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The most surprising thing about LADY OF BURLESQUE was that it got made
at all. Burlesque was all but dead by 1942, shut out of most towns and
cities by relentless moral crusaders, and Hollywood itself was mired in
the infamous "production code," which put a heavy lid on what could and
could not be shown on screen. But burlesque had spawned a number of
stars who remained favorites with public, and in 1941 the legendary
Gypsy Rose Lee penned a book called THE G-STRING MURDERS. It proved
extremely popular, and a year later United Artists took a chance on the
True enough, the movie couldn't show the strippers in action or play out the bawdy comic sketches so popular in burlesque, but writer James Gunn turned in a superior script, and director William Wellman and his cast gave the whole thing tremendous dash and style. The result was a movie that captured the seedy, underworld-edged world of burlesque without actually causing censors to yank it from distribution.
In theory, LADY OF BURLESQUE is a murder mystery, but mystery takes a back seat to the brawling backstage antics of crossed love affairs and star rivalry. Barbara Stanwyck endows star stripper "Dixie Daisy" with her own memorable brand of tough class--and although she can only be shown from the waist up when she bumps and grinds, she still manages to tear strips off her musical number "Play It On The G-String." The rest of the cast is equally memorable, many of them burlesque stars in their own right. Pinky Lee (Mandy) is memorably teamed with Marion Martin (Alice Angel) to delightful effect; Iris Adrian (Gee-Gee)is the gum smacking brash blonde to end all gum smacking brash blondes; and such memorable character actors as Michael O'Shea (Biff), Gloria Dickson (Dolly), and J. Edward Bromberg (Foss) round out the cast superbly.
Sad to say, LADY OF BURLESQUE has fallen into public domain, and it has not been well preserved. I have seen several releases of the film, and all of them are plagued with breaks in the film and the soundtrack. LADY OF BURLESQUE may never be regarded as a "great" film, but it is an extremely entertaining one, particularly for those who already know something about the now-lost world of burlesque. As one character says, "Makes me want to leave the wife!" Recommended.
Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
Gypsy Rose Lee wrote several mystery novels. The most famous is "The G-String Murders", from which "Lady of Burlesque" was adapted. The novel is delightful, as many have noted, opening a window onto a lost world of performances and the lives of those who peopled it. Director William Wellman and writer James Gunn combined their talents with Bernard Herbzrun's inspired art direction to produce a wonderfully-mounted B/W classic of images, characters and mystery here. Heading the cast are dynamic Barbara Stanwyck, Marion Martin, Pinky Lee, J. Edward Bromberg as the policeman on the case and Michael O'Shea as the brash but lovable comic who pursues Stanwyck. The storyline involved rivalries, pretensions and tensions among the ladies of a burlesque troupe; the plot is about respect and how the characters plan to obtain it. The entry of a murderer into the performers' insular and fascinating world of performing and being apart from a society which finds them amusing, exotic and unknowable makes this an interesting "island" vehicle, one used for examining and exampling human values, ideas and actions. The rooftop sequences are still stunning; I find that the human values retain their potency to move and to interest. Stanwyck is marvelous, O'Shea and Pinky Lee perfect. Marion Martin and Iris Adrian, as well as Bromberg, get everything out of their parts that is there, and then some. One-of-a-kind because of Miss Lee's authenticity. faithfully reproduced on screen with swift pace and intelligence. Highly recommended for its atmosphere and for much, much more.
Did the movies ever produce a trouper more versatile than Barbara Stanwyck,
a seasoned pro who not only could do anything handed to her but did them all
superlatively well? Her long career encompasses melodramas, weepers,
screwball comedy, noir, even Westerns. In Lady of Burlesque she sings,
breaks into a variety of dance steps, and even turns a cartwheel (and if a
stunt double did it for her, the editing is virtuoso). She's far and away
the best thing in the movie, which is saying a lot: Lady of Burlesque is a
breakneck carnival ride of a movie.
It's based on The G-String Murders, a light mystery penned by society stripper Gypsy Rose Lee (her own story became legend in Gypsy, and her sister. Baby June, became actress June Havoc). But the mystery emerges late and, like the obligatory love angle, doesn't unduly detract from the movie's main business, which is a salty and affectionate reminiscence of the autumn of vaudeville's ne'er-do-well stepsister, burlesque, set, like all the best show-biz stories, backstage.
