Directed by William Friedkin and set in the New York City of the 1920's The Night They Raided Minksy's tells the sordid story of Billy Minksy (Elliott Gould), a man who makes a living running a burlesque house called, appropriately enough, Minksy's Burlesque. Unfortunately Billy's father, Louis Minsky (Joseph Wiseman), is not keen on his son's chosen profession and since he holds the lease to the building that Billy is operating out of, he puts his kid in a bind when he decides not to renew it. As the show's days appear to be numbered, a man named Vance Fowler (Denholm Elliott) takes in as many performances as he can. Why? Well obviously a man of such outstanding character as he wouldn't be into this for reasons of vice, but to make the case that the cops should shut the place down.
As these plots weave in and out of the central narrative the two main comics that work for Billy, they being Raymond Paine (Jason Robards) and Chick Williams (Norman Wisdom), continue to perform as does the gaggle of ladies Billy pays to do their thing on stage. One of the latest acquisitions to Billy's stable of performers is a beautiful young Amish woman named Rachel (Britt Eckland) who hits it off with Paine. When it becomes clear that Fowler's raid is going to become a reality, Paine and Williams come up with an act entirely appropriate to the situation developing around them: get puritan Rachel to perform a dance inspired by the Bible to counter the typically dirty shenanigans that go on just as the raid is to take place. Unfortunately for everyone in Billy's crew, Rachel's father, Jacob Schpitendavel (Harry Andrews), knows exactly where his daughter is, what she's been doing, and how to save her just as a crook named Houlihan (Forest Tucker) decides he wants Rachel all for himself.
Highlighted by some great music composed by Charles Strouse, The Night They Raided Minksy's is a good bunch of surprisingly clean fun. Given that the movie revolves around a burlesque house there is of course some raunch to be found here but for the most part the movie really eschews not so much a sense of sleaziness as it does a sense of naivety and innocence. Comedians have, since this movie was made, pushed a lot of boundaries and really broken a lot of new ground in terms of the type of content and subject matter than can be discussed during a performance, so the jokes that we see performed by the characters in this film seem positively innocent by comparison. A lot of the movie's considerable charm comes from those elements, as bits and pieces of old burlesque performances and black and white news reel clips are used, edited into the feature, to create a sense of respect for the comedy of period.
In terms of its burlesque dancers, the vast majority of the ladies employed in Minsky's emporium are well past their prime. Rachel is the only real looker of the bunch and for that reason it's no wonder that she becomes a bit of a draw. The age and condition of the ladies in the establishment is the source of a lot of the movie's jokes, so this is hardly a feminist picture but this typically comes off as playful rather than genuinely mean spirited. After all, the guys in the movie are no great shakes either and no one tries to convince us otherwise. The film also gets playful in the ways that some of the stereotypically Jewish characters in the movie interact with stereotypical hardline Christians as well, with some clever dialogue between these factions in the movie reminding viewers of some of Woody Allen's earlier films that would sometimes pull humor out of similar situations.
The performances are pretty decent across the board. Jason Robards probably isn't the first guy you'd think of when casting for a baggy-pants style comedian character but he's actually quite good here. He has nice chemistry with Norman Wisdom and the romance that blossoms between he and Britt Eckland's character is, if a bit cliché, nice to watch. Eckland doesn't have a ton of range but she's gorgeous and more than capable of playing her extremely white-bread role. Forest Tucker steals a few scenes as one of the bad guys with Denholm Elliott and Harry Andrews doing just fine as antagonistic characters here too. Elliott Gould as the man in charge of all of this also proves a wise casting choice.
Friedkin would certainly go on to make more important and interesting films than this but 1920's The Night They Raided Minksy's is, if not a definite classic, an enjoyable, well put together slice of silly comedy. There's enough sex appeal and slick production values on display to ensure that it always looks good and the thing goes at a ridiculously quick pace. This is a fun watch.The Blu-ray:
The Night They Raided Minksy's arrives on Blu-ray from Olive Films in AVC encoded 1080p high definition, the transfer framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. This is a ridiculously colorful film at times and those bright, garish hues definitely benefit from the format. Skin tones look good, black levels are fine and those colors really do pop quite nicely here. Detail is nice and strong throughout and there are no issues with any compression artifacts to note. Edge enhancement and noise reduction aren't an issue at all and while some minor white specks may show up here and there, no serious print damage problems appear. The movie looks very good here, fans should be pleased.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language DTS-HD Mono track and it sounds pretty fine. The dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and while there are one or two spots where the score sounds just a little bit flat, these occurrences are rare. Range is as good as you could hope for and there's nice depth in some scene.Extras:
Aside from a theatrical trailer, menu and chapter selection there are no extras on this disc.Final Thoughts:
The Night They Raided Minksy's is a fun movie with some occasional moments of brilliance. The cast give it their all and Friedkin's direction is strong even when the story makes a few stumbles here and there. Olive Films' Blu-ray release is light in the extras department to be sure, but it presents the move in very nice condition. Recommended.