Oh boy, more burlesque. That's right, after a bountiful 'Best of' boxset and previous releases focusing on the vaudeville with vixens revue, Something Weird Video has decided to 'delight' us with yet another heaping helping of barmaid bump and grandma grind. Far be it for this critic to complain about the sameness of this specific exploitation subgenre, but frankly, once you've seen a menagerie of matrons dropping their drawers in the name of being naughty, you've experienced the pick of the lewd litter. Certainly these titles have an amazing amount of historical significance, and it's always enlightening to see what the cultural elite thought ravishing creatures of statuesque beauty were supposed to look like. But you'll be hard pressed to find such heavenly bodies while wading through the biologically bizarre cavalcade of carnality on display, the Burly-Q way.
So here we have it, the first of two August offerings of grindhouse goodies from SWV. In this strip show twofer, Ding-Dong: A Night in the Moulin Rouge/ Merry Maids of the Gay Way, a pair of California productions are given the single camera stage show strategy, resulting in a nearly identical flesh peddling formula. Both movies break up the occasionally dreary dance routines with comedy bits that even Milton Berle himself found too craptacular to steal. When we get to the gals, each routine begins in what can best be called semi-seductive mode. The ladies take the stage, stagger around a bit, and remove a few garments before stopping to take a preemptive bow. Then the music gets brassy, the ladies bounce their birthday suits, and it's not too long before the naughty bit blockades are in full view. Add in an occasional song, a weird novelty act or two, and you've got 70 minutes of suave and sophisticated adult entertainment. For anyone not familiar with the old fashioned strip show, this DVD is dynamite. Anyone with knowledge will see them as substandard, and a tad shoddy.
Instead of trying to describe everything that goes on here, this review will do something a little different. It will offer individualized critiques of the pulchritudinous performers present, and then provide a final mini-wrap up at the end. This way, the reader won't feel like he's experiencing the same analytical comments over and over again. Starting with Ding-Dong (named after an incredibly dumb skit that appears halfway through the revue), we witness the following bevy of b-level (and below) beauties:
The Sweet Little Irish Trolleen, Pat Flannery – looking like an escaped lunatic from the Max Factor asylum for their cosmetically insane, Ms. Flannery bumps and grinds like a serial killer spying a particularly choice human torso. It's really scary.
The Best Pocket Venus, Little Audrey – with a face in constant motion (she's either chewing gum, her own cud, or some manner of metaphysical shame) and doing her best swish and sway style of dance, the only thing Venetian about this gal