William Wellman gets things popping right off the bat, in a Ziegfeld-Follies like number in which one of the prancing chorines keeps trying to blow her Veronica-Lake locks out of her face. Then there's a fast seque into Stanwyck's `Take It Off The E-String (Play It On The G-String),' then upstairs to the horror of a dressing room where the big, pale girls gussy themselves up and rip one another up one side and down the other. Their smart, snapping mouths recall the bitchiest exchanges in Stage Door, another racy peek into stage life after the curtain's rung down (among the grind-house queens are Iris Adrian, Victoria Faust, Janis Carter and Stephanie Bachelor). Another dressing room houses the men the comics with their wide pants and tiny hats (Pinky Lee among them); Wellman even throws in some of their hoary routines but counterpoints them against offstage action to offset their stale-popcorn fustiness.
Police raids and gangster boyfriends, professional jealousies and box-office worries play as much a role in the movie as a series of ecdysiasts strangled with their own beadwork. With Wellman at the helm and an enviable if not, apart from Stanwyck, especially starry cast, Lady of Burlesque delivers lots more than it promises.
I did once read the book "The G-String Murders" and want to make
a few things clear: in the book the character name of Dixie Daisy is
"Gypsy Rose Lee". If I recall correctly, the book was amusing but
thin and the movie is a considerable improvement on it.
Also, if I recall correctly, Gypsy was an "intellectual" stripper who
showed a minimum of skin and so the movie was not inaccurate
in that respect.
Stanwyck showed, not only versatility, but a considerable amount
of warmth in the part of Dixie, qualities which the original Gypsy
also had. (I had a friend, now deceased, who worked with Gypsy
for a time and he spoke about her a great deal and with much
I thought Michael O'Shea was excellent as the comic Biff and Pinky
Lee fit into the backstage ambiance beautifully. The "mystery" was
of almost no interest but this is besides the point. The
photography was also very interesting and added to the sleazy
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
What could that mean? Well, Craig Rice ghost-wrote the novel "The
G-String Murders" for Gypsy Rose Lee (though it's obvious GRL had a
hand - the backstage burlesque atmosphere of the book is REALLY good).
Good book - fun to read. It has been reprinted several times in the 70s
or so, so copies aren't as hard to come by as they might be.
The G-String Murders, in turn, became the movie Lady of Burlesque, which is one of my all-time favorite films. In the movie, Dixie Daisy (Barbara Stanwyck) is a rising star in burlesque who gets involved when murders start cropping up in the theatre she's just come to work for. Throw in a touch of romance and dialog that's just about as spicy as it can be without being censored (which isn't saying much - the censors were pretty tough), and the movie is really fun all 'round.
If the humor on stage is lame, well, that's burlesque - in fact, the routines in the movie are classic burlesque routines, performed (at least in part) by classic burlesque comedian Pinky Lee ("Ooh, you make me so ma-a-ad"). 'nuff said.
A couple of interesting changes from the book (without giving anything away):
The lead character in the book is Gypsy Rose Lee herself, renamed Dixie Daisy for the movie.
(To show you the power of the censors) In the book, the lead dancers complain about the toilet in their dressing room being broken. In the movie - it's a sink. On the other hand, until you actually see the sink, it could be either - they only refer to it as "the antique", "the porcelain" etc., probably as a nod and a wink to everyone who'd read the book. Kudos to the screenwriter, too.
Director William A. Wellman gives us Lady of Burlesque a boisterous whodunit played out in an old burlesque theatre. Based on Gypsy Rose Lee's novel The G-String Murders theres plenty of humor surrounding the murders with wisecracks left and right. Theres some bumps and grinds but no stripping due to the movie code at that time. Of course we have the wonderful Barbara Stanwyck here who dazzles us with some neat song and dance routines. Also a lovely bunch of beauties in scanty costumes including gum snapping Gee Gee (Iris Adrian), troubled Dolly (Gloria Dickson), gorgeous Alice (Marion Martin), Lolita (Victoria Faust) and Princess Nirvena (Stephanie Bachelor) both delightfully bitchy. Theres also Michael O' Shea and Pinky Lee involved in the mystery and humor at the old former opera house. So "Take It Off The E-String, Play It On The G-String" (song) and have a good time. Oscar nominee for Best Score.
I'd never seen this film, and now I'm sorry it's taken me so long to catch
up with it. It's a wonderfully rich look at life in a burlesque house, with
Barbara Stanwyck as the star stripper and a great supporting cast of chorus
girl types (including the incomparable Iris Adrian as her best friend).
