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Although the story line of The Night They Raided Minsky's was more
silly than funny, quite a few laughs can still be had from this salute
to the good old days of burlesque. It even has Bert Lahr in the cast
who was a veteran of that venue of entertainment.
Amish girl fresh off the farm Britt Eklund has been given a calling to dance a practice forbidden by her sect. But even with father Harry Andrews in pursuit from the Pennsylvania Dutch Country, Britt is pursuing her dream of interpretive religious dance. Why she didn't seek out Martha Graham instead of Minsky's is beyond me.
Her innocence is so beguiling she has comedy team Jason Robards, Jr., and Norman Wisdom panting after her in heat. Gangster Forrest Tucker is looking and even Elliott Gould who is the Minsky who runs the burlesque theater on property his father owns hasn't missed her at all.
I did love Jason Robards who apparently has a line for just about every occasion and whose gift of gab gets him out of some tight spots. And Denholm Elliott the pompous moralizing professional do-gooder also has some noticeable moments.
This film was Bert Lahr's farewell performance. Lahr was terminally ill when he did the film and didn't finish his role and it was edited around. He doesn't look very good and is remarkably subdued from the Bert Lahr were used to seeing.
Weakest part of the film was the musical score by Strouse and Adams. They've done far better on Broadway, still it's serviceable enough and Eklund's alleged invention of the striptease worth the wait.
Fans of the cast members will like The Night They Raided Minsky's.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Released in 1968 this flick could have been made today as a relevant
retrospective to burlesque.
The naughty nature of burlesque versus the rude routines that pass as suggestive stage entertainment today are in stark contrast when you compare today's crude crotch cranking with the clumsy bumps and grinds of yesteryear.
Produced by Norman Lear and directed by William Friedkin, it is based on a book by Rowland Barber which paints a fictional account of the invention of the striptease.
This story opens in 1925 when a young Amish girl, Rachel (a very young Britt Ekland) arrives in New York City with misguided dreams of being a dancer.
Of course her strict, overly religious father would have nothing to do with her dancing aspirations so she runs away from her home in Pennsylvania. For some strange reason she runs off to join the Minsky Burlesque show, obviously lacking a dictionary at home with which to look up the word "burlesque".
Watching the scene of her entering the burlesque theater, I couldn't help but hum The Eagles "Those Shoes" over the resident soundtrack.
When she arrives, she initially meets Professor Spats (a very old Bert "The Cowardly Lion" Lahr), a retired stage performer. Try making that long walk through New York City today without meeting characters a lot shadier than this nice old man. He was certainly a lot less menacing than the Cowardly Lion was to Dorothy.
Wearing her naiveté on her homemade dress like a wino's spittle from a subway ride, the kindly Professor agrees to introduce her to the cast. All this in spite of her desire to perform dances from the Bible on stage. Really? Meanwhile, the theater owner Louis Minsky (Joseph "Dr. No" Wiseman) and his son, Billy (a very young Elliot Gould) are being hounded by a man named Fowler (Denholm Elliot), the Secretary for the Society for Decency, obviously a defunct office in these modern times. Believe it or not, he actually thinks the costumes are too skimpy, the humor too suggestive and the dancing a little too dirty. This guy would die of heart failure and a terminal erection just watching a Super Bowl halftime show these days, but I digress. Receiving letters from the Secretary of Decency, Billy's dad, Louis, wisely refuses to renew his son's lease. But he will sell the theater to him for a tidy sum. Billy tries to get Trim, a small time gangster and burlesque lover, to invest (a same-o-same-o looking Forrest Tucker) but he refuses. He's just there to enjoy the scenery.
Cue classic funny man Chick Williams (Sir Norman Wisdom in an excellent vaudeville performance) and his "straight man" partner Raymond Paine (Jason Robards as a cad first class). When the Professor introduces the young runaway to the both of them, hilarity ensues, of course, but not before the foreshadowing of conflict. For Chick, it's love at first sight, whereas Raymond is less than impressed with all this Bible stuff. But, Britt IS hot, so will he just momentarily convert for a piece of the action? Not a chance.
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An affectionate look at early burlesque, "The Night They Raided
Minsky's" is at once nostalgic and funny. Grainy black-and-white
footage of street life on New York's Lower East Side fades into color;
a dapper Bert Lahr, an authentic vaudevillian from the period, strides
past pushcarts laden with produce; a chorus line of over-painted,
over-ripe ladies kick their legs in unison to the applause of a motley
male audience. The atmosphere reeks of authenticity and the producer's
love of the subject. The script by Arnold Shulman and Norman Lear
revolves around a scheme to embarrass the local morals guardian into
raiding the performance of a mythical Madame Fifi, who reputedly drove
a million Frenchmen wild. When Madame Fifi appears, she would be an
innocent Amish girl dancing scenes from the Bible. Combine some
romantic entanglements and an expiring theatrical lease, stir with lots
of slapstick and corny jokes, and serve with excellent performances:
presto, the recipe for a breezy entertaining movie.
The lovable and endearing Norman Wisdom is the primary scene-stealer, whether mooning over a girl, doing pratfalls on stage, or trading barbs with Jason Robards. Unfortunately, many of Wisdom's scenes with Bert Lahr were cut when the Cowardly Lion died during production. If the lost footage were found, Wisdom fans would welcome its restoration as a supplement to a future DVD release. Another scene-stealer is Joseph Wiseman, who, as the elder Minsky, delivers some of the movie's best lines with pitch-perfect precision. Lovely Britt Eklund is naive perfection as the talent-less Amish girl, Denholm Elliott makes an excellent puckered prude, Harry Andrews fumes as the stern Amish father, and Elliott Gould as the younger Minsky and Forrest Tucker as a smooth gangster fill out the capable cast. Only the caddish Jason Robards seems out of place; while his comic delivery is good, his mistreatment of the likable Wisdom comes across as harsh, and he has an unconvincing character shift that has necks snapping in disbelief.
William Friedkin directs with a fast pace and uses rapid-editing techniques that keep the movie moving at a good clip. The fine photography by Andrew Laszlo captures the period, and the memorable music by Charles Strouse is engaging. "The Night They Raided Minsky's" seems to have been undeservedly forgotten. If the film had been a hit and Lahr had not passed away, Norman Wisdom would have gone on to a successful career in the United States. Unfortunately, events worked against the multi-talented Wisdom and, except for his Broadway role in "Walking Happy," his major work was done in Britain, where his legacy is a national treasure. Perhaps those who appreciate Norman's comic genius in this film will locate his British films from the 1950's and 60's and discover a talent unfairly overlooked in this country.
I hesitated briefly before giving this maximum score but then could see no reason why I shouldn't. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked the period clips and the beautifully restaged 'period' clips at the start and felt that this progressed from it's surprisingly innovative start to it's moving and sensational finale without missing a beat. Jason Robards is as good as I've ever seen him, both in his straight part and in his stage antics with Norman Wisdom. Wisdom himself is great throughout and it is when you see him as good as this, that it seems such a shame he was not always given more demanding material. His comic timing is second to none but he was also a very fine actor who unfortunately had a tendency to maudlin in which direction he was often mistakenly led. Good as these two are and, it has to be said, all the rest of the cast, it is such a showpiece performance from Britt Ekland, that one is tempted to get up from the sofa and applaud. Oh, what if she had not spent most of those late 60s looking after Peter Sellers and graced our cinema screens in full sexy mode instead? Great film.
... Just saw this on Flix Movie Channel earlier today & brought back
great memories of going-to-college in New Mexico & Utah in 1968! I must
have seen "Minsky's" several times in just one week, it was so
- Didn't remember Director William "The Exorcist" Friedkin & Norman Lear on the screenplay credits. No wonder this was such a fun, fast-paced movie! The editing caught the spirit of show biz then in Manhattan.
