REVIEW: “PEEK-A-BOO” (1953) & “B” GIRL RHAPSODY “(1952); DUAL BLU-RAY FUNCTION

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“BURLESQUE LIFE”

By Raymond Benson

Kino Lorber and Something Weird Video continue their collaboration to present “Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age of the Exploitation Picture” with Volume 12 — the dual program of Hello and Girl’s Rhapsody “B”, two documentations from burlesque magazines from the 1950s.

The delicious and suitably shady images of the “Forbidden Fruit” series were shot cheaply and outside the Hollywood system. They were distributed independently in the manner of a circus performance, often by renting a movie theater for a few nights, advertising in local newspapers, and promoting the outrageous title as “educational.” It is certain, however, that in this case, the two feature films of volume 12 had nothing educational, if it is not to make live the experience of the burlesque spectacles to an audience which could not have them. see in person.

This reviewer, who generally welcomes and enthusiastically supports all volumes in the “Forbidden Fruit” series, found these two images sadly impossible to view, with the caveat that Alexandra Heller-Nicholas’ audio commentary on one titles may well be worth the price of admission.

Burlesque has a long history in the United States and the form of entertainment dates back almost two hundred years. It was closely associated with vaudeville, but at the start of the 20th century burlesque stopped and became its own thing, something a little more saucy and forbidden. There were still musical numbers of songs and dances, and comedy sketches that told more moaning jokes, but the burlesque added the act of striptease.

The phenomenon flourished in the first half of the century, and especially in the decade after World War II, it gained popularity in major cities. Burlesque probably reached its peak in the early 1950s, when these two documentaries – for that is what they are – were filmed. Once we entered the 1960s, burlesque became even more dodgy and was relegated to the more dubious and redder areas of “downtown” until it was gone for good.

One of the unrecognized burlesque impresarios in Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s was Lillian Hunt, who directed burlesque performers, produced and directed theatrical productions, and documented her work on films to distribute independently. Hunt was a former burlesque artist in her youth, and the fact that she made ten feature films (albeit of that ilk) in a decade in which there were very few women behind the camera is something which cannot be ruled out.

Both
Girl’s Rhapsody “B” (1952) and Hello (1953) were staged in the old Burbank Theater in LA, renamed “New Follies Theater” for these burlesque productions. They were shot mainly in a long shot with a fixed camera in the front row of the theater so that the entire fore-stage scene was in frame. It’s like the viewer is in the audience and watching the whole show. Sometimes the camera shifts to a medium shot at best, but there are never any close ups. As a result, it does not make the viewing very interesting. The striptease aside, the musical numbers and comedy skits are pretty bad. As the two audio commentators note, the cast / comedians were so jaded about rehearsing the routines night after night that the deliveries became rather uninspired.

The stripteases? Of course, charming ladies of varying shapes and sizes range from somewhat amateur dancers to fairly accomplished dancers. Unfortunately, these two titles do not feature any of the big stars of the time like Lili St. Cyr, Tempest Storm or Blaze Starr. Please note: there is never total nudity.

Both features of Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray Disc are surprisingly well preserved and pristine. The audio commentary for Hello is by Eric Schaefer, author of Bold! Bold! Shocking! True! A history of exploitation films, and curator of the “Forbidden Fruit” series. He is always aware of these matters.

The audio commentary for Girl’s Rhapsody “B” is by the aforementioned and always entertaining Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, whose wit and insight into these titles and exploitation films in general will have you laughing and enjoying what you go through more fully.

Theatrical trailers complete the set.

While volume 12 of the “Forbidden Fruit” series doesn’t quite live up to previous entries, these Old Burlesque films might find their way into the hearts of some viewers interested in the history of this unique American art form.

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