Carlton W. Davis, televison commentator, announces on his news commentary show that a television cable has been newly laid internationally so we can now see live broadcasts from all over the world. We're shown members of the audience for the first international telecast, including children & families.
As International Burlesque (1950) proceeds, two producers (Ray Parsons & Harry Rose) from New York arrive in California with a letter giving them cart blanche over the programing. They lose the letter which is picked up by two hungry broke guys (comedians Vince Barnett & Don Mathers) who take over the show on the spur of the moment, pretending to expertise they lack, while the real producers have been locked out.
One would suppose the switcheroo is to explain why the live program coming into family households consists of sexy burlesque acts, but in fact these two guys have no control over what's being sent from other countries. They are merely responsible for the ads for the Gopher Drug Company between acts, which permits them to provide mediocre comedy routines.
A typical routine is their ad for hearing aids from the Gopher Drug Store. Customer & salesman are both deaf, & have only one pair of hearing aids between them. They take turns wearing the hearing aids & so take turns not being able to hear what the other one is saying.
As burlesque comedy routines go, those of Barrett & Mathers are better than the blue humor usually expected of burlesque comics, but that's not saying much, so don't expect any laughs.
The first act they introduce comes to us live from Puerto Prince in Haite, at "one of the side-street cafes" called Las Acacias (pronounced "Ah Kai Yaz").
Vince Barnett tells us the burleque dancer is Deenah Prince, who didn't score a mention in the opening credits. She's the highest paid dancer of Puerto Prince, "known in Haite as the nicest thing on heels."
On a nicely laid out stage with giant guitar & drum, Deenah dances very professionally to reasonably good Latin swing jazz, in a costume that reveals one leg &mp belly, & an absurd tall hat that looks very 1930s crazy fashion. She's certainly attractive in an Audrey Meadows sort of way.
She dances well, a mixed-up style ranging from Afro-Carib ecstatic dancing to basic couchie-couchie, but does nothing resembling striptease until her second number.
After her first number ends we cut to a large mixed audience at cafe tables to establish this isn't a seedy place, & she goes into a slower latin-beat number with more swaying movements. She unhooks the absurd hat as her first act of peeling. She's definitely good at her act.
The next sequence takes us to Rio de Jinero to see what looks like a classy nightclub performance of the fandango. There are lots of girls dancing in evening gowns observed by guys in tuxedos at the top of a staircase stage, plus seated cafe clientelle.
A woman in white gown with clacking castenets is obviously the show's star, & very talented, but the narrator failed to introduce her by name.
She's a beauty & the floor show is completley wholesome, having no detectible relationship to burlesque. The number ends with the lead dancer & then big band leader taking their bows.
The camera takes us to another establishment as the narrator says "We cannot leave Rio without seeing the talk of the town, gorgeous Inez Claire, the girl with the hourglass figure." Inez is an American dancer making a tour of South America, including here at the club Bon Lair. She's a stout gal without an hourglass figure but no less fit & acrobatic.
To a slow horn instrumental & clad in skimpy costume she performs an athletic burlesque ballet, including a comedic stunt in which she almost picks up a handkerchief from the floor with her teeth by bending over backward.
She's pretty, talented & amusing though in close-ups clearly no spring chicken. Her first number is completely innocent, but her second number is to a sleezier sexy burlesque house jazz tune, to which she performs a classic striptease. Some
Her most daring move is a momentary masturbation mime. She gets down to her pastied breasts & g-string, with a smirking grin throughout, concluding with bump & grind.
After an overlong & Barnett & Mathers routine, in which Barnett plays an annoying salesman, our international journey takes us to a club in Istanbul, for a Turkish harem dance by a dancer in blonde page-boy wig & harem outfit. This might be Robin Jewel, but I'm not sure.
She delivers a grandeose whirling faux-arabic performance on a stage tricked out to look like it has a balcony view of the Taj Mahal, & never mind that that's in India, not Turkey. The performer has a lot of energy & the costume swirls nicely, though it's hard to call running about swiftly a dance.
For her second number she begins to drop a few components of the harem costume. At that moment part of the film seems to be missing before she gets well along, & the film leaps without introduction to a stage who-knows-where, with classical ballet.
A guy carries the ballerina around the art nouveau set & it seems wildly out of place for anything advertised as burlesque. Then the music suddenly gets loud & a chorus line arrives for a game of ring-around-the-rosies & everyone does a follies style prominade up & down a staircase.
Then it's on to a casba of Algiers, where we get essentially another harem dance act, better than the previous one, a dark-eyed beauty who first removes her veil then does a serpentine dance with barefoot Egyptian hyrogliphic stances, mostly to exotica orientalist music.
Although I couldn't identify who she is, some reference books & general filmographies cite Gini Young, Lois Knight, Thelma Bennett, & Robin Jewell as being somewhere in the cast.
She follows the pattern of this film in that her first dance is totally innocent fully clad performance. She makes a prayerful bow & goes into her second dance which has striptease centering around her dance with a transluscent black veil, concluding with nothing but g-string & pasties.
This talented dancer is followed by the two comics' advertisement for a General Hectic Dishwasher "simple to operate" except they can't figure it out. As with each of these routines, it goes on much too long & isn't very funny.
We're off to a stage allegedly in Paris, featuring Michelle Milais doing a rather theatrical dance somewhere between tango & apache-dance, but without the required dance partner.
She stands from her seat in a little cafe, clad in baret & a skirt short enough to reveal her garter, & dances across the stage against a cityscape background construction.
She's a sexy talented gal making I-hate-you faces as she performs. She concludes back in her cafe seat with wine & a cigarette & a slutty pose. She's not relaxed but a couple seconds, though, before she does her second number which, if it follows the film's pattern, will have a little tease.
Sure enough, the tiny skirt comes off, then the tight blouse, & she's soon traipsing about in in pasties, stockings, & garter.
Michelle is followed by a big chorus number with a whole slug of accordian players & a stagy outdoors scene of men & women dancing, with elements of the violent apache dance. Looks like a cool party at night, if you can stand accordions. More girls arrive, with more accordians, & the curtains close.
Time to head over to Havanna to watch what is allegedly an American Indian dance called "the dance of the warrior maiden." This serious-demeanored beauty is wearing an amazing feathered headdress that streams down her back to the floor. She's dancing atop a huge tomtom.
To the classic or cliche Indian drum beat & a superb clarinate jazz number, she procedes to do quite a gorgeous dance very suited to the costume & her lithe body, fittingly called a woman warrior dance because she does manage to look powerful.
The number concludes with her collapsing atop the drum, then standing for the second more risque performance with beadwork attached to the front of her g-string.
Back in the studio the comics do an unfunny ad for Handy Dandy Spot Removal, sufferingly bad & tedius.
At long last we reach a concluding burleque performance, a "dressing room" sequence of one of the better known burlesque stars of the era, Betty Rowland, "the ball of fire," who in fact has first billing in the opening credits though we sure waited a long time to see her.
She's supposedly dancing for herself, assisted by her maid at her dressing table & mirror, going behind a screen to do a costume change so we never really see a bloody thing.
It's not particularly well done but it is a classic routine like many that really were done in burlesque houses. She, too, has a second number which is more revealing, starting in a bikini & adding clothes then doing a fairly standard striptease, well enough done but nothing special.
International Burlesque gives the director as W. Merle Connell though some references say it was directed by Richard Kay. I'm sure Connell really is the director, working for Richard Kay, whose only credit is as "Arkay Enterprises." Two cinematographers are also credited, Leland Daris & Joseph Ma, who did the photography outside the USA.
The copy I viewed was a hair shy of a full hour, with a mardis gras scene excised & many breaks in the film. It's original release length was probably closer to 80 minutes.
This film was frequently censored despite that by today's standards it's innocuous. Nude scenes were also frequently clipped out of film prints by random exhibitors who snipped & spliced before returning films to distributors, keeping the juicy bits for private collections.
I can remember prints of Behind the Green Door with the big "reveal" sequence missing, & even a copy of Bedazzled with Raquel Welsch's dance scene removed, not by censors but by projectionists who were collectors or underground marketeers for risque footage.
In the case of International Burlesque, two versions were distributed, according to a 1951 review in Time Magazine. One was called "cold" sent out to grind houses in cities that had harsh policing of allegedly triple-X material. The longer was called "hot" for cities where the cops had been successfully paid protection monies & looked the other way.
Despite it's shorter length, the copy I viewed was not the "cold" print because in the cold version, the second dance for each of the strippers would be removed, whereas in this print only one of the harem dancers had her second, more risque "encore" missing.
Burlesque in Harlem (1954)
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl