Posted in Movie Reviews

The Old Burly Q

"Take Ten Terrific Girls (And Only Nine Costumes)"
“Take Ten Terrific Girls (And Only Nine Costumes)”

It was known as “the poor man’s Follies.”

Despite the passage of years, Minsky’s Burlesque retains its legendary status. As a result, 1968’s “The Night They Raided Minsky’s,” William Friedkin’s first directorial effort, seems as fresh today as ever. However, in the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you this is not exactly a tidy film. Character motivations turn on a dime, and the death of Bert Lahr in the midst of shooting left an enormous hole in the movie.

This is definitely a “plot—what plot?” film, and you end up not caring anyway. For the record “Minsky’s” shows us what happens when Rachel Shpitenduyvel (Britt Ecklund), late of Pennsylvania Amish country, runs away from home in 1925 to become a burlesque dancer. Whatever. The best parts of the film are the on-stage performances of a no-nonsense chorus line, an affable tenor and some gifted comics. Although Jason Robards is somewhat dour as a top banana, he has his moments—that scene in the deli as he tries to seduce a speechless flapper is excellent.

There’s so much to love about “Minsky’s”:

That marvellously witty score by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse. Listen carefully to the song performed in Trim Hoolihan’s speakeasy—Strouse later used the melody in a slower tempo for Daddy Warbucks’ ballad, “Something Was Missing,” in the Broadway show “Annie.”

You’ll never hear Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 the same way ever again. Trust me.

Jack Burns as a candy butcher hawking “jen-you-ine chee-o-colate bonbons [clap clap] with the nuts inside.” He is absolute perfection, whether using a shill to push more sales or describing the book included with every purchase: “Mademoiselle Fifi. She drove a million Frenchmen wild.” He wears his derby well and his bright voice along with his unforgettable facial expressions make you think he was born in the wrong era.

"And you will see... what little Willie the picnic."
“And you will see… what little Willie saw…at the picnic.”

The absolute love of craft displayed by the veteran performers: Rudy Vallee giving that priceless introduction (and delivering the title song), Dexter Maitland, who had spent many years in burlesque, bringing new life to the role of a somewhat moth-eaten tenor, and best of all, Norman Wisdom. His scene where he explains burlesque to the naive Rachel is lovely, and his appreciation for her ultimate show biz know-how saves the film from a sour ending. And it should come as no surprise that he does a far better bump and grind than Britt Ecklund.

The audience as a leading character. Actually I should say two different characters, because there’s a careful distinction drawn between the working stiffs who spend their lunch hour at the theater and the black tie, uptown crowd out to see Mademoiselle Fifi at the midnight show. In either case, their reactions to what is happening on stage are a highlight of the movie.

Forrest Tucker (“I’m taking the little lady to the theater to make her dee-but”), Joseph Wiseman, Harry Andrews and Denholm Elliott as, respectively, Trim Hoolihan, Louis Minsky, Jacob Shpitenduyvel and Vance Fowler (of the Society for the Suppression of Vice). They were some of the best character actors of their time, and it’s wonderful to watch them in action.

The boys in the orchestra pit whose reactions to Rachel’s Bible dance are priceless. Later, when she appears as Mademoiselle Fifi, I treasure their encouragement of her—the drummer’s wink and a nod as he plays a roll and cymbal crash to signal a bump and grind, and the immortal “boom boom-ba-boom” that accompanies a stripper’s strut across the stage.

It’s interesting that the role of Billy Minsky, played by an incredibly young yet negligible Elliot Gould, was first offered to Alan Alda (His commitment to “The Apple Tree,” then playing on Broadway, precluded the film appearance). He’s a major contributor to “Behind the Burly Q,” Leslie Zemeckis’ fascinating documentary, in which former strippers, comics, dancers and their survivors describe what burlesque was like in its heyday. Until I saw it, I had no idea that Robert Alda, Alan’s father, who’s best known for creating the role of Sky Masterson in Broadway’s “Guys and Dolls,” began his career as a straight man and “tit singer” in burlesque, i.e., the tenor who sang the opening song as the girls paraded across the stage, assets on display.

“Behind the Burly Q” features some great dish involving the biggest stars (Gypsy Rose Lee, Lili St. Cyr, Ann Corio, Blaze Starr), and the revelation of some trade secrets (strippers always carefully handed their discarded clothing to someone waiting in the wings—no tossing into the audience). But what endures is a terrific oral history by performers taking pride in their art and their ability to keep their audiences entertained during some tough times. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Posted in Television

Long Time Coming


So you thought your family get-togethers were bad. What is it with weddings on “Game of Thrones” anyway?

Ordinarily I’d wait until further on in the season to comment, but last night’s episode was one I’d been waiting for. Being semi-spoiled, I was relishing that moment when Joffrey would finally get his. The powers that be did not disappoint—the build-up and suspense were terrific, and the sense of dread overhanging the wedding banquet was enormous. I doubt we’ll ever forget the sight of Tyrion’s barely concealed rage and Sansa’s enormous pain, both in response to Joffrey’s twisted sense of fun.

Just a few more observations at this point:

Given how the banquet was filmed, it appears there are several suspects in the “Who Killed Joffrey Sweepstakes,” though odds are Tyrion isn’t one of them. There’s Olenna Tyrell, Tywin Lannister and Margaery, not to mention that old stand-by Varys, and a man burning for vengeance, Oberyn Martell. But coming from a totally non-spoiled perspective (I knew about Joffrey’s death but not whodunit), I’m putting my money on Cersei. Just her grimace each time she was referred to as the former Queen Regent is cause enough. Joffrey was no longer hers to control, and I suspect she feared he would turn on her without warning. With her younger son she can start afresh as Queen Regent without having to worry about losing her head or ending up in a dungeon.

Margaery is now a two time loser. She’s twice a widow without a consummated marriage to her credit. I wonder who grandma is going to pick out for her now?

Prediction: Roose Bolton and his bastard will get theirs, hopefully as indicated by Lady Stoneheart. And as to who or what she is, I’m not telling.

Lady Brianna in love with Jamie Lannister? Duh. I’m curious as to how this plays out because I like both characters very much.

Joffrey in action bore an uncanny resemblance to the immortal Anthony in that classic “Twlight Zone” episode (and tremendous short story by Jerome Bixby), “It’s a Good Life.” The tantrums, the sadism inflicted on a whim, the ruling over a kingdom, all responded to by the tip-toeing around and the false smiles of others. If Joffrey didn’t have a sword and crossbow, I swear he’d have been wishing his enemies away into a cornfield.

“You’re a bad man. A very bad man!”

Kudos to Jack Gleeson for creating such an unforgettably nasty piece of work. From all accounts, Mr. Gleeson is the polar opposite of the character he portrayed, and in fact, is leaving the acting profession to study for the clergy. “Game of Thrones” will miss him.

Until next time.


Posted in Baseball, Observations

Neanderthal Mouths

ImageNormally I’d save this for a “Brain Bits” post, but since the expositors are patently brainless, the temptation is just too great. The (non) controversy? The Mets’ second baseman, Daniel Murphy, exercising his rights under Major League Baseball’s Collective Bargaining Agreement to take paternity leave for a maximum of three (3) games for the birth of his first child.

Why the controversy? The first game he missed was Opening Day.

The brainless Neanderthals with plenty of gas and zero gray matter? New York radio’s Mike Francesa and Boomer Esiason who have variously opined that (a) Murphy should NEVER have missed Opening Day (b) flying to Florida just for the birth would have been more than enough (c) maybe Mrs. Murphy should have had a C-section before the season started so hubby wouldn’t have missed Opening Day and so on, ad nauseum.

To which I reply: “What the hell business is it of yours?”

Both of these morons who unbelievably are paid seven figures and more to bloviate in this mode just demonstrated how ugly ugly can get. First of all, the Mets had no problem with Murphy’s absence—they have the quaint notion that contracts should be honored. And truth be told, will Murphy’s two-game absence prevent this stellar (ha!) team from winning the pennant? As a lifelong Mets fan, I can tell you that the answer to that one is a resounding NO.

Frankly I think more of Daniel Murphy for wanting to be with his wife at this time. He’ll have many more Opening Days, but the birth of a first child only happens once. It’s shameful that he has to put up with self-styled critics whose knuckles drag the ground as they walk. You have to wonder about the kind of men they truly are.

A bouquet to the Murphys and kudos to the Mets for sticking up for their player. Francesa and Esiason owe them all an apology.