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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
And I mean that most sincerely, this is one of the great films of the 1960s, charting the last days of the burlesque music-hall theatricals in America. The plot of the film is something of a mish-mash, mixing up Britt Ekland as an Amish runaway who finds herself onstage, with Denholm Elliot as a moralistic do-gooder trying to close down Minsky's theatre, but in truth, as with a large number of films of the period (see also The Pink Panther films), the plot is merely a convenience, a washing line upon which to hang a large number of characters, theatrical set-pieces and little illustrations of life in and around the theatrical world. A host of fine actors grace the screen, with Elliot Gould making an early appearance as Minsky jr, Harry Andrews as Ekland's glowering father, Joseph Wiseman as Minsky sr and most affectingly, Bert Lahr in his final screen performance. Even Ekland is OK, and it takes a lot to say that. But at the centre of it all are Jason Robards and Norman Wisdom as the theatre's chief comedy double-act. An odd pairing that works amazingly well, with Robards an effectively sleezy straight man (his seduction of Ekland is both funny and stomach churning). But if Robards is good, Wisdsom is fantastic, his comedic skills honed in England finally being given full rein (I enjoy a lot of his British films, but few of them really allow him full use of his abilities), and the song and dance routine and when he defines burlesque to Ekland rank as his finest on-screen moments. it's a bitter shame that the failure of this film and personal circumstances forced him to leave Hollywood, because with the right material he could have gone so much further. Truth is, if you have no sympathy for this sort of material, this will not change your mind. But for an utterly unique film, packed with beautiful little minutiae of theatrical life and a great mix of dark humour and bawdy comedy, this is really something to be cherished.
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