Friday, February 5, 2010

Mrs. Henderson Presents

Year 2, Day 36 - 2/5/10 - Movie #401

BEFORE: Back to stage productions, to wrap up my review of Fame in all its incarnations. Damn, this movie's set in 1937, it would have made a good follow-up to "De-Lovely" if I had known that little tidbit. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that.

THE PLOT: Laura Henderson buys an old London theater and opens it up as the Windmill, which goes down in history for, among other things, its nude revues.

AFTER: Well, after 400 films, it's about time we had some gratuitous nudity in the Movie Year! As Max Bialystock said in "The Producers", "I worked very, very hard, and I deserve a toy!"

A British widow (Judi Dench) decides she needs a toy, too - so she buys an old West End theater and hires a manager (Bob Hoskins) to bring an American-style musical revue to London. It's a smash hit, which means that weeks later, all the other theaters have copied their production, and they're hard-pressed to sell tickets. "Well, let's have naked girls!" says Mrs. Henderson, very matter-of-fact, referencing the cabaret acts of Paris, and once she informs the theater manager and the girls what this "nudity" concept is (give them a break, they're British...) the show's off and running again.

But the Lord Chancellor in charge of Parliamentary Procedure and Stage Nudity (Christopher Guest) is of course opposed to the idea - but they strike a ridiculous compromise wherein the nudity will be "artistic", meaning like the art in a museum - meaning that the naked girls can't move on stage, which would be improper. So the search is on for girls who look good nude and can stand still for long periods of time, while surrounded by clothed dancing girls and clothed singing girls.

In the third act, World War II is declared, which means blackouts and air raids, and a question as to whether it's appropriate to watch naked girls on stage while the bombs are falling a few blocks away. It's easy to draw a parallel to New York in September 2001, where we were all unsure if it was appropriate to attend a baseball game, or to watch a comedy show, or to have any fun at all after the World Trade Center fell.

But of course the soldiers need to be entertained, and Mrs. Henderson feels very strongly that they have the right to see a little stage nudity if they're being asked to sacrifice their lives in the war. In hard times, no one's ever lost money by appealing to people's basest instincts - which sort of explains the Burlesque revival that's taken place in New York the last few years.

The stage songs are abysmal, but the love-hate working relationship between Henderson and Van Damm, the stage manager is quite charming. (And there's boobies.)

RATING: 6 out of 10 top hats

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