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Movie Critique - Lady of Burlesque

For review of all movies starring Barbara Stanwyck, go here.

Stars: 3 / 5

Recommendation: A delightful and one-of-a-kind mystery movie that has been almost forgotten with some excellent acting by the star cast.

Lady of Burlesque is a 1943 American musical comedy-mystery film directed by William A. Wellman; produced by Hunt Stomberg, and released by United Artists. It has Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O'Shea, Iris Adrian and J. Edward Bromberg in the lead cast among others. It is based on the 1941 novel The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee for which the screenplay was provided by James Gunn.

At a New York City burlesque, one of the performers, Lolita LaVerne, is found murdered. And a number of people at the theater come under suspicion including Deborah "Dixie Daisy" Hoople (portrayed by Barbara Stanwyck), an audience favorite striptease actor, and Biff Brannigan (portrayed by Michael O'Shea), the comic actor. As Inspector Harrigan (portrayed by Charles Dingle) proceeds with his investigation, so does the romance between Biff and Dixie perk up. But the murderer lurks just around the corner to grab them at any instance.

Gypsy Rose Lee, the author of the book the film was adapted from, was herself an American burlesque entertainer and a vedette famous for her striptease act. She went on to become an actress, an author and a playwright in her short 59 years of life. The film was considerably modified to keep with the Production Code at that time. The opening credits even has her book displayed in front of the theater actors' dressing room mirror, right below the title of the film. 

This is film debut for Michael O'Shea who is the lead Biff Brannigan. He had been in the 1942 hit Broadway play The Eve of St. Mark and a comedian at speakeasies prior to getting his role in this film. 

Barbara Stanwyck was practically a veteran actress at the young age of 36 years by then with already three Academy Award nominations for Best Actress in a Leading Role under her belt. And yet she did not outshine or undershine O'Shea. She gave equal weightage to match the newcomer O'Shea without making him look like a fool.

In several movies of Stanwyck that I have watched so far, she reminded me of Nutan, the Indian Hindi language film actress from the 50s and 60s era. The versatile roles that Stanwyck played, the beauty that shines from inside, and the way she acts - perhaps all that made me think of Nutan.

Being a musical a significant portion of the films consists of onstage performances, comedy and toned down striptease acts. The musical scores for the film were given by Arthur Lange. Costumes for Dixie in the film were done by Edith Head. This film was released as Striptease Lady in U.K. 

Of the musical numbers from the film, the famous ones are - Take it off the E-string, Play it on the G-string by Sammy Cahn and Harry Arkst which was sung and performed by Barbara Stanwyck in the film; and So This Is You by Cahn and Arkst again and performed by Frank Fenton portraying the uncredited role of Russell Rogers.

Take it off the E-String song:

This video clip shows So This Is You by Frank Fenton

A delightful and one-of-a-kind mystery movie that has been almost forgotten with some excellent acting by the star cast. I was surprised that this film was so much underrated when it definitely seemed to come out on top. If you come across this lost gem, don’t miss watching it.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Movie Trivia:

a. Note the marquee in front of the movie theater in the opening scene. You can see the 1938 Cocoanut Grove mentioned which had Fred MacMurray and Harriet Hillard in the lead. 

b. Check out the old time radio fixture Gerald Mohr as Louie Grindero, the short-tempered gangster in the film. He was famous for his roles on radio such as Archie Goodwin in The New Adventures of Nero Wolfe; several episodes in The Whistler series; as Phillip Marlowe in the radio show between 1948 and 1951; and many other shows.

c. Look for Lou Lubin as Moey - the Candy Butcher in the film. He had a more serious role of a private detective Irvine in the 1942 American horror film The Seventh Victim, compared to the comic relief here, as a salesman for wash basins. 

d. This was the debut film role for Stephanie Bachelor as well who plays the part of The Princes Nirvena in the film. Interesting that she had a very short career of 5 years of acting in films, most of which were in supporting roles. After marrying Las Vegas businessman Cornelius "Connie" Hurley in 1946, she acted in few more film roles, that perhaps she was under contract with for Republic and United Artists. Her last film role was in the 1948 American crime film Homicide for Three in which she portrayed the role of Collette Rose in a supporting capacity.

e. Two of the characters from the original book that we seen in the film were based on Gypsy Rose Lee's close friends - Biff Brannigan based on Rags Ragland, who was Gypsy's boy friend; and Gee Gee Graham, one of the showgirls portrayed by Iris Adrian, was based on Georgia Sothern, Gypsy's closest friend in burlesque.

2) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. Biff is shown twirling a lasso sitting on a pile of dumpster cans during the raid in close-up shot. However in the distant shots, the lasso loop suddenly became three times bigger. Plus the actor also seems to be a double for O'Shea who was playing Biff. 

b. Dixie's costume before she finds the body and when the police are questioning are different without her even going to the dressing room to change.


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