Directors: Duke Goldstone and Lillian Hunt
Something Weird Video/Image Entertainment

Dipping into its deep vaults of burlesque feature films, Something Weird has unleashed yet another package commemorating the long-gone days of hoochie-koochie burlesque thrills. Most burlesque films are as much fun as fixing a drainpipe, and both HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE and PEEK-A-BOO are no exception. Both films are practically the same, presented on an actual stage (San Diego’s Hollywood Theatre in BURLESQUE and Los Angeles’ Follies Theatre in PEEK-A-BOO), and feature an entire evening’s worth of entertainment as one would experience at an actual burlesque theatre. What makes this double feature interesting is the historical value inherent in providing a glimpse at an era that will never return. Burlesque shows were frequented not only by men looking at beautiful women, but couples who enjoyed the song-and-dance routines, the lame comedians, and very tame exotic performances. For anyone who wants to see an entire Burlesque show in its entirety, with a front-row seat, look no further than these two films.

Shot at the Hollywood Theatre in 1948, HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE proclaims in its opening credits, “This picture is dedicated to the thousands of people all over the world, who have not had the opportunity of seeing big time burlesque as it is presented on the stage of the famous Hollywood Theatre.” The film uses two cameras and rarely moves, providing an upfront best-seat-in-the-house view of the program. Singer Robert Ross opens the show with “It’s a Fine Day,” as a chorus line of lovely ladies tap their way across the stage, and follows it with “I Love You, Truly I Do.” He returns later to sing “Remember?.” Comedians Eddie Ware, Say No More Jo, and Wenn Hitt provoke more groans than laughs in their painfully unfunny routines and skits. Brunette Bobby Roberts twirls around the stage and remains clothed; The Exotic Marie wears a flowing satin cape and does more twirling; Joy Damon also stays clothed and walks around the stage to music; lovely and dramatic Jenne opens her act sitting on a throne, and looks like Ida Lupino; and finally the star of the show, “statuesque” Hillary Dawn, dances clothed on a glittery set. Fun fact: Director Duke Goldstone soon after making this film edited George Pal’s DESTINATION MOON, the first major science fiction film of the 1950’s!

PEEK-A-BOO opens with a disclaimer from “The Management” (i.e., SWV) explaining that some dialogue was removed from the negative in accordance with “censorship standards of the early 1950s.” One assumes this means sexually suggestive language, and it isn’t very distracting from the show. There are more comedians on-hand in this film, with Leon DeVoe, Billy Foster, Jack Mann and Johnny Maloney really slaughtering the audience with their shtick. The girls are much more satisfying in this film: Sherry Winters ("The Yum Yum Girl") looks like a trashier updating of Mae West, complete with fishtail gown and fox fur wrap; blonde beauty Virginia Valentine prances around and seems to have no rhythm, but does some amazing pectoral exercises with her breasts before some tassel-twirling; Jenny Lee does another Mae West imitation (a la MY LITTLE CHICKADEE) and prowls the stage like an animal before performing another great tassel-twirling routine; Suzette, “The French Doll”, looks like a man and is built like a linebacker; and “The Body Beautiful” Venus is actually much less impressive than her preceding acts, but resembles Leslie Caron. Director Lillian Hunt shot many more burlesque films before the era fizzled out, including TOO HOT TO HANDLE (on SWV’s BEST OF BURLESQUE set), THE ABC’S OF LOVE, B-GIRL RHAPSODY, and KISS ME BABY, the last real burlesque film before nudie-cuties took over. Cinematographer William C. Thompson is best known for his work on the films of Ed Wood and many other roadshow films from the 1930’s through the 1950’s.

Both films appear to be transferred from original negatives, as the black and white contrasts are simply gorgeous. Some dark moments occur probably because of the bad in-door lighting, but there is very slight grain, no blemishes or lines present, and it’s pretty amazing to see such well-preserved burlesque films!

If you want more burlesque curios, the disc is packed with ‘em! Trailers for HOLLYWOOD BURLESQUE, PEEK-A-BOO, THE ABC’S OF LOVE (with former Little Rascal Shirley Jean Rickert billed as “Gilda”!), DING DONG, EVERYBODY’S GIRL, HER WEDDING NIGHT (with Lili St. Cyr), and KISS ME BABY (also with St. Cyr and the farewell to burlesque films) are included. If that isn’t enough, an incredible collection of burlesque shorts parade before your eyes: “Broadway Burlesque” with Renee, Billie Bolton, Dotty Dawson, and Mickey Mason; “Dancing Dolls of Burlesque” with Sunny Ray, Jill La Raye, Patty Long, and Jean King; “Fancy Femmes” with Stacey Farrell, Mona Raye, Lolita, and Cheri; “Girlesk Show” with Nona Carver, Beverly Reynard, Paula D’Arcy, and Tandalaye; “Key-Hole Varieties” with Libby Jones, Valda, and Mitzi Doerre; and “Ready for a Take-Off” with Brandy Jones, Genii Young, and Dimples Morgan! Still craving more burlesque? Even more entertaining than any of the footage on the disc are the two galleries: one features posters and bally-hoo art for burlesque films, and the second features dozens of photos of B-girl glamour queens. Almost worth the price of the disc, but still doesn’t save the entire package from being a whole lot of nothing.

There must be an audience for this release, but this writer definitely isn’t part of it! Burlesque is a love-it or hate-it genre of sexploitation. For those who love it, this is a no-brainer purchase to sit on the shelf next to BEST OF BURLESQUE (another release which divides SWV fans). For those who haven’t yet experienced a burlesque film, skip this one and get TEASERAMA or VARIETEASE instead (both in color and with a collection of lovely ladies including Bettie Page and Tempest Storm). (Casey Scott)