A one-reel burlesque compilation Variety Girls was distributed by W. Merle Connell's so-called "Quality Pictures," which provided loop-reels to peepshow porn houses & for the home projection market. The reel consists of four short-short films from varying venues, showing burlesque gals of the 1940s.
These mild sexploitation films may still have erotic appeal to oddballs but they're far less daring than seen hourly on television nowadays, just about innocuous enough that most would regard them as family-safe.
This set of four mini-films is tamer than average, with actual nudity in only one of the four wee films. So these are more intriguing as Americana, folkways of entertainment, & dance history.
Frequently a contemorary mainstream movie would be a lot more daring that what passed for "adults only," but by right of looking so much cheaper, & being marketed as for adults only, it got higher scrutiny by the law. Jail time wasn't out of the question.
So the little companies involved with the production of such films were understandably charry of announcing their dates in Variety, & sometimes the films can't be dated to within even the decade reliably.
Such films were recycled & recirculated from the 1940s through the 1960s by underground channels never letting on which films were old.
Today, of course, they have regained a kind of fashionable vintage charm, & their greatest promoters have included some of the elderly, retired s trippers themselves, & even by young feminists interested in every aspect of women's arts.
Many of the women involved in burlesque, at it's lowest or highest levels, genuinely believed in what they were doing as an artform, some perhaps deluding themselves that they were artists, but others artosts in fact. Many looked to Gypsy Rose Lee or Sally Rand as their ideal, achieving cross-over appeal & taken seriously as entertainers.
My own interest in vintage burlesque films & stag loops grew out of my interest in old avant garde cinema, independent short subjects, artfilms, soundies, into which arenas many of these low-budget burlesque recordings fit snugly, & seem more important now than they were in their day, a sidelight of our cultural history, & occasionally achieving a surprising quality even if not often.
I'd been reviewing dance films featuring the likes of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson with relish one day & it dawned on me that if women were judged as fairly as men in this sexist world, then burlesque queens (at their best) would have at least as much respect as tapdancers, rather than one allowed out of a ghetto & the other shoved deeply in.
So I decided to cover some of these films as I had already covered every other area of short-subject cinema, giving them at least as much credibility as I'd previously given to three-minute soundies cheaply made for panoram visual jukeboxes, long dismissed as inconsequential, but today acknowledged as an important mine for understanding 1940s music entertainment.
For my first experiment in taking these films seriously I selected Variety Girls probably compiled in the mid-1950s from a huge number of films that exist from the 1940s & early '50s.
The first film in the compiation is Alyce Bruce: Jungle Drums. In feathered headdress & feathered bra & panties & slippers, Alyce dances like an articulated hillbilly dolly rather than a jungle critter, looking quite happy to be doing so.
She's dancing tomtoms played quite miserably. A guitar comes in later. Though not a great talent she manages some real charm by use of exaggerated facial expressions you'd take for a happy mentally deficient child if she made such faces on the street. She shakes that booty & makes those feathers fly, but this obscure dancer does no stripping.
The dates on the individual short-short films or the compilation reels are only rarely certain though I've made educated "circa" guesses on these. Innocent as these films tend to be it's surprising to realize how careful the vendors of such material had to be.
The unflatteringly titled Marie Voe: The Bombing Bombshell is second up, set on a largish burlesque stage. She strides out in full costume ready to start shedding to a jazz number.
She struts round & round in a circle peeling but not really dancing, rather businesslike about it, until very soon she's just in the bra & thin panties. She moves in close to the camera as she's removing the bra. When she struts off stage she threatens to drop her panties too, but doesn't.
This is classic stripper strutting, not really a dance but a stroll. She was a popular stripper in the eary 1950s, at the best stripper venues, like Minsky's in Newark where the stage play Gypsy is set. It's too bad this little film doesn't capture the other important aspect of her act, as she also did comedy.
Marie Voe can be glimpsed in Robert Stevenson's minor film noir I Married a Communist (1949) in an uncredited role as, what else, the stripper.
The third filmette is set to a jazzy piece of exotica music. Rouhea Bey: Arab Dance does a suitable-for-the-family dance in front of a burlesque house painting of a street with Arabic architecture.
Her costume is a flashy sparkly bra & panty that give a certain romantic Turkic feel, & a headdress that's lovely. She has a very beautiful face. She concludes with some lithe acrobatic postures worthy of Cirque du Soleil.
She would've been great in the "Sultan's entertainment" scene of any old Hollywood film set in Morocco or Arabia or Zanzibar. She actually got to play that role at least once, in Temptation (1946) directed by Irving Pichel & based on Robert Hichens' novel Bella Donna (1908).
The best short-short film provides the finale for this spliced together "revue." Fina Lopez: Afro Cuban Rhythms shows quite a lovely Carribean jungle backdrop painting.
Fina runs center stage & gets down on her knees & begins singing over a little fire a Cuban song in a worshipful attitude for the voudan divinities.
She stands & begins dancing with great appeal & beauty, & looks like a goodhearted gal with her honest smile. She's definitely a family-safe performer with relatively unrevealing costume & lots of heavy necklaces & huge number of bracelets on both arms.
The drum beat picks up & she dances with greater ferocity then collapses on the floor as if in religious ecstacy, leaps up, & does a first-rate couchee-couchee for close. A wonderful young performer!
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl