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Minnelli's 'Cabaret' gets restored to original glory

LOS ANGELES -- It took a stray bit of dirt to scratch the perfection of “Cabaret,” and painstaking effort to return it to cinematic glory.

The restored “Cabaret,” minus damage that had prevented a high-definition version, debuted Thursday at the opening of the four-day TCM Classic Film Festival. Stars Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey and Michael York were cheered by fans at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre ceremony marking the musical's 40th anniversary.

Minnelli, whose turn as cabaret singer Sally Bowles captured a best actress Academy Award and cemented her young stardom, said making “Cabaret” was a joyful “secret,” filmed in Munich and far away from meddling Los Angeles studio bosses.

Director Bob Fosse “got away with murder. We all did,” Minnelli said in a recent phone call from New York. She's on a concert tour, “Confessions,” based on her album of the same title.

“We'd take chances, and the studio would send notes like, 'Too cloudy. It will break up on drive-in (screens),'” she recalled. “Fosse would read that out loud, tear it up and throw it over his shoulder — in front of the whole cast and crew.”

Set in 1930s Berlin, with German life darkening under the Nazi Party's rise, the film was based on the 1966 Broadway musical adapted from Christopher Isherwood's short novels.

“Cabaret” has been sold on standard-definition DVD from Warner Bros. But it was unavailable in high-def or for digital presentation because of a vertical scratch that ran through 1,000 feet, or 10 minutes, of one of its reels, said Ned Price, vice president of mastering and restoration for Warner Bros.

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