Red-Headed Riot
Director: Merle W. Connell

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Betty Rowland The pure, classic strip act in the short-short Betty Rowland: Burlesque Ball of Fire (1940s) is not a dance so much as it is a stroll. Not evident in this vintage b/w film is why she was generally billed as the "Ball of Fire." She had fiery red hair.

Howard Hawks Ball of Fire (1941) starred Barbara Stanwyck as the titular burlesque queen. Betty Rowland tried to sue the studio for appropriating her stage name. The case was dropped for lack of hard evidence, but it's well known she was the inspiration for Stanwyk's performance, & Edith Head even based one of the gowns on a Betty Rowland costume.

A lot of these little one-to-three films look awfully silly with young to middle aged women walking in a circle taking their clothes off. But when it's done right & well, it does have the visual impact of an artform.

Betty Rowland did it well. She strides or stalks in figure eights over a mid-sized stage like she owns it, dragging the train of her full costume.

She has a little table to put her costume parts on as she sheds them. The care she takes for the sake of her costume is endearing.

She sustains a surprising look of innocent sweetness throughout, not of the harsh visaged looks one is sad to see on some of the women in these vintage acts.

When she's down to a g-string she really looks like she took it all off. Only at this point does she attempt some real dance moves, & shows off her body very sweetly.

I would prefer to see authentic dancing whether burlesque style or a vaudeville tapdancer, but for what she's committed herself to, Betty Rowland manages to have a reasonable act, with more the manner of a stage magician than a gal on the fringes of the sex trade. She had a deserved reputation for putting on a fine show.

She was married to vaudeville commedian Gus Schilling when she attempted a la Gypsy Rose Lee to turn her little bit of success into a film career, but only had a few bit parts, her first as one of the miscellaneous chorus girls in Leslie Goodwin's musical Let's Make Music (1941) based on a story by Nathanael West, about a woman (Elisabeth Risdon) pursuing a song writing career; & as one of the miscellaneous dancers in the Ricky Nelson vehicle Love & Kisses (1961).

She also has a credited bit role in a bizarre cult classic, the shocking & bleakly comic masterpiece of strangeness The World's Greatest Sinner (1962) starring, written, & directed by the scary & brilliant character actor Timothy Carey. But her near-brush with film success never much panned out.

She was friends with Chris Penn & Patrick McGoohan, & in her old age owned & ran a bar in Santa Monica. She was one of the retired & elderly burlesque queens featured in Liz Goldwyn's tremendously cool HBO documentary Pretty Things & Goldwyn's book Pretty Things: The Last Generation of American Burlesque Queens (2005).

Evelyn West "Quality Pictures Presents" Evelyn West: The Hubba Hubba Girl is a minute & three-quarters peepshow film.

Evelyn steps through a gaudy burlesque house curtain & begins an actual stand-up routine, which consists of rhymed rap-comedy about going on a shopping trip. "What did I buy? Oh, a bit of this & that/ Confidentially speaking I could put it all in my hat."

She's wearing a mink stole & nightgown & has long dark hair. And she has great comic timing: "Now i can see by your eyes that you're looking at my -- shoes/ When I think of what i paid for them i get the blues."

She has real charm & I could only wish she'd been a comedy actress in legit films, too, as I'd love to see her in more than this. There's no question but that she's a talent.

As her rap poem continues she's eager to show the audience each item of clothing she bought, even if she has to take some of it off to get to what's underneath.

She's quite clever at slipping out of things without dislodging the mink stole across her shoulders. She's amusingly matter-of-fact as she describes what everything is made of.

This one's a class act. She bids the viewer farewell telling us to tell others we saw "the original hubba hubba girl in the art of stripping," a woman who obvioiusly has a large & merited sense of pride in her act.

The Hubba Hubba Girl was, in 1947, credited in the press for having invented a new kind of bra -- one that opens in the front. Her ample bust was insured with Lloyds of London, which permitted her to be billed as "The Girl with the $50,000 Treasure Chest" aka "Miss Treasure Chest."

