Directed By: Richard Lester
Starring: Jack Weston, Rita Moreno, Jerry Stiller, Kaye Ballard, F. Murray Abraham, Paul B. Price, Treat Williams
In Richard Lester's "The Ritz", screenwriter Terence McNally adapts his own award-winning Broadway farce about Gaetano Proclo (Weston), a Cleveland business man with mobster in-laws. While in New York with his wife, Vivian (Ballard), to visit his dying father-in-law, things take an unexpected turn resulting in Proclo having to hide out from Carmine Vespucci (Stiller), his homicidally inclined brother-in-law. Unfamiliar with New York, he asks his cab driver to take him to the last place on Earth that Vespucci would come looking for him and is directed to the all-male bathhouse known as The Ritz. His plans to lie low in his room quickly fall apart as a series of ever-escalating farcical misunderstandings (straight for gay, gay for straight, woman for transvestite, woman for man, brother-in-law for brother-in-law, garbage man for Broadway producer, etc.) result in Proclo crossing paths with some of the most colorful patrons of the Ritz including obsessive "chubby chaser" Claude Perkins (Price), good-hearted raging queen Chris (Abraham), thick-accented questionably-talented diva Googie Gomez (Moreno), and squeaky-voiced semi-clueless substitute detective Michael Brick (Williams).
The film is something of a funhouse mirror time capsule as the idea of setting a broadly comic farce in an all-male bathhouse would become unthinkable in the wake of the AIDS epidemic only a few years later. Farces by their very nature frequently trade in stereotypes, and The Ritz is no exception. That being said, the film manages to have its cake and eat it too by having such a broad array of gay characters surrounding the action that the most perverse and flamboyant characters appear as the eccentrics they are supposed to be rather than representatives of their entire subculture.
Lester maintains the appropriate light and frothy tone for the proceedings, pacing the gags as needed to keep the improbably escalating level of farcical misunderstandings afloat. Sexual content is kept discretely off camera, with the more ribald elements playing out via dialog and big take reaction shots from the cast. Lester's gifts for cinematically staging physical comedy are in full bloom and are integrated nicely with the largely verbal and character-based humor from the stage play. Aside from the prologue, the events of the film take place entirely in and around the titular bathhouse, but things never become visually dull.
The cast is uniformly excellent, retaining most of the key performers from the play's original run on Broadway including Weston, Stiller, Abraham, Price, and Moreno, who won a Tony award for her stage performance as Googie. Treat Williams plays the role of the naive detective with the nails on a chalkboard voice originated on the stage by Stephen Collins -- a piece of trivia all of you who have yet to get over the Everwood vs. Seventh Heaven cancellation controversy can use as you see fit. Sharp-eyed viewers will recognize Cliff Clavin himself, John Ratzenberger, in a small role as one of the bathhouse patrons.
The 16:9 enhanced video looks very film-like with a healthy but not excessive amount of natural grain. The credits are windowboxed to a 1.66:1 ratio, but the rest of the film fills the entire 16:9 enhanced frame. I did not notice any serious framing issues in the presentation, so I will not speculate about the original intended ratio. Color timing seems to emphasize the deeply saturated reds that are sprinkled throughout the costume and production design but sometimes results in skin tones that are a bit unnaturally rosy. This will be difficult for the average viewer to overlook considering the amount of time on-screen characters spend wearing only towels, robes, and wraps. Compression is good considering the amount of film grain being rendered and artifacts such as edge enhancement are nowhere to be seen.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is a solid presentation that is not asked to do much more than carry the film's fairly straightforward dialog-heavy mix. The bass tones may be rolled off a bit, but otherwise, there is not much to complain about.
The only extra is the film's original theatrical trailer presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound.
The film comes in a standard Amaray-style case with cover art derived from the film's orginal promotional art.
If you like your farce straight and your themes far from it, The Ritz is the film for you. Warner presents Richard Lester's multi-gag-a-minute adaptation of the Broadway show with a solid video transfer that may be tilted a bit towards the red end of the spectrum and decent if unremarkable mono audio.