A matinee at "The Poor Man’s Follies" on the Lower East Side, one last midnight hurrah to the dying art of vulgarity. "Some mature story," that’s the seedy end of showbiz circa 1925, the virginal Amish runaway (Britt Ekland) strolls into Minsky’s Burlesque and blooms in the cheerfully sinful atmosphere. Smitten like Cyrano and sprightly like Donald O’Connor, the baggy-pants comic (Norman Wisdom) gives her a fond slapstick demonstration, foot in water pail and staircase tumble and all; his partner (Jason Robards) lords over the footlights in striped suit and straw boater, and promptly scoops up the wide-eyed ingénue. The whirl around this trio includes the young entrepreneur (Elliott Gould) with the disapproving Old World father (Joseph Wiseman), the merry bootlegger in the stage box (Forrest Tucker), the crusading prude (Denholm Elliott) and the fundamentalist papa (Harry Andrews), plus row after row of worn chorines. ("Take ten terrific girls but only nine costumes," warbles the rouged Rudy Vallee wannabe, "and you’re cooking up something grand.") Yesterday’s scandals as today’s nostalgia is the frenetic approach, ye olde ribaldry filtered through 1968’s zooms and handheld camera swivels—the farm girl discovers the force of wriggling, with honky-tonk rimshots punctuating each of her undulations like bullets. (Gloria LeRoy beams down on the spectacle with Lady Liberty’s torch.) A genial shambles with sundry auteurs, a reverie by Norman Lear visualized by William Friedkin and retold on the editing room by Ralph Rosenblum. Meanwhile, Bert Lahr pads through with legitimate music-hall timbre and gravitas, fixing a tipped-over seltzer bottle and pointing to the crumbling theater: "The audience there remembers me!" From Mamoulian’s Applause, it passes through Russell’s The Boy Friend to arrive at Bogdanovich’s Nickelodeon; Schrader in Hardcore has a sort of humorless overhaul. With Jack Burns, Eddie Lawrence, Dexter Maitland, Lillian Hayman, and Richard Libertini.
--- Fernando F. Croce