Featured: Top of Home Page

Putting Off 'The Ritz'

Bring a towel.

The Ritz

Director: Richard Lester
Cast: Jack Weston, Rita Moreno
Distributor: Warner Archive
Rated: Not rated
Year: 1976
USDVD release date: 2013-03-05

Richard Lester's style of shooting and editing is so lively, you'd think Terrence McNally's Broadway farce about a gay bathhouse would serve his natural friskiness, especially with much of the original cast intact. Alas, he adopts only a slightly less lethargic approach here than his absurdist British sci-fi comedy, The Bed Sitting Room. In both cases, Lester seems to have believed that the characters and their antics were so bizarre that it was sufficient to point the camera at them and leave it up to us to decide what to do about it.

At least in The Ritz we get to see the genuinely ritzy set design by Philip Harrison. I have no idea how well it approximates a New York bathhouse of the 1970s, but any verisimilitude is cramped by the inability to show nudity. It looks like a retirement home where be-toweled gentlemen play pool; it might as well be gin rummy. Although jokes are made to the effect that somebody's having sex somewhere on the premises, it doesn't seem likely. In any event, this British-made movie turns out to be an accidental time-capsule, no matter how distorted, for a bit of pre-AIDS queer culture.

The story can be described as loud Italian stereotypes clashing with gay stereotypes (although less so) as mediated by a big Puerto Rican stereotype in the person of Rita Moreno, re-creating her Tony-winning role as a talentless diva who keeps insisting she's not a drag queen while biting off lines like "What arrr jew sayink to me, maricon?!" Jack Weston is hiding out from his mafia brother-in-law (Jerry Stiller) in this "hotel" that turns out to be a bathhouse, and instantly he's targeted by a "chubby chaser" (Paul Price). Pratfalls ensue, with much door-slamming, mistaken identities, and hiding under beds.

This might conceivably seem hilarious if the whole audience were wearing towels and perhaps had just come from a rubdown and a couple of margaritas, but instead it looks flat and labored. The only "treat" is a shirtless Treat Williams, who adopts an annoying Mickey Mouse voice. Among those present are Kaye Ballard (thrown away), F. Murray Abraham (swishy with dignity), Bessie Love, George Colouris, John Ratzenberger, and an unbilled Nathan Lane. Released on DVD several years ago, that disc has now been reissued on demand by Warner Archive.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.