Sunday, June 15, 2014

Puttin on the Ritz

I've been a Richard Lester fan since I saw A Hard Day's Night and Help. I fell in love with his Three Musketeers when it came out. So why did it take me so long to discover The Ritz (1976)?

Jack Weston is a fat schlub from Cleveland. But his wife is Kay Ballard, the daughter of a New York mafiosa, whose dying wish is that Weston should be rubbed out. Ballard's brother, Jerry Stiller, is happy for the chance. So Weston goes to hide out at the last place anyone will look for him, which turns out to be The Ritz, a fabulous gay bath house.

The movie is based on a play, and you can almost tell from the 3-story art-deco set, a mix of glamour and seediness. We meet the habitues, including queeny F. Murray Abraham, chubby chaser Paul B. Price and two hunky bellhops called Tiger and Duff. The entertainment is Rita Moreno as Googy Gomez, a sort of Puerto Rican Bette Midler figure. Add in Treat Williams as the dim detective assigned to find Weston, then mix up identities, gender and preference, an you've got a farce on your hands.

It looks like I've never mentioned Noises Off, one of my favorite farces. "Doors and sardines, it's all about doors and sardines." People who go down one set of stairs while other people go up another. In and out of each other's rooms, hiding under beds. That's what we get here, with the added fun that most of the participants are as gay as May in Paree.

There are a number of amazing turns here - Abraham and Williams stand out. But I've got to give it to Rita for her Latin Spitfire turn. Just hearing her say the name of her arch-nemesis producer Seymour Pippin ("Simooorrrrr Peepeen") is side-splitting.

In some ways, it's amazing that such a free-spirited, gay-friendly romp could be made in the mid-seventies. Of course, it was before Reagan and AIDS, so maybe not so amazing.

In conclusion - just see it.

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