HBO's "The Last of the Blonde Bombshells" plays a delightful tune. 

Sax Appeal

HBO's "The Last of the Blonde Bombshells" is a winner, a jewel box of a story filled with bright and shiny baubles that glitter and gleam, and make your eyes light up with glee.

The baubles, of course, include the actors who bring this sparkling story to life: Dame Judi Dench (Best Supporting Actress for "Shakespeare in Love"), Sir Ian Holm (Best Supporting Actor nominee for "Chariots of Fire"), Olympia Dukakis (Best Supporting Actress for "Moonstruck"), Leslie Caron (Best Actress nominee for "Lili") and Dame Cleo Laine (Grammy-winning jazz vocalist). They all shine brightly thanks to a witty and tender script by Alan Plater and the efforts of Working Title, the independent producers of such hits as "Notting Hill," "Fargo" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral."

As a matter of fact, most everything about this delightful outing — including the great music — is picture perfect.

Elizabeth (Dench) can't help cursing under her breath at the sappy songs played during her husband's funeral. She'd rather remember 1944, when she was the teen-age star saxophonist in an (almost) all-girl swing band called "The Blonde Bombshells." When her 12-year-old granddaughter finds her practicing in the attic after the funeral, Elizabeth tells her she gave up the gig when the war ended and she got married. Now she finds herself filling the days by watching quiz shows on television and sometimes getting the answers right.

While having a drink in a pub, she runs into Patrick (Holm), the drummer who played in drag for the Bombshells, and proposes that the two of them track down the rest of the Bombshells and stage a reunion. Elizabeth's granddaughter thinks it's a grand idea and books them to play for her school dance.

But when she and Patrick — who prides himself on having bedded every one of the Bombshells except Elizabeth — start looking for the band members, they keep striking out. One is in a nursing home and doesn't even know her own name. Another is dead. Another is in prison. Still another is somewhere in Scotland, and the bass player is somewhere in France. And another now plays trombone for a Salvation Army band and has no interest in playing "that kind of music" again.

With the help of a 50-year-old photo of the group and some earnest sleuthing, however, Patrick and Elizabeth manage to track down key band members who still remember how to make music swing, including Gwen (Laine), the vocalist.

Director Gillies Mackinnon deftly weaves flashbacks of the band in its swinging heyday with present-day rehearsals to make it clear that reuniting a band after 50 years isn't duck soup. But the music, including the evocative "When the World Was Young," will take your breath away.

Before the movie is half over, you know exactly how it'll turn out. The Bombshells will recapture their glory and wow the students at the school dance. But regardless, getting there is great fun, and the climax, when it comes, will still make you want to stand up and cheer for this marvelous group of actors and this wonderful gem of a story.


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