Toots (2006)

Genres - History  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Social History  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Buening

Toots is a loving chronicle of New York restaurateur Toots Shor's colorful life and a warm recollection of his club's heyday as a focal point of boozy 1950s Manhattan. Director Kristi Jacobson comes from a strong television background and it shows in the use of well-worn, if nonetheless expertly employed, documentary techniques of shows like A&E's Biography. She is also Shor's granddaughter, and her familial connections result in a trove of material including archival photographs and film footage, outstanding interviews, and eight hours of audio interview taped shortly before Shor's death, where he details his life story, and which forms the base of the film. Shor's rise is depicted as an ironic American success story, hard-working immigrant boy makes good with more than a little help from the Mafia. The documentary is at its best when Shor's skills at creating an upscale but relaxed bonhomie and stage-managing talent gelled with postwar exuberance and his saloon attracted the greats of politics, entertainment, and sports. It was a macho world and the highlights are really just larger-than-life drinking stories; one can practically smell the Lucky Strikes and taste the Scotch. Waiters and bus boys recall drinking contests with Shor's close friend Jackie Gleason; admirers gush at the endless parade of legends from Frank Sinatra to Joe DiMaggio; and journalists recall running back and forth between their typewriter and the bar for revitalizing drinks. To tell these stories, Jacobson has assembled a stupendous collection of interviewees who lived the life, including Gay Talese, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Mike Wallace, and Frank Gifford. Shor's life reached an ignominious end; he died broke and disappointed, having sold his name to a chain restaurant for 1,500 dollars. But the documentary, while illuminating the occasional hurt behind his smiling facade, doesn't revel in his downfall, rather always turning on his remarkable ability to celebrate and appreciate life's pleasures.