinely upset at the Hunyak's execution, and both she and Billy take the time to attend Velma and Roxie's show.
    • Billy also gets a moment; when he sees that Roxie is genuinely afraid, he comforts her and sings Razzle Dazzle partly to reassure her.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero/Villain Protagonist: Roxie calls Billy Flynn a micknote  when things aren't going her way in court. It could be that this is meant to further establish Roxie as a bad, bad person in the audience's eyes, but it's not like anything much is ever made of it.
  • Pretty in Mink: This was the jazz age, so furs were bound to turn up.
  • Reconstruction: Of the movie musical. By framing the songs as figments of Roxie's imagination, it finds a way to justify many of the musical tropes. Critics heaped praise on it for its attempts to revive the movie musical (although Moulin Rouge! deserves some of the credit too).
  • Refuge in Audacity: "Razzle Dazzle" is practically a hymn to getting away with murder through liberal use of outrageous stunts.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • During "Cell Block Tango", five of the six murderesses use red scarves to represent the blood of their slain lovers. The Hunyak, on the other hand, uses a white scarf to show that she's innocent. She is also bathed in heavy white light during her monologue while the rest of the women are bathed in red.
    • "A Tap Dance" is very much a visual representation of Billy Flynn's battle in court. The harder he argues, the harder he tap dances during the number.
    • "We Both Reached For the Gun" portrays both Roxie and the reporters as puppets, with Billy being The Puppetmaster.
  • Sidekick Song: Billy Flynn's three songs—"All I Care About is Love", "Press Conference Rag", and "Razzle Dazzle"—all relate to how he serves as an older Hyper-Competent Sidekick for Roxie.
  • Sitting Sexy on a Piano: Roxie plays this for all it's worth in "Funny Honey".
  • Smoking Gun: Roxie's diary. Subverted; the diary was modified by Billy Flynn and then anonymously sent to the DA in order to make it seem that he had fabricated evidence.
  • Stripperiffic:
    • In "Cell Block Tango," the female inmates appear dressed in nothing more than bras, hot pants, fishnets, and a few artfully arranged black straps...yet somehow when the women reappear in the "All I Care About" number, they're wearing even less.
    • Mama Morton's dress during "When You're Good To Mama" shows off her ample cleavage, and the whole song is an extended burlesque number (so ample, in fact, that rumor has it Queen Latifah almost fell down the stairs because she couldn't see her own feet over her cleavage.)
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: "Then he ran into my knife. He ran into my knife ten times."
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Hunyak, the only woman in "Cell Block Tango" who did not commit the murder she was accused of, is the only person we see found guilty and executed.
  • The Trickster: Roxie and Billy Flynn.
  • '20s Bob Haircut: It's the Roaring Twenties after all. A lot of women sport this hair style, most prominently Velma and Roxie.
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Amos and Roxie. And he knows it too.
  • Unreliable Expositor: "Razzle Dazzle" and "Press Conference Rag" are essentially celebrations of this trope. Velma and June's stories in "Cell Block Tango" are also suspect.
  • Unreliable Voiceover: "All I Care About" is one in song form. In the song spot, Billy claims that he doesn't care about money, just about love. Meanwhile, in the story, he refuses to sign Roxie on as a client until she gets $5000 and outright rejects her proposition for "making an arrangement."
  • The Vamp: Most of the female characters.
  • Ventriloquism: Provides the motif for "The Press Conference Rag."
    Billy: Shut up, dummy.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Mama tucks some bribe money into her cleavage during her number.
  • Video Credits
  • Villain Protagonist: The main character is well-known to the audience to be guilty of murder and is generally a poor example of a human being.
  • Villain Recruitment Song: "I Cannot Do It Alone" zig zags this trope, as Designated Villain Velma is no more villainous than Villain Protagonist Roxie. Moreover, Velma tries to recruit Roxie as an "act of desperation," rather than from a position of strength.
  • Villain Song: Roxie expresses her worldview and motivations in "My Own Best Friend" and "Roxie"; Billy expresses his in "Razzle Dazzle" and (with such blatant dishonesty that it wraps around to honesty again) "All I Care About is Love".
  • Woman Scorned: All of the murderesses.
  • What Happened to the Mouse??: Kitty is seen being brought into the prison after murdering her husband, but she's immediately forgotten about. Presumably her triple homicide became old news once the press was interested in Roxie's fake pregnancy.
  • Xanatos Gambit: Billy Flynn gives Roxie's diary to Velma Kelly, his other client, to give to the DA in exchange for having the charges against her dropped. He's modified the diary to include legal terms so that he can insinuate that the prosecutor wrote the whole thing. With one planted diary he gets one client acquitted and, if nothing else, the other released on a plea bargain.
  • You Can Leave Your Hat On:
    • Billy Flynn is introduced during "All I Care About", during which he strips off. By the end, he's only wearing his undershirt.
    • Downplayed in "A Tap Dance" but Billy does take off his jacket and tie in the course of the sequence.
  • You Would Make a Great Model: A Black and Gray Morality variant. The main character is sleeping with a man mainly because she thinks he's a producer who can help her career. He's not.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Roxie's murder victim was the man with whom she was cheating on her husband. The grounds for Velma, Annie, and Mona's homicides.
    • Inverted with June: Her homicide (self-defense, according to her) was spurred by her husband accusing her of cheating.