Toots Shor, self-described “saloonkeeper” and proprietor of the eponymous midtown bar that once was the watering hole of choice for New York’s native and visiting celebrities, is the subject of this fond biographical doc by granddaughter Kristi Jacobson. Copious clips of Shor on vintage interview shows—This Is Your Life, Person to Person—help to illustrate his rise from a street-fighting Jew holding his own in Italian South Philly to the bon vivant public face of postwar New York nightlife (a transition likely made with help from mob contacts established during hulking Toots’s time as a nightclub bouncer). Toots paces itself well enough not to wear thin the charms of its brusque, gargoyle-grinning subject, though it falls prey to familiar historical-documentary banalities, telescoping entire decades into peppy montage and lubricating everything with anonymously “brassy” jazz. The film is most enamored, naturally, with the era of its subject’s greatest influence, the ’50s; one’s reaction to Toots is therefore largely determined by one’s taste for Madison Avenue back-slapping, broiled steaks, alcoholic journalists, and self-amused “You had to be there” celebrity prankishness, all lovingly recalled by a litany of gargle-voiced sportswriters and Gay Talese, who hogs the best one-liners.
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