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  Night They Raided Minsky's, The Lady Of Burlesque
Year: 1968
Director: William Friedkin
Stars: Jason Robards Jr, Britt Ekland, Norman Wisdom, Forrest Tucker, Harry Andrews, Joseph Wiseman, Denholm Elliott, Elliott Gould, Jack Burns, Bert Lahr, Gloria LeRoy, Eddie Lawrence, Dexter Maitland, Lillian Hayman, Richard Libertini, Judith Lowry
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It's 1925 and Rachel Schpitendavel (Britt Ekland) arrives in New York City having run away from her strict Amish upbringing to follow her heart's desire and become a dancer on the stage. She sets her sights on Minsky's Burlesque Theater, where she thinks she will easily get a job as she has had dancing lessons and will fit in perfectly. It's safe to say she is an innocent and has no idea of what she is getting into, but she will meet two comedians there who she will have a major effect upon. They are the double act of Raymond Paine (Jason Robards Jr) and Chick Williams (Norman Wisdom), and they find Rachel unwittingly forcing a wedge between them...

The Night They Raided Minsky's nearly wasn't released at all, not because it was too saucy, but because it was a complete and utter mess that its young director, William Friedkin, walked off during the editing stage as many thought it was impossible to finish. There were bad signs early on when Bert Lahr, best known as the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, died during production, and the problems proceeded to mount up, but when the public finally did get to see the end result, it was the general consensus that there was some excellent material in it, even if it was never going to stick in the mind the way that other groundbreaking movies would into the future.

Groundbreaking how? Well, if you knew the alternate title of this was The Night They Invented Striptease, you will be aware that this was one of the first Hollywood films to feature nudity, even if it is for a matter of seconds. You have to wait through the whole movie to see that, so if it is your only interest then you'd be better off watching something else, but there was another aspect to this which attracted interested parties, and that was a superb recreation of burlesque and vaudeville. That was still within living memory for a fair few when this was made, and those sequences where we see it staged never feel anything less than totally authentic, from the creaky jokes to the past their prime dancing girls.

Whatever made Rachel think she could be ideal for this is a mystery, but her naivety is part of the film, and the reason that Chick is desperate not to see her corrupted. Raymond, on the other hand, has fewer qualms and sets out to seduce her, another notch on the bedpost for a serial womaniser, while the theatre staff decide to make her the fall girl for a plan to show up the representative for the local moralists pressure group who will report any public obscenity in their eyes to the law. While Rachel believes she will be dancing her Bible stories interpretations, the patrons and the moralists think she is Madamoiselle Fifi, all the way from France, and with a scandalous reputation to boot.

But Rachel really will be doing those Biblical performances, and that's the joke. Some joke, huh? In truth, this is more of a drama than a comedy, as although there are a few very funny moments there's a sense of an era coming to an end, both in the story as burlesque turns to stripping, and for the cinema as censorship bowed to pressure with relaxing of the rules about what you could see onscreen. This makes the whole experience appear perhaps more thematically rich than it actually is, but if it captured the spirit of the mid-nineteen-twenties more than it did the late nineteen-sixties, then the cast certainly make up for any deficiencies. It might surprise people, but Wisdom is one of the best actors in this, proving that old belief that many comedians have a great dramatic performance in them, as while he was never better in the slapstick this is also a rare occasion when his sentiment was well applied and not too cloying. It may be a miracle that they got a good film out of this, but there is definite quality here. Music by Charles Strouse.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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William Friedkin  (1935 - )

American writer/director who has struggled throughout his career to escape the legacy of two of his earliest films. Debuted in 1967 with the Sonny & Cher flick Good Times, but it was the gripping French Connection (1971) and phenomenonally popular The Exorcist (1973) that made Friedkin's name and influenced a whole decade of police and horror films. Since then, some of Friedkin's films have been pretty good (Sorcerer, the controversial Cruising, To Live and Die in L.A., Blue Chips, Bug, Killer Joe), but many more (The Guardian, Jade, Rules of Engagement) have shown little of the director's undoubtable talent.

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