Roxie Hart, also known as Chicago or Chicago Gal, is a 1942 American comedy film directed by William A. Wellman and starring Ginger Rogers, Adolphe Menjou, George Montgomery, Nigel Bruce, Phil Silvers, William Frawley and Spring Byington. The film is an adaptation of the 1926 play Chicago by Maurine Dallas Watkins, a journalist who had found her inspiration in two real-life Chicago trials she had covered for the press. The play had already been adapted once before, as the 1927 silent movie Chicago, and it would later be adapted as the 1975 musical Chicago, which in turn was adapted as the 2002 film Chicago.
The screenplay, by Nunnally Johnson, focuses on a Chicago showgirl who confesses to a murder in the hope the publicity will propel her faltering show business career. In the original play, and its other adaptations, Roxie Hart was guilty but acquitted of her crime. However, in order to conform to the Production Code, which regulated moral guidelines for Hollywood films at the time, this version portrayed Roxie as innocent but misguided in her attempt to achieve fame.
As soon as Stuart Chapman (Ted North) starts his new job as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, he is pulled into a murder investigation together with his new colleague Homer Howard (George Montgomery). As they sit down in a bar having a drink after a long day, Homer starts telling about a case he reported on in 1927 - a murder case involving the young dancer Roxie Hart (Ginger Rogers).
Back in 1927, a theatre booking agent, Fred Casely, was murdered, and his body was found in Roxie's apartment. Roxie's husband Amos (George Chandler) is immediately questioned by the police, but Roxie is persuaded to let herself get arrested for the murder, since a woman hardly ever gets convicted of murder in Chicago. Besides, the fame she would earn for taking the blame could definitely improve her fading career. That is how reporter Jake Callahan (Lynne Overman) and Casely's partner E. Clay Benham (Nigel Bruce) reasons with Roxie to convince her of what to do.
Roxie takes the blame, even though she knows her husband is guilty of the murder. Her mugshot is taken at the police station. When in jail, Roxie talks to different reporters about the case, including Homer, who has just started out as a journalist. Her husband also gets her the best lawyer money could buy, Billy Flynn (Adolphe Menjou), who is the closest thing to a show artist to ever enter a court room.
Billy decides they will use the fact that Roxie is a weak woman and claim she killed the man in self-defense. Billy sets up a series of interviews with journalist reporters. Roxie is instructed to charm the reporters and dance her own trademark dance "The Black Hula".
Homer is one of these reporters who are charmed by the lovely Roxie. He also finds out that Amos in fact is the real killer from her apartment building janitor, Michael Finnegan, and decides to help Roxie out. When the press turns to report on another "lady criminal", Gertie Baxter (Iris Adrian), and the publicity tide turns in favor of a tougher treatment of women criminals, Roxie pretends to be pregnant to sway the public opinion back to her ring side.
To further create sympathy for Roxie, Billy moves her trial further into the future, and gets Amos to divorce her. Roxie still doesn't trust the legal system enough, and wants Billy to find Finnegan and get him to testify in court on her behalf. It turns out Finnegan is dead, and the written statement he left before he died is judged as inadmissible evidence.
Billy still manages to get Roxie off the hook, and her fainting in front of the jury helps her case tremendously. She is found not guilty of the murder, but Amos is arrested instead, stealing all the publicity from Roxie. Out of the limelight, Roxie has to choose between marrying the poor reporter Homer and a rich member of the jury, stockbroker O'Malley (William Frawley).
In present time 1942, Homer finishes his story and gets up. He addresses the man behind the bar, who is O'Malley, now a former stockbroker because he lost everything in the 1929 crash. A moment later, Homer is picked up from the bar by his wife, Roxie, who arrives in a car with their six children and announces she is pregnant with another.Ginger Rogers as Roxie Hart
Adolphe Menjou as Billy Flynn
George Montgomery as Homer Howard
Lynne Overman as Jake Callahan
Nigel Bruce as E. Clay Benham
Phil Silvers as Babe
Sara Allgood as Mrs. Morton
William Frawley as O'Malley
Spring Byington as Mary Sunshine
Ted North as Stuart Chapman
Helene Reynolds as Velma Wall
George Chandler as Amos Hart
Charles D. Brown as Charles E. Murdock
Morris Ankrum as Martin S. Harrison
George Lessey as Judge Cannon
Iris Adrian as 'Two-Gun' Gertie Baxter
Roxie Hart was originally supposed to star Alice Faye but pregnancy prevented her from taking on the role.