Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Lady of Burlesque (DVD)

Based on a novel, The G-String Murders, by Gypsy Rose Lee, Lady of Burlesque stars Barbara Stanwyck as Dixie Daisy, a burlesque artiste who becomes a suspect when two of her co-stars are killed.

Nowadays viewers seem to expect their thrillers to deliver a corpse in the first five minutes with more following at regular intervals. Lady of Burlesque won’t give you that. Instead, as in the thriller novels of the era, there’s a slow build up, allowing you to see all the possible suspects, and very little gore or forensic science. To be honest, the film is as much about Dixie Daisy as it is about the murders. Stanwyck’s Daisy is hard-boiled yet good-humoured, keeping her head even as fellow performers are found strangled, G-strings around their necks. The performance isn’t especially risqué, but it does hint at the real stage shows that inspired the story, especially Daisy’s signature song ‘Play it on the G-string’.

My favourite of the other characters is Alice Angel, a lovely dumb blonde played by Marion Martin, who was actually a very well-bred young lady who took to the stage after the Wall Street Crash wiped out the family bank account. Daisy’s rivals, pretentious opera singer Lolita La Verne and fellow stripper Princess Nirvena are both satisfyingly annoying: if sweet Alice Angel had been caught by the strangler, the film would have been a much sadder, darker one. (I am not suggesting that in reality some people deserve to be killed; this is a film and the less-likeable characters are the ones to get murdered. Fiction.)

I really like this film, although I’m not sure why. As a thriller it’s not particularly thrilling and the stage acts are rather tame. There’s just something about it I enjoy.

If ever there was a film that deserved to be made into a stage show, this is it: one for a small-scale venue, with a real burlesque artiste playing Dixie. It could easily be reduced to three sets: ladies’ dressing room (including roof), backstage and stage, and if need be the lights or curtains could come down for a quick chorus number between scenery shifts. Fingers crossed that someone will do it one day, eh?


Note on source of DVD: this was a birthday gift from my husband, so it’s all been fully paid for. I suspect he got it from Duck, Son and Pinker in Bath, possibly my favourite shop in the whole world. Don’t be fooled by the website; at the front of the shop there’s a wonderful selection of vintage music CDs and old film and television on DVD. I never walk out of there empty handed!

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