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★★★★ | Roger Ebert
October 14, 1968 | ☄ 0
“Finian’s Rainbow” is the best of the recent roadshow musicals, perhaps because it’s the first to cope successfully with the longer roadshow form. The best musicals of the past (Astaire and Rogers in the 1930s, Gene Kelly’s and Stanley Donen’s productions in the 1950s) were rather modest in length and cost. They depended on charm and the great talents of their performers.
Since “The Sound of Music,” unhappily, musicals have been locked into the reserved-seat format. That, in turn, apparently means they have to be long, expensive, weighed down with unnecessary production values and filled with pretension. It was a gloomy sight to see the great songs and performances of “Camelot” trying to get out from beneath the dead weight of its expensive, unnecessary, distracting sets and costumes. [Note: Camelot played at this theater too…!]
Movies are a faster medium than the stage. They don’t have entrances, exits, curtains, scene changes. Yet recent film “versions” actually tend to be longer than Broadway productions, and the second half is often an ordeal. Movie musicals shouldn’t be much more than two hours long, I think.
“Finian’s Rainbow” is an exception. It gives you that same wonderful sense you got from “Swing Time” or “Singin' in the Rain” or any of the great musicals: that it knows exactly where it’s going, and is getting there as quickly and with as much fun as possible. Remarkably, because it is only Francis Ford Coppola’s second film, it is the best-directed musical since “West Side Story.” It is also enchanting, and that’s a word I don’t get to use much.
A lot of the fine things in the film come from Fred Astaire, who possibly danced better 30 years ago but has never achieved a better characterization. In most of the Astaire musicals we remember, he was really playing himself, and the plot didn’t make much of an effort to conceal that. This time he plays arthritic, wizened, wise Finian McLonergan (with some songs and dances the original stage Finian didn’t have). And it is a remarkable performance.
It is so good, I suspect, because Astaire was willing to play it as the screenplay demands. He could have rested on his laurels and his millions easily enough, turning out a TV special now and then, but instead he created this warm old man, Finian, and played him wrinkles and all. Astaire is pushing 70, after all, and no effort was made to make him look younger with common tricks of lighting, makeup and photography. That would have been unnecessary: He has a natural youthfulness. I particularly want to make this point because of the cruel remarks on Astaire’s appearance in the New York Times review by Renata Adler. She is mistaken.
All the same, this isn’t Astaire’s movie. One of its strengths is that a lot of characters are involved, and their roles are well balanced. The story is familiar: Finian and his daughter (Petula Clark) journey to America with a pot of gold stolen from a leprechaun (Tommy Steele). They pitch up in Rainbow Valley, a rural co-operative near Fort Knox. It is inhabited by black and white farmers who raise tobacco, by a redneck sheriff and by a Southern senator (Keenan Wynn) who is even more stereotyped than Strom Thurmond. There is an intrigue involving the back taxes on the co-op, a couple of romances, race relations, and the pot of gold.
Petula Clark is a surprise. I knew she could sing, but I didn’t expect much more. She is a fresh addition to the movies: a handsome profile, a bright personality, and a singing voice as unique in its own way as Streisand’s. Tommy Steele, as always, is a shade overdone, but perhaps a leprechaun should be a shade overdone.
Al Freeman Jr., who plays an earnest young Negro botanist, has a hilarious moment as he brings the senator a bromo with the official darky shuffle. Barbara Hancock, an accomplished dancer, is fetching as Susan the Silent. Don Francks, as Petula’s boyfriend, is clean-cut and pleasant, alas. And after the racist senator (Wynn) is magically turned black, there’s a bravura scene. He joins up with one of the most improbable gospel quartets ever assembled.
The movie’s message is a sort of subliminal plea for racial understanding but not much is made of it. Perhaps that’s just as well. “Camelot” got mired in its involved philosophy, and “My Fair Lady” succeeded because it dumped most of Shaw’s preaching.
For the rest, “Finian’s Rainbow” is a marvelous evening right up to its last shot of Astaire walking away down a country road. Unfortunately, the management of the Bismarck turned on the house lights before Astaire was finished walking; for that, I would gladly turn them into little green toads.
This house was mentioned in Roger Ebert’s review of Finian’s Rainbow:
“Finian’s Rainbow” is a marvelous evening right up to its last shot of Astaire walking away down a country road. Unfortunately, the management of the Bismarck turned on the house lights before Astaire was finished walking; for that, I would gladly turn them into little green toads.
Nice report on Saturday’s NBC Nightly News…
The show is running now, and worth catching.
Meryl Streep mentioned on Graham Norton that the London premiere of Into the Woods was at this theater.
News about this house here
The lobby may have been gutted (or demolished) but you can walk right through the restaurant to get into the auditorium…
Cool video here
I was there the other night and it is starting to look a bit shabby…
The flea market has been closed for months, per the sign that was on the marquee while the theater was still open…
The words are off the marquee now, but it is still lit up…
I don’t want to overstate it, but we’ve been praying for news like this…
Ed, you the man…!
I can think of 22.5 million reasons, if robboehm is correct…
There is a “Thank you for all your patronage” message on the marquee now. Someone (Ed?) should take a photo and post it here, for posterity…
There are showtimes listed for the 19th but none beyond that.
Sign on the marquee says it’s closing on January 19. Signs in front say a new shopping center is coming soon…
I don’t think Cablevision owns the actual building but has a long-term lease on the site.
A bunch of new photos of the renovation were posted here today.
The box office cashier said they have replaced all the seats, but I have not checked it out in person yet.
The local paper Lynbrook/East Rockaway Herald says the theater will double in size in 2015. i’ll link the article when i can get to it.
Luckily the Grand Avenue and the Middlebrook Galleria were quickly reopened under new local (Grand Ave) and international (Middlebrook) independent owners.
Grand Avenue, Babylon, Middlebrook Galleria, and…?
Well, a couple of years ago Bow Tie took over this house from Clearview, and just a few weeks ago Bow Tie closed it.
But it just reopened under the auspices of the owners of several independent multiplexes, namely the Kew Gardens Cinemas, Cobble Hill Cinemas and Williamsburg Cinemas. (According to the box office cashier, anyway.)
They have a facebook page as the first step in promoting this place.
Good luck! Glad to see it open again.