One of her many famous quips to the inquisitive press was "I don't sleep in the nude. I sleep in a bra. Girls today find that very uplifting."

Breast acts in reality were common in the 1920s & probably always, neverthe less Evelyn West is frequently credited with having instigated the obsession for large breasts in strip acts. Perhaps she re-instigated the obsession after a period when bumps & grinds were what mattered.

Evelyn did not do bumping & grinding, but drew attention to her body using pokerfaced comedy. She also wrote two mystery who-dunnits She died comparatively young, at 56, of lung cancer in 1970.

Scarlet Knight Scarlet Knight (1940s) is a minute & a half peepshow film from "Quality Films," a company name that is often a misnomer since even when the cinematographer had a talented subject, the quality of the filmmaking itself was just all over the place.

With a big dumb feather headdress & dark clothes that render her nearly invisible against the black background, Scarlett traipses about to the most cliche possible stripper music.

She takes off the headdress as her first bit of peeling. Then the long dark dress comes off & her pale body is a better contrast to the black background.

She does a couchie couchie dance in her spangly bikini, not talentless, & strikes a couple interesting poses that seem related to "health magazine" nudist photography of the same era. Finally she feels up her breasts then off comes the top & the show's over in a blink

The short-short Scarlet Knight is included in Follies Review 1940-1950 (1995) also features Alyce Bryce, Rouhia Bey, Heather English, Bebe Fox, Irene Gale, Fina Lopez, Roxie, & Yuma Starr.

Yvonne Marthay Another minute & three-quarter shortie from "Quality Pictures Co." is Yvonne Marthay who dances to a jungly tomtom & ragtime, pretty nice music compared to the average for such films.

Yvonne must've been well known to some regional audience for this little stag film to be be titled after her name. But not a national star, as this film seems to be the primary surviving evidence of her career as a striptease artist.

Starting off in a nightgown she looks like such a normal dancer, but soon starts peeling. It's not called strip "tease" for nothin' since it's more tease than a nudie show.

She stalks about the stage in front of the shiny curtain, taking various items off until she's only wearing of her spangly bikini bottom.

Yvonne Marthay was included in the Sonney Roadshow Attractions compilation Midnight Frolics (1949) credited to director Merle W. Connell. Midnight Frolics also includes Peggy Davis, Mickey Jones, The Kangoroos, Sunny Knight, & Joyce De Lisso.

Betty Blue Initially viewed through a keyhole shaped cut-out to appeal to peeping-tom fantasies, the camera comes in closer for Betty Blue in Peeping Tom's Paradise (1940s) as she stretches in full dress, seemingly tired.

To a slow sleepy rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust," this apparent "nice girl" begins to undress for bed. The music gets jazzier as she reveals first her underpants, then seems to wonder if she's being watched & nearly doesn't take off her sweater.

There's no bra, but we only get to see her topless from behind! She puts on a sexy corset before she turns around, then takes a languid pose on a lounge playing with her nylons & posing like a calander girl. She then realizes she's indeed being watched & leaps up & flees.

A pantomimed acting role rather than a burlesque dance, it's all quite innocent, & perhaps the pervy point was to create a peepshow mood of looking in on an unsuspecting sweet girl instead of someone in burlesque.

Betty Blue was a popular pin-up gal because legitimately very beautiful, a regular in men's magazines of the 1950s, & appears in Russ Meyer films.

Red Headed Rio Under three minutes peepshow film from Sonney Roadshow Attractions, Hollywood Funtime: Red-Headed Riot (1940s or earlier) opens with two women winking at the viewer.

This is on the same circus roadshow stage seen in Blonde Bombshell (1940s) & other short-short films, all of which were likely made for multi-film panoram loops. As a black & white film, the fact that it alludes to redheads isn't visually evident, but does assist the imagination, which is really what striptease is about.