...Especially the great Burlesque bits, black & white clips of-the-times in New York City & Bert "The Cowardly Lion" Lahr. "Minsky's" stands the test-of-time! You have to have no heart or be dead & buried not to cherish this Hollywood gem!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"The Night They Raided Minsky's" is a sheer delight to watch. It is
definitely a timepiece in so many ways. On one level, it is a tribute
to the Burlesque of the 1920s (it's set in 1925). Here, we get stellar
performances from Bert Lahr, who died during shooting; Jason Robards;
Norman Wisdom; and Joseph Wiseman, among others.
But on another level, it's also a timepiece of late 1967, and we see that in the sense of wonder that Britt Ekland's character experiences. It runs like a sort of "Alice In Wonderland" for the Jazz Age. You can also see that in the photography from '67 as well. It is also a timepiece in that it was a film that no longer obeyed the Hays Code, which was ending around this time.
And it's also a timepiece in that some of the New York exteriors used for filming were torn down after shooting ended. As stated earlier, it was Bert Lahr's final performance, and it is a memorable one. Had he lasted to the end of the shoot, his character would have loomed larger, but that was not meant to be.
As it is, the movie could have turned into a disaster, but skillful editing turned what might have been a sow's ear into a gem of a film. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nostalgic, tuneful and delightfully funny, this splendid evocation of mid-twenties burlesque is brilliantly acted and most attractively staged. My only qualm is that the story itself is rendered somewhat less engaging by the director's over-use of close-ups. He has even gone to the trouble of persistently blowing them up in the lab, and thus ruining the texture of the color photography. Also, the edited-in clips from newsreels and old features were not, to my mind, always effective. True, an attempt has been made not altogether successfully to overcome the problem of color co-ordination, but the lack of step- printing is an obvious irritation. However, these quibbles should not be allowed to spoil the enjoyment of the burlesque itself, plus some spirited action scenes, plus such glorious dialogue as Paine's variations on being found in the closet.
Just a mere coffee break before William Friedkin made an almost
consecutive string of such searing naturalistic dramas as The Boys in
the Band, The French Connection, The Exorcist and Sorcerer, he showed
up with The Night They Raided Minsky's, a low-brow farce which belongs
in the pantheon of other throwback vaudevillian screwball romps from
the Technicolor 1960s and early '70s, as in Take the Money and Run, the
Pink Panther films, What's New Pussycat, It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World,
Bananas and What's Up, Doc? It shares the lagging sense of pace that
some of them do---cursing those with one major inferiority to the 1930s
and '40s pictures they embrace---as well as the urge to take what could
be effective scenes and mash them into clunky montages. It also cannot
remotely compare to What's Up, Doc?, the crowning achievement of this
trend of the era helmed by Friedkin's New Hollywood rival Peter
Bogdanovich. But The Night They Raided Minsky's is not without a secure
handling of its risqué content by a director who was hungry for big
risks in a period of American cinema where progress was entirely fueled
Instrumental in the commercial transformation of Hollywood in only a few short years, Friedkin's films often display a cold cynicism which belies the popular appeal of his future short-lived commercial success. The Night They Raided Minsky's is of a completely different spirit. It is a star-studded ensemble farce, fueled not so much by the breathtaking nature of any scene or story point but by the archetypal bearings of its performers. We have Elliott Gould delightfully playing up his deeply recognized Jewish identity, Denholm Elliott lovingly drawing from his always readily apparent English manners, Jason Robards working his all-American common-man staple. But whether stand-alone scenes work in and of themselves or not, the movie altogether truly appears to grasp this most-American art form.
Supposedly, burlesque surged in an era when America was at the onset of the modern moral uprising, when the rural Puritan standards and the makeshift culture of the cities came across one another. Burlesque was basically vaudeville and sex, and in the early days the sex was straightforward, guileless and practically inoffensive. This is the charm of this film, not the pratfalls, the jokes or the farce, even when they work well, which is where Friedkin's stamp really shows itself: Like a Friedkin picture, it is about more than it acts like it is. Friedkin recounts that very period, when there was an exhilaration and flourishing, boisterous burlesque that later vanished. His characters live a talkative, communal life, occupying cafeterias and eating outlandish, hysterically filmed meals. They view burlesque not so much as a profession, more a lifestyle.
The plot involves a young Amish girl played by Swedish future Bond doll Britt Ekland, who comes to the big city and is overwhelmed by the flashing marquees. The film opens with Rudy Vallee telling us in a vaudeville style that what we're about to see is based on "really true incidents that actually happened," that "in 1925 there was this real religious girl this real religious girl." Black-and-white images of Model A's on hectic streets, a dancing horse, acrobats, and numerous other impressions whip by, ultimately beholding a lively market street teeming with peddlers and pushcarts that bursts into color. There's a close-up on Ekland riding in bright-eyed on an el train. Her point-of-view peering out at the tenement-lined street erupts from black-and-white to color, as does her making her way down that street. She imbibes the zest and ambiance of a novel world, swarming but exhilarating. Austere gray skies but a vividm multihued event interspersed by more color swings visually signifying her inexperience.
Friedkin captures her coming in his naturalistic style of pursuing and exposing action. Her discovery of countless faces, vendors, merchants and ultimately the Minky's Burlesque Theater, is our discovery, too. We become partakers rather than just watchers. And the awareness to minutiae webs with our point-of-view on the marquee dropping to show Bert Lahr chomping a cigar, about to befriend the virginal greenhorn whose perspective we've shared.
She longs to dance at Minsky's. She is fought over by two comics (Norman Wisdom and Jason Robards), bird-dogged by her bearded, religious zealot father, and she suddenly, unwittingly and yet glamorously pioneers the striptease. And that moment when she finally invents the strip dance mostly to defy her father and other possessive male figures speaks so many volumes about the futility of utter conservatism and fundamentalism, how the more it pushes and the more it engulfs, the more shocking and extreme each explosion of rebellion and revolution will be, which of course is not to say that the scene itself threatens anything over PG-13 material, but the subtext is there.
Friedkin has intentionally employed stereotypes in casting. Ekland is as dovelike and guileless as Joan of Arc and her father is an emigrant from an Early Renaissance allegorical drama. So the story itself takes on some of the reduction and directness of the burlesque skits which freely exposes the action, which tends to compensate for the film's weakness since the editing often becomes a bit too unnecessarily frenzied rather than gazing decisively on the impact of a given image or scene.
I only saw this once and it was okay. The real interesting thing about this is the story around its editing, which is told in Ralph Rosenblum's book WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPS... He and Norman Lear had to dig up tons of old stock footage to insert into the cut in order to make it palatable.
A gorgeous Amish girl, Rachel (Britt Ekland) leaves the sect and comes
to New York to dance, and winds up at Minsky's Burlesque House in "The
Night They Raided Minsky's." Wide-eyed and innocent, she explains that
she dances to portions of the Bible. When she shows what she can do,
well, it's not burlesque.
But this gives Raymond (Jason Robards), one of the comics, an idea. A group wants to close down the burlesque house because they think the numbers are indecent. If they announce a star from Paris, Madame Fifi, and send Rachel out with her Bible dances right as the place is being raided, it should put an end to the raids.
Meanwhile, Rachel's father (Harry Andrews) is looking for her.
This is a wonderful cast that includes, besides those mentioned, Elliot Gould, Forrest Tucker, Bert Lahr, and Denholm Elliot I guess I thought there would be a little more story to this film, instead of so many burlesque numbers. It's just a matter of taste. I've just never been that fond of burlesque.
Sadly Bert Lahr died during this film, so his part was shortened and he was replaced.
The end is very good, with the invention of the striptease. If you're a fan of burlesque, you will love this film.
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