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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

THE NIGHT THEY RAIDED MINSKY’S (1968)

Prodded by producer Norman Lear, of ALL IN THE FAMILY fame, newbie helmer William Friedkin & vet East Coast editor Ralph Rosenblum smothered this sweet-natured burlesque fable in the ‘New Look,’ that choppy style of editing & story construction Richard Lester used on the early Beatles pics. But four years after A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, the stylistic tics, lurching edits & general busyness have lost their luster, they jar us out of the film’s 1925 time period. Happily, it doesn’t take too much away from a host of tasty perfs and some neat variations that the script works into its thrice-told-tale. Brit Ekland, pink & pretty, is the Amish girl who hopes to dance her way into show biz at a lowdown Lower East Side theater. British Music Hall star Norman Wisdom & Jason Robards play the main Minsky comedy team who vie for her favors. Elliot Gould (very strong in his first big part) is the harried theater manager and Joseph Wiseman gets a series of classy putdown lines as his disapproving pappa who owns it. Forest Tucker, Harry Andrews, Denholm Elliot & Bert Lahr, in his last role, are all standouts as tough guy, righteous guy, prim guy & nice guy. You find yourself looking forward to each new scene because someone you like is bound to show up and make you smile. But the biggest surprise is in the specialty musical acts, they’re great. Beautifully staged by choreographer Danny Daniels, and much funnier than they have any right to be. (The material is meant to be hoary & whorey, and we could live without all the audience reaction shots.) There’s a delectable bump & grind routine to Brahms Hungarian Rhapsody; and while it’s no surprise to see a real vaudevillian like Norman Wisdom nail his routines, who knew that Jason Robards could handle a tune. He’s quite the smoothie, as is Brit Ekland who breezily pulls off her accidental striptease. Best of all may be the middle-aged gent who sings in a high tenor as the girls parade their wares around him. A pretty girl really is like a melody.

READ ALL ABOUT IT: The opening chapters of Ralph Rosenblum memoir, WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPS (the only memoir ever written by a film editor!), are all about putting this film together. Yes, it’s a horror story. (He even apologizes for abusing Handel's Hallelujah Chorus.)

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