Almost immediately a third woman, the red-headed riot girl steps through a striped curtain & begins to prance about in voluminous costume & opera gloves. She traipses about with as much of the "travelling walk" as can be conveyed on an eight foot wide stage.

Shedding first the cape, she's still in fullest dress. Dancing is not what she's doing, but walking quickly back & forth, trying to unhook the back of her dress, apparently having a bit of a chore with it. A "strolling" striptease instead of an exotic dance was fairly standard, & not as easy as it looks.

Red Headed RioShe slips out of the dress & continues prancing in her long gloves, bra, & slim panties. She shakes her hair front & back & does a bit of hump-dance to the drum beat on the jazz piece she's dancing to.

She's a slim gal with a nice face & talented enough to look like she knows what she's doing, but her fresh youthful smile & the difficulty she had with the back hook on her gown suggests she hasn't done this long. Still, she does some truly classic striptease moves for the disrobing & I thought right away she must've been a headliner somewhere.

Striptease afficionados have identified her as Dixie Barton, who in retirement operated the Burlesque Hall of Fame in Las Vegas. She'd been a big star in the 1950s for Minsky's burlesque palace in Newark, for whom she first rose to prominance doing an impersonation of Marilyn Monroe as stripper. I'm not convinced that's her, who at the height of her fame had Marilyn's plumpness. But if that's her in her earliest flush of youth, what's she doing on an eency carnival stage?

Well, it could be a pre-Marilyn performance, dates being so uncertain on these old peepshow shorts, & this samples her act when starting out. On the other hand, these sorts of tiny stages provided a kind of "summer stock" for established striptease stars, as the burlesque houses in many cities, in days before air conditioning, would be way too hot for use in summer, & the girls would head out on the road with a carnival strip program. So the roadshows were both a place for beginners hired wherever the carnival set up that weekend, & often enough actual burly-q stars who didn't want to pass out from heat exhaustion dancing in oven-hot theaters.

Coming in for the climax, out come Dixie's pastied breasts along with a little wink, so all that remains are her gloves & fringed panties. She does a little shimmy to vibrate the fringe. Lastly the camera focuses on the other two young women moving back into the picture, & it's over.

As part of a panoram loop there would generally be six short films on one loop. So when those two gals re-open the curtain at the very end, it's a promise of another striptease act to follow, so the customer should plunk another coin in the slot.

Atomic Blonde Because of the title, Atomic Blonde in Action (1940s) was one of the extras on a dvd double feature for Yugoslavian director Veljko Bulajic's trashy future tale Atomic War Bride aka War aka Rat (1960) & Fredric Gadette's no-budget doomsday tale This Is Not A Test (1962). The other extras on the disc actually have something to do with atomic warfare.

It's prefaced by a "company" name punning itself, "This is an Exciting Film," though studio names didn't mean much for underground films of this sort, & there may or may not have been a burlesque movie companie called Exciting Films.

It's a two minute peepshow film that looks like an act from Louis S. Sonney's actual circus roadshow, the private tent the girl steps out of being the same one seen in Hollywood Funtime: Red-Headed Riot.

A pert blonde, possibly underage, in a regular bikini plus fluffy train dances about on the tiny carnival stage, a rather inept slow shimmy no more risque than in a teenage beach blanket movie.

Then a second gal strolls out, looking more practiced, dancing with the much younger girl at a more rapid pace, like mom & daughter listening to different generations of music in their heads thus dancing at differing speeds. Either one of them might be likened an atomic blonde, so the title should've been plural.

The older gal does a mere hint of partial stripping handing a removable bit of her costume to the obedient kid. She then does some hopping in place to make her small breasts bounce inside the bra or swimsuit top, utterfly void of talent, though it has a definite Americana quaintness about it.

For finale the bra comes off, handed to the kid, & the older atomic blonde twirls around with her arms across her breasts which might really be naked & without pasties, though you gotta look fast.

Then it's off with her bottom too, though you only see her from behind as she walks back into the tent flaps. It all comes off a bit like a training session for the new girl.

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