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The Night They Raided Minsky’s | Blu-ray Review

The Night They Raided Minsky’s Blu-ray coverFollowing his directorial debut, the 1967 Sonny and Cher vignette flick Good Times, director William Friedkin struggled through a couple of projects before landing his first really provocative title with 1970’s The Boys in the Band. Of course, following that would be The French Connection and so on and so forth. But prior to that, Friedkin helmed a period piece penned and produced by Norman Lear, The Night They Raided Minsky’s, which more or less depicts the accidental invention of stripping during the golden period of burlesque. Plagued by various production issues, including the death of Bert Lahr (you know him as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz) during filming, the initial cut of the film was famously termed ‘disastrous,’ and the title would be retooled for nine months by editor Ralph Rosenblum and finally see release a year after production ended. While not quite charming or as potentially entertaining as it could have been, the film manages to capture a certain nostalgic quality of a revered period.

In 1925 Lower East Side Manhattan, an Amish girl, Rachel (Britt Ekland), arrives after fleeing her conservative community in Pennsylvania. She stumbles into the front of Minsky’s Burlesque and is ushered in by a friendly gentleman, Professor Spats (Bert Lahr), who introduces her to the manager, Billy Minsky (Elliott Gould) and the comic emcees, Chick (Norman Wisdom) and Raymond (Jason Robards). Rachel claims to be a dancer, adept at musical interpretations of Bible stories. They’re amused by her naiveté, but Chick becomes enamored by her beauty, stirring up a competition with Raymond who aims to obtain her virtue for himself. But local moral crusader Vance Fowler (Denholm Elliott) is hell-bent on shutting Minsky’s down for its lewd, offensive acts, in attendance on a nightly basis to record in painstaking detail anything remotely smutty. Minsky cooks up a plan to use Rachel’s innocent, religious dance routine (without her knowledge) as a foil, advertising a supremely racy show known as Mademoiselle Fifi, which leads Fowler to gear a police squad to shut down the club during the performance. However, on the night in question, Rachel’s conservative father (Harry Andrews) tracks her down, and this causes a rather unprecedented response from the virtuous lass.

From it’s opening moments, whereby the film announces that it’s kind of a true story about how stripping was accidentally invented by a religious girl, we know exactly where it’s headed when Britt Ekland waits for us at the other end of its montage mash-up of stock footage. Though she’d already appeared in titles from De Sica and Schaffner, Ekland’s career would take off several years later, famously appearing in Mike Hodges’ Get Carter (1971) and Robin Hardy’s cult classic The Wicker Man (1973) right before starring as a Bond girl in The Man With the Golden Gun (1974). Her Rachel is basically a big-eyed kewpie doll, something to be won between the sweet-ish comic played by Norman Wisdom and the smarmy playboy played by Robards (in a role originally meant for Tony Curtis). Representing Elliot Gould’s debut and Bert Lahr’s final screen performance, Minsky’s gives you the impression that there’s a lot more going on than there really is. Instead, most of the film feels like grand distraction of musical and dance numbers before we get to Rachel’s hollow moment of female empowerment.

Disc Review:

This is the first time the title is available on Blu-ray, and Olive Films’ presentation is 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Grainy and heavily edited, not much love is evident in the title’s preservation, a similar indication evident in the lack of extra features – there has to be someone around that could have provided a juicy interview, though perhaps Friedkin is no longer interested in revisiting his catalogue after his displeasure over the Blu-ray of Sorcerer which was supposed to have been approved by him beforehand.

Final Thoughts:

Considering its compromised production and less than enthusiastic handling in pre-production, The Night They Raided Minksy’s manages enough nostalgia and energy to give it a vintage appeal. Ekland has gone on record as saying this was her favorite film performance and was appreciate of Friedkin, which makes it unfortunate that more effort wasn’t poured into fleshing out her character rather than drowning her out in a sea of excellent set decorations and distracting burlesque numbers.

Film: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆
Disc: ★★★/☆☆☆☆☆

Los Angeles based Nicholas Bell is IONCINEMA.com's Chief Film Critic and covers film festivals such as Sundance, Berlin, Cannes and TIFF. He is part of the critic groups on Rotten Tomatoes, The Los Angeles Film Critics Association (LAFCA), FIPRESCI, the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS) and GALECA. His top 3 for 2023: The Beast (Bonello) Poor Things (Lanthimos), Master Gardener (Schrader). He was a jury member at the 2019 Cleveland International Film Festival.

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