Stanwyck sings, I think for the only time on film, and dances with an
impressive athleticism. And the scenes backstage and during the police
interrogation, with the performers in a variety of outlandish costumes, have
a wonderfully surreal quality reinforced by the films hermetic qualities
(even the exteriors were shot on the sound stage).
But what's really wonderful about the film is the depiction of the burlesque people as an extended family who overcome their differences and pull together when the future of their theatre is threatened. With the preponderance of women in the dressing room, the film is also surprisingly ahead of its time in its depiction of female bonding. It really deserves the same cult status as Dorothy Arzner's "Dance, Girl, Dance."
Nothing deep here, but that's good. A light-hearted comedy in the guise
a mystery. Don't expect to be mystified, the "mystery" only serves as a
vehicle for the comedy and a rather believable romance. Barbara
though 36 years old, looks much younger. Her part was rather vivacious,
risque, and revealing for a 1943 movie. The lady could
The image on the DVD is generally very good, but there are several places where a few "frames" are missing, causing disquieting "jumps", but still, a good investment of time, if only to enjoy watching Miss Stanwyck smile and wiggle.
Barbara Stanwyck got to really show her versatility in Lady of
Burlesque doing a couple of numbers that did make me wonder why she
didn't try to do a full blown musical. Of course she had the best of
inspiration in a book that was partially written by the one and only
Gypsy Rose Lee.
Gypsy needed a ghostwriter, but she certainly knew the world of burlesque as none other. So with Craig Rice's ghostwriting they fashioned a murder mystery set in the burlesque world. Somebody is killing the strippers at a burlesque theater and Barbara isn't sitting around waiting to be the next victim. With the help of comic Michael O'Shea she's going to find the perpetrator before she gets done in with her G String.
A lovely group of movie queens help Barbara out in this film. Playing some of her peers are Iris Adrian, Gloria Dickson, Marion Martin, Janis Carter, Stephanie Bachelor, and Victoria Faust. Some of these don't make it to the end of the picture.
Playing another of the comics is Pinky Lee who I well remember because I used to watch his kid's television show back in my salad days. Pinky was as frantic as I remember him and he does a mean jitterbug with Stanwyck.
William Wellman as director keeps the pace of things going pretty nicely. And if you're a leg man, this picture will leave you nothing to complain about. As for the murderer, here's a hint, it's roughly the equivalent of the butler doing it.
William Wellman, the man who brought you NOTHING SACRED, BEAU GESTE, ROXIE HART, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, A STAR IS BORN, and WINGS, brings you this neglected gem starring the one and only Barbara Stanwyck. Available for some reason in a thousand cheapie video bins for under five bucks, this 91 minute classic B-movie puts the B in sublime. An A-list group decided to adapt Gypsy Rose Lee's exploitation sex - murder - laughs novel for the silver screen, and the sheer joy brought to the tawdry enterprise somehow transmutes the base material - the murder plot was creaky for 1943 - into show-biz gold. When you think of old-fashioned entertainment, you are picturing LADY OF BURLESQUE, in which a maniac is killing the show-girls in a run-down burlesque theater, and a baggy-pants comic steadfastly pursues Barbara Stanwyck with wisecracks and dutch-treat dates. The real stars are the burlesque performers, lovable freaks from the Hollywood gutter spouting a hard-bitten patter with the nano-second timing of people who'd been doing this since their parents dragged them onto the vaudeville stage when they were three. Stanwyck was the only major screen queen from the thirties and forties who specialized in hopelessly vulgar heroines (see STELLA DALLAS and BABY FACE), but here she's the class act because she's the only one not trying to be classy. Her love interest is the wonderful Michael O'Shea, who plays the false nose comedian who falls for Stanwyck. Stanwyck puts a spin on the word "comic" that makes it sound like a four letter word. One scene above all others stakes this movie's claim to greatness - while in the middle of a hoary old comedy sketch, Stanwyck and O'Shea are interrupted by the off-stage wailings of a stripper being beaten up by her thug boyfriend. No one backstage will stop the brutality because they're all scared of the thug, so the onstage performers strike up the band and try to drown out the screams with an up-tempo musical number and improvised jitterbugging. Note, too, the big built blonde with the lisp who declares of the most recent murder "How gruethome!"
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