Richard Lester John Simon - Essay

John Simon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Richard Lester is a competent farce director, whether he is directing farce or anything else. Yet [The Ritz] falls, unfarcically, flat….

[Farce], especially the kind that depends on a multiplicity of doors flying open and shut as ill-assorted people rush through them toward outrageous consequences, needs … stage space to play with. The buzzing human insects must describe bizarre trajectories, inscribe absurd patterns in their boxlike space, to illustrate the whims of that waggish demiurge variously identified as author, director, or life. Take away the spatial antics of farce, its solid geometry, and you're left with a flimsy contrivance.

Which does not mean that the filmmakers cannot refeel and rethink the farce in terms of the new dimensions and perimeters…. [But] Lester did not muster that camera energy that distinguishes even his lesser efforts. It may also be that Hollywood did not want to rub the noses of the provinces in all that pederasty with which the public bath, where the action takes place, is awash. Certainly some of the more "daring" lines of the play are not in the movie.

The best thing is an opening closeup of an egg yolk slithering through an hourglass. I have no idea whether this is an old Italian custom at death vigils, a proleptic reference to what the film will wind up with all over its face, or a piece of pure surrealism like Dali's melting watches. Whatever it is, it grabbed my amused attention. The rest of The Ritz is no yolk. (p. 50)

John Simon, "Flattening the Ritz, Flattering the Duke," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1976 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 9, No. 35, August 30, 1976, pp. 50-2.∗