Long before exploiteers could show pickles and bush on film and when sex was still taboo across the country, business was booming in the burlesque business, built around stage shows with comedians, novelty acts, and of course plenty of beautiful women stripping to their pasties in tasteful form to avoid the wrath of the law. Glancing back at these burlesque acts, they seem quaint and nostalgic in comparison to today's in-your-face pornography and raunchy stripclubs, but are really nothing more than that. It's not surprising that Something Weird Video has cobbled together dozens of shorts, loops, and two feature films for the ultimate 2-disc tribute to this lost artform, and the package sounds mouthwatering, but once you dive in, THE BEST OF BURLESQUE can't help but feel like a whole lot of nothing.
Disc 1 opens with the feature film A VIRGIN IN HOLLYWOOD, also known as HOLLYWOOD CONFIDENTIAL. Innocent Dorothy Sloan, a lovely smalltown reporter, travels to Hollywood on assignment to uncover the dirty little secrets of the movie stars. Determined to prove herself as a female journalist, she finds herself in over her head when her adventures lead her to an isolated studio ranch where models in tiny bikinis "capture" her before allowing her to view their cheesecake photo shoot. One of them wears a giant demon mask to scare her!! An artist tricks a beautiful girl to pose while he draws her as a stick figure! A busty young model and her girlfriends sunbath in the nude, but don't uncover their bazooms for the camera. Dorothy is invited to become a model herself and attends a burlesque show with fancy South-of-the-border dancing, musical numbers, unfunny comedy acts, and lovely exotic dancers (including two lousy 3-D sequences hastily edited in for the film's re-release). She decides to pose for a number of controversial photos, in and out of costume, to experience first-hand the Hollywood experience (?!). This roadshow classic first saw release in 1948 and continued touring the country into the 50s, when it was re-titled to A VIRGIN IN HOLLYWOOD by pioneer Dan Sonney. It's not as amusing as other exposes of drugs, premarital sex, and juvenile delinquency that frequented the roadshow circuit, but the dramatic narration of Ms. Sloan is always entertaining even when the on-screen proceedings aren't. The entire movie feels longer than it should, and despite some memorable sequences (including a female impersonator using one of his tits as an ashtray!), it's not one you'll be revisiting anytime soon.
Packed to the hilt with extras, only some of which are worth seeing, enter the "Boom-Boom Room". First up is a special 3-D section with a trailer and a gaggle of shorts in 3-D! The two-disc set comes with a pair of red-and-blue 3-D glasses (as did SWV's earlier MONSTERS CRASH THE PAJAMA PARTY disc). The trailer for (which shows no footage from the film) isn't in fact in 3-D, but proclaims the film is ("Almost in person!"). "Bella Starr" finds the dancer of the same name preparing herself in her dressing room before strutting her stuff for the cameras in a variety of costumes, both in her dressing room and on stage. She blows cigarette smoke into the camera, a strange 3-D trick! She isn't a very good dancer, though... "Love for Sale" stars a greasy-looking gent and a scantily-clad dancer with a bizarre feather hat. He throws his cigarette into the camera before beginning a kooky dance routine with the lovely lady. "Persian Slave Market", from Broadway Roadshow Productions, advises the viewer to put on his "eyescopes" to experience Ilona, BiBi, and Paula's outdoor dance routines. No Persians or slaves to be seen!! "American Beauties", another Broadway Roadshow Production for "eyescopes", is shot in the same garden as "Slave Market" and has a beautiful lady fencing a mustachioed tutor. The narrator provides melodramatic narration.
Vastly more interesting than the 3-D section is "The Feature Spot", a trio of musical soundies with cheapo versions of Busby Berkeley dance numbers. "Give This Little Girl a Great Big Hand", starring Ann Pennington belting the title song, is the real winner of the three; the song is addictive and lots of fun, the women beautiful and talented, and it's over far too quickly. Watch this one again! "A Gypsy Frolic" features the Belasco Belles (?!) and Deenah dancing on a giant stage with an orchestra pit below. The center of the piece is an accordion-playing old man who stands playing his instrument while the women cavort around him on a backwoods gypsy carnival set! Another stagebound short, "Parade of Girls", opens with a male singer crooning at a microphone while girls in Ziegfeld costumes slowly parade around him.
