Lady of Burlesque

Lady of Burlesque

Director: William Wellman

Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Michael O'Shea, J. Edward Bromberg


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Barbara Stanwyck shines in her second portrayal of a showgirl in less than two years (the first was in Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire in 1941). In Lady of Burlesque -- which, at times, has a Hawksian edge to the dialogue -- she portrays Dixie Daisy, a striptease artist at a Broadway theater in New York at the end of the 1930s. In the course of fending off


Barbara Stanwyck shines in her second portrayal of a showgirl in less than two years (the first was in Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire in 1941). In Lady of Burlesque -- which, at times, has a Hawksian edge to the dialogue -- she portrays Dixie Daisy, a striptease artist at a Broadway theater in New York at the end of the 1930s. In the course of fending off the unwanted advances of brash comic Biff Brannigan (Michael O'Shea), with whom she is teamed in several numbers, and staying clear of the dressing room feuds of her fellow dancers -- including a very nasty dispute between Dolly Baxter (Gloria Dickson) and Lolita La Verne (Victoria Faust) -- she finds herself up to her neck in trouble when one of the women is found strangled with her own G-string. The police don't know what to make of it, especially as the victim was already dying of a fatal dose of poison, which means that there are two murderers somewhere in the theater; and when a second woman turns up strangled inside a prop that Dixie was supposed to be hiding in onstage, she looks like a good suspect. Between the backstage comedy-drama, and the songs, dances, and on-stage comic routines, with the police breathing down both their necks at different times, Dixie and Biff manage to solve the mystery and find each other in this briskly paced, funny, yet amazingly gritty comedy-thriller. Lady of Burlesque was allowed to fall out of copyright in 1971, and since then it was seen in substandard editions until the May 2001 DVD release from Image Entertainment.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Gypsy Rose Lee, who brought a veneer of erudition to the image of the striptease artist, published a best-selling mystery novel (ghostwritten by Craig Rice) in the early '40s called The G-String Murders. Former MGM producer Hunt Stromberg purchased the rights, and, with a tight screen adaptation by author James Gunn and with director William Wellman at the helm, used this film adaptation to make his debut as an independent producer. Wellman does a superb job of melding the story's mix of backstage theater ambience, mystery, musical, comedy, and romance, some of which is reminiscent in certain ways of the Thin Man movies that Stromberg oversaw at MGM, although Lady of Burlesque is grittier than those class-conscious comedy-mysteries in just about every way possible. Barbara Stanwyck and Michael O'Shea are the focal point of the story, a seemingly mismatched romantic couple who spend as much time bickering as they do solving the three crimes at hand, which start to come up surprisingly late, more than 40 minutes into the story. Released in April of 1943, but very deliberately set in the late '30s, before Mayor LaGuardia closed the burlesque houses in New York, the film treads a fine and delicate line, weaving a fascinating tale of overlapping jealousies and lusts leading to murder amid the surprisingly earthy and realistically detailed background of burlesque as it was (though this could, with fewer scantilly clad young actresses decorating most of its scenes, have been just as realistic a depiction of any low-rent theatrical setting). The characters feel as real as their environment, with Stanwyck convincingly portraying a flawed but plucky heroine (with an articulation clearly modeled on author Lee's image). O'Shea, her egocentric yet self-mocking would-be lover, and the supporting players -- from Iris Adrian's brassy portrayal of Stanwyck's gal pal and Pinky Lee's eccentric comic antics down to the actors portraying the stage hands and hangers-on -- are perfect in their parts. Viewers should also pay special attention to J. Edward Bromberg, as the kindly owner of the burlesque house, in a quiet portrayal that adds some depth to the breezy proceedings. Not all of it hangs together perfectly, as the film slows down a bit from the frantic, Howard Hawks-like pacing of its first 50 minutes, once the first murder is discovered. The mix of humor and police procedural elements gets pushed about as far as the script and the actors could carry it, with Charles Dingle's gruff, crafty police inspector playing straight man to O'Shea and Pinky Lee. But those bits of theatrical business aside, which almost break the spell, there are also all kinds of fascinating details to take in, sandwiched in the overlapping dialogue and the breakneck pacing, such as the sympathy that Stanwyck's character expresses for the Chinese kitchen workers next door (with a wartime reference that should have been anachronism but wasn't -- China was fighting Japan in 1938) and the references to Prohibition and the bootleg liquor racket as fairly recently ended activities. As much as any movie ever made as pure entertainment, which this is, Lady of Burlesque is also a tour through time and a look at a past that was already disappearing as it was being made -- and it's also got a great score and a hot number ("Take It Off the E-String") at the center of its music.

Product Details

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Roan Archival Group
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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Barbara Stanwyck Dixie Daisy
Michael O'Shea Bitt Brannigan
J. Edward Bromberg S.B. Foss
Iris Adrian Gee Gee Graham
Gloria Dickson Dolly Baxter
Marion Martin Alice Angel
Victoria Faust Lolita La Verne
Pinky Lee Mandy
Stephanie Bachelor Princess Nirvena
Charles Dingle Inspector Harrigan
Frank Fenton Russell Rogers
Frank Conroy Stacchi
George Chandler Jake
Eddie Gordon Officer Pat Kelly
Gerald Mohr Louie Grindero
Lew Kelly The Hermit
Claire Carleton Sandra
Janis Carter Janine
Bert Hanlon Sammy
Sid Marion Joey
Lou Lubin Moey
Lee Trent Comic
Beal Wong Wong
Florence Auer Policewoman
David Kashner Cossack
Joe Devlin Actor
Victor Laplace Actor
Noel Neill Actor
Barbara Slater Actor
Fred Walburn Messenger Boy
Elinor Troy Actor
Dallas Worth Actor
Eddie Borden Man in audience
Kit Guard Hank
Isabel Withers Teletype operator
Louise LaPlanche Actor

Technical Credits
William Wellman Director
Daniel Dare Choreography
Robert de Grasse Cinematographer
James Gunn Screenwriter
Edith Head Costumes/Costume Designer
Bernard Herzbrun Art Director
Art Lange Score Composer
Sam Nelson Asst. Director
James Newcom Editor
Joseph B. Platt Production Designer
Robert Stephanoff Makeup
Hunt Stromberg Producer
Natalie Visart Costumes/Costume Designer

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Play It on the G-String [15:37]
2. Police Raid [22:03]
3. Dead Prima Donna [7:53]
4. The Interrogation [17:04]
5. Dixie Knocks Them Dead [8:03]
6. Chaos at the Old Opera [19:29]

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