Meaningless, bizarre, out-of-place, pointless. Isn’t all this what makes The Rhythm Of Life scene in Sweet Charity absolutely essential? Although entirely out of “context”, this might well be one of the most entertaining and significant moments in musical history. And this is not that much thanks to the song, its lyrics or its choreography. We owe it more to Sammy Davis Jr. who dumps his jazzy style and exposes his hippy inner self, forgets about his sleek suits and dresses in flowers, takes a day off from the Rat Pack and becomes a funky love guru who goes by the name Big Daddy Brubeck.
Daddy started out in San Francisco, Tootin’ on his trumpet loud and mean, Suddenly a voice said, “Go forth Daddy, Spread the picture on a wider screen.”
Based on Fellini’s Nights Of Cabiria and written by Neil Simon and Dorothy Fields, Sweet Charity ticks all the boxes that make a Broadway musical a hit. The music was composed by Cy Coleman and when the play was adapted for the screen in 1969, the two lead roles took on Shirley MacLaine and John Martin, and the direction and choreography signed Bob Fosse once again. The only problem with the original Broadway play when being compared to the film is the absence of Sammy Davis Jr. doing something extremely out of character.
And the voice said, “Brother, there’s a million pigeons Ready to be hooked on new religions. Hit the road, Daddy, leave your common-law wife. Spread the religion of The Rhythm Of Life.”
The film contains a number of unforgettable songs and brilliant choreographies, but it seems like everything remains that little bit predictable for someone who has watched any great musical before, up until the minute that Big Daddy appears on screen, when it immediately becomes obvious that this irrelevant scene will be a life-changing one. – This is when the audience is introduced to Daddy Brubeck, the mysterious guru of a street church that teaches the gospel of love. Alongside his funky priests and highly stoned congregation, Big Daddy leads The Rhythm Of Life church and asks us to fly, swim and crawl to Daddy.
And The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat, Puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet, Rhythm in your bedroom, Rhythm in the street, Yes, The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat.
And The Rhythm Of Life is a powerful beat more than anything because no newcomer expects it to ever happen. When Daddy’s number begins, the sober viewers are naturally lost as to what is happening. Even bigger of a surprise is the fact that Sammy Davis Jr. has never been seen doing anything remotely similar to this before and after the film. It’s the opposite of what one of his numbers would be expected to include, featuring an entirely different tempo, different style, different choreography. However, the performer is not at all out of his comfort zone. On the contrary, he comes across alarmingly comfortable when mocking the hippy community and his psychedelic preacher character seems to have been waiting to say “love babies” to his devotees his whole life.
Daddy, spread the gospel in Milwaukee, Took his walkie talkie to Rocky Ridge, Blew his way to Canton, then to Scranton, Till he landed under the Manhattan Bridge.
Big Daddy’s existence feels extremely sarcastic and the song’s lyrics as well as number’s choreography most effectively mock the thin line between the all-is-one and one-is-all movement that the guru preaches. Just when it’s supposed to all be about love and joining hands, a psychedelic leader appears waiting to be worshipped for his free-spirited ideas. To this oxymoron adds the casting of Sammy Davis Jr. and his unparalleled performance as perhaps the most opposite of his real self. Animated, sarcastic, very clever and funny, the performer’s moment as Big Daddy in Sweet Charity is definitely one of the most unforgettable scenes that we have ever witnessed. And for some weird reason, its randomness and pointlessness in the greater scheme of the film’s plot, might just be what makes it stand out as much as it deserves. If it fitted in nicely, we might have missed it, whereas now there’s no way we could refrain from acknowledging the brilliance of Big Daddy Brubeck, The Rhythm Of Life and Sammy Davis Jr.