The real heavyweight on Disc 1's extras platter is the "Striptease Showcase", nine striptease loops of varying quality. "Daughters of Eve" features a woman in a tiger-striped costume complete with fuzzy ears and a tail and a "Spider Girl" prancing around in a glittery silver spider-web see-through costume; watch "Bust-O-Rama" for a slutty Anna Nicole Smith look-alike in what looks like an Edith Head dress (!); "Curvaceous Cuties of Burlesque" stars the stunning Vanya and Dorothy Darling, a baby-faced blonde cutie with bad teeth; "Dances That Thrill" highlights a sultry blonde woman in a native costume on a cheap Hawaii set; "Unclad Cuties" opens with a bored-looking black woman named Valda twirling around and continues with beautiful blonde "Queen of Beauty" Mae Blondell; "Uncover Girls" opens with a soul-dancing Oriental girl really getting into the ass-shaking; "Tops in Burlesque" stars beautiful ladies, but none of them are really any good; "Night Club Girls" begins with an amazing fan dance with giant wings and continues with an all-girl samba band playing while a hoochie gets down with her bad self, then a girl in a butterfly costume dances around a spider web before another brunette doll in a tiger costume tap-dances and a gypsy girl with a tambourine dances while another woman plays the accordion (this is easily the best of the loops); "Sepia Sirens" seems to be the oldest short, with one woman introduced as a former ballet dancer (!). Disc 1 concludes with a lengthy gallery of burlesque ballyhoo and exploitation art, compiled of posters, window inserts, and newspaper ads selling the latest burlesque film extravaganza, all set to the "Booby Trap" theme. An Easter Egg in the "Boom Boom Room" shows a short called SECRETS OF PARIS, which is really just a theater advertisement for a photo book of "French girls" in the buff.
Disc 2 kicks off with the feature film TOO HOT TO HANDLE, which is essentially an entire burlesque stage show, with an emcee, lousy comedians, song-and-dance numbers, and of course the real attraction, scantily-clad dancers performing tasteful striptease acts. If you've seen TEASERAMA or VARIETEASE, you know what you're in for, except there's no Bettie Page or any other familiar face on display here, making the film a chore to sit through for those who aren't burlesque-crazy.
First up on the extras platter are "Top Bananas", a trio of comedian shorts. "Tomb It May Concern" stars Little Jack Little, the famed pipsqueak who was also in a number of sexploitation films, as the assistant to an archaeologist unearthing an Egyptian tomb. A beautifully preserved half-nude female mummy (she's still got skin and everything!) is among their findings. "A Cocktail at Sloppy Joe's" stars Jack Mann; the credits say it was photographed in 3-D by William Thompson, but this is a flat print. The short follows the comic adventures of the workers at a local restaurant one night (it's a cheap set). It's kinda funny... "I'll Sell My Shirt" stars Corky Marshall and Beetlepuss Lewis (?!), another comedy team, on a stage with curtains.
OK, take a deep breath and dive into "The Spotlight", the collection of burlesque performance shorts that like "The Striptease Showcase" vary in quality. "A Bedroom Fantasy" stars Lili St. Cyr and Tempest Storm is the center of attention in "Tempest Storm's Night in Hollywood", but the remaining 15 (!!) shorts all feature no one you'll know. "Satan's Dance", "Fan Dance", "The Hubba Hubba Girl", "Cat Tease", "Afro-Cuban Genii", "Babloo", "Bananas 8 to the Bar", "The Cobra Girl", "Notomo and Mr. Frederick", "Heels Over Head", "Egyptian Whirl", "Tip Top Top", and "A Swiss Fan Dance". To be honest, I could not bring myself to sit through all of these, disc 1 wiped me out in 2 minutes. Some of the titles sound intriguing, but in exploitation, they could also be misleading... Continuing the extras are 20 trailers for strip/burlesque films, including VARIETEASE, TEASERAMA, THE ABC'S OF LOVE (with former Our Gang kiddie star Shirley Jean Rickert!), THE STRIP TEASE MURDER CASE, BAGDAD AFTER MIDNITE, A VIRGIN IN HOLLYWOD, and B-GIRL RHAPSODY. Capping off the package is a photo parade of burlesque glamour girls.
Burlesque films are a love-'em
or hate-'em batch. You'll either be bored stiff by them or fascinated by their
historical value. I'm on the fence about this release (I didn't even make it
through the whole thing after a month!), but let's just say that without any
really recognizable cult starlets to liven things up, the majority of exploitation
aficionados will be left out in the cold with this release. Still, SWV gets
an A for effort by packing two discs with so much material for such a low price.
Whether you sit down to watch the whole thing is doubtful. (Casey
BACK TO REVIEWS