Rachel arrives in New York from her Amish community intent on becoming a dancer. Unfortunately Billy Minsky's Burlesque is hardly the place for her Dances From The Bible. But the show's ... See full summary »
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Rachel arrives in New York from her Amish community intent on becoming a dancer. Unfortunately Billy Minsky's Burlesque is hardly the place for her Dances From The Bible. But the show's comedian Raymond sees a way of wrong-footing the local do-gooders by announcing the new Paris sensation "Mme Fifi" and putting on Rachel's performance as the place is raided. All too complicated, the more so since her father is scouring the town for her and both Raymond and his straight-man Chick are falling for Rachel. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY'S (William Friedkin, 1968) ***
Following the 12 Norman Wisdom vehicles I watched during the course of the last 2 weeks, I decided to add to them his only American film. A nostalgic piece about vaudeville in New York's lower East Side in the 1920s, perhaps the film's single greatest asset is its remarkable recreation of that era; amazingly, the inspired transition from black-and-white photos of the period to the film itself seems to have been a happy accident which occurred during the editing process!
The IMDb also noted that the film's preview was a disaster and that editor Ralph Rosenblum employed more than a year of his life to try and save it!; I have no idea how Friedkin's 'original' version looked like but the finished product is a very enjoyable film indeed, if somewhat shapeless (featuring too many 'girlie' shows, for instance, though the music by Charles Strouse is admirably 'of the period'): the plot concerns the goings-on in a second-rate (self-proclaimed "The Poor Man's Follies") burlesque theater whose lease is about to expire and the manager (Elliott Gould) - with the help of his two star comedians (Jason Robards and Wisdom) - has to devise a plan to hold on to his venue; the solution arrives in the shapely form of a naïve Midwestern girl (Britt Ekland), an aspiring dancer but whose debut performance is turned via a series of incidents into the first-ever striptease act!
Friedkin managed to come up with a splendid cast: while Robards may be too stern for the 'leading man' figure (who falls for Ekland's ingénue), he's got some of the film's best lines; Ekland herself is delightful, particularly during the literally show-stopping climax; Wisdom's moving but unsentimental performance makes the most of his 'comic sidekick' role, emphasizing the character's humanity (realizing Ekland's inaptness at performing on stage, he patiently schools her) and feelings (he secretly loves her too but since Ekland prefers Robards herself, he's happy to leave her to his pal).
The supporting cast, then, is a pure delight: Forrest Tucker (as a gangster with a share in the theater), Elliott Gould (playing, as already mentioned, the flustered but inexperienced manager who's entirely dependant on his star attractions), Joseph Wiseman (as Gould's bemused Jewish father, the owner of the theater who's intent on its foreclosure because he disapproves of the style of his son's shows!), Harry Andrews (sporting a wicked beard and exaggerated eye-brows to match as Ekland's Amish father, who arrives in New York in order to claim back his wayward daughter), Denholm Elliott (hilarious as a Vice Squad official whose presence at the theater is recurrent so as to fervently jot down all form of lewdness and general unwholesomeness he happens to notice going on, in preparation for an eventual Police raid...which, naturally happens on "The Night They Invented Striptease", as the film was alternately called!) and Bert Lahr (as, more or less, the Chorus to the narrative but whose role was considerably diminished because, sadly, he passed away in mid-production!). Perhaps the film's funniest moment is the confrontation scene between Wiseman and Andrews (with the former telling the latter that "The only God who could tolerate me is the only one who could tolerate you!"), after which their joint prayer for their children's souls is interrupted by the perpetually awkward Elliott, who's forced to accompany them but is clearly lost!
Unfortunately, the film was recorded off what has to be the sloppiest channel on Cable TV; in fact, the screening froze at one point and the reception was subsequently lost for a brief instance!
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