Friday, February 11, 2005

The Night They Invented Striptease

Brian
The Night They Raided Minsky's (1968).
I've had this movie in my head ever since they showed it the other night on PBS. It's not really very good. I mean, it's the kind of movie where you watch it and you keep thinking "why did the producer/director/writer/actor/editor do that? That's stupid." But it's stuck with me.

It's a musical comedy, sort of, set in the age of Burlesque. An Amish (pronounced, oddly enough "ay-mish") girl, played by Britt Ekland, comes to Misky's burlesque with dreams of being a dancer. The insiders there, (actors, dancers, businessmen) laugh at her behind her back. After all, the dances she plans are stories from the Bible. Meanwhile, the morality police are plotting to close the burlesque down, so the Minsky's loyal conconct a scheme: they will tell the cops that they are going to feature an act at the midnight show that reaches new hights of lewdness and eroticism, luring the police in to raid them, but then at the last minute they will feature the Amish girl doing her Bible dances. Meanwhile, two comedians romance the girl while her angry, overbearing father walks the streets of New York in search of her. It all leads up to a climactic final scene wherein the girl, torn between her father, calling her a whore and dragging her back to Amish country, her lover, who wants to protect her, the Minsky's people, who want to use her as the butt of their joke, and the audience, calling for erotic satisfaction, takes the stage and...

Well, no fair ruining it I suppose. Not really fair ending a synopsis on ellipses either, but I did it anyway. In a lot of ways it's a terrible movie. Little things just don't click quite right. But there's something in there that strikes me as a really interesting story. Ekland's character progresses from a one-dimensional, doe-eyed girl to a complex woman in the space of a day or so, and all these men are pressuring her with regard to her sexuality. There could be a great feminist spin on the story. The movie as it is now seems to contrast puritanical society with a sort of sexual revolution (it was made, after all, the year after the Summer of Love), but what's really interesting is the comparison of the father, who stands in for Amish morality, with the lover, representing sexual freedom. With a bit of work, these two could have been characters in their own right, rather than (in addition to?) stand-ins, and Ekland's struggle could have been that much more real. The father wants to repress his daughter's sexuality not just because it's the Amish thing to do but because he is sexually frustrated. The lover wants to save or protect Ekland because of his madonna-whore complex, his desire to keep her pure and away from the burlesque lifestyle whether she likes it or not.

I'd like to see someone remake it. Between the feminist themes, the musical numbers, the opportunities for challenging performances, and the period setting, there might emerge a really great movie.

Roger Ebert's old review
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