Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Lady of Burlesque (1943)


I am a HUGE fan of Barbara Stanwyck. Her performances throughout her incredible career in classic films from the Golden Age of Hollywood are unforgettable--from the self-sacrificing mother in 1937's Stella Dallas, to the femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson in the film noir Double Indemnity, to the petty thief Lee Leander who finds love on her way en route "to Scranton or Pittsburgh" in 1940's Remember The Night, to her notorious performance as a backstreet girl who literally sleeps her way to the top of a New York City bank (floor-by-floor) with zero remorse in 1933's Baby Face (the catalyst that most critics agree was the film that was single-handedly responsible for the creation of 1934's Production Code). I was surprised by the Scranton reference (by another actor) in Remember the Night, but I was was absolutely shocked (and embarrassingly giddy) to hear Barbara Stanwyck herself say the words "Wilkes-Barre" in the 1943 classic tale of strippers and murder, Lady of Burlesque.

Based on the novel The G-String Murders by Gypsy Rose Lee, and directed by William A. Wellman (who also directed Stanwyck in 1931's pre-Code shocker Night Nurse; he also directed 1927's Wings, the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture), Lady of Burlesque tells the story of The Old Opera House, a 1920s era theater transformed into a successful house of burlesque (and a target of the fuzz). Amidst the bum comics and cheap strippers that work at The Old Opera House is Dixie Daisy (Barbara Stanwyck), the reigning queen of burlesque. However, life takes a turn for the worst as strippers start turning up dead, strangled by their own G-strings.

Eleven minutes into the film, an unnamed burlesque dancer enters the shared dressing room of the strippers and complains of the bathroom facilities at The Old Opera House:

That settles it! We GOTTA have a new one!

New what?

(gestures towards the off-stage ladies' room)

Oh, the museum piece. I haven't seen one like that
since the Wilkes-Barre Regal.

The Lackawanna County Library System does not presently include Lady of Burlesque in our collection; even more unfortunate is the fact that Lady of Burlesque is a film in the public domain, meaning that inferior and unremastered copies of the film are widely available on a number of DVD releasing companies (for as little as $4.98); to purchase a copy from, click here. Hopefully, the film will be available sometime in the future from MyLibraryDV, an awesome library service that includes other public doman films for free online viewing.

But you can still catch some essential Barbara Stanwyck in a number of films on DVD circulating throughout the Lackawanna County Library System--click on any title to place a hold on Double Indemnity, Stella Dallas, Sorry Wrong Number, or the "so-notorious-it-has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed" Baby Face (part of the excellent pre-Code collection Forbidden Hollywood).

UPDATED NOVEMBER 13, 2008 - Because it is in the public domain, the entire film of Lady of Burlesque is available online at YouTube. At the two-minute mark in the clip below, you will find the Wilkes-Barre reference made by Barbara Stanwyck in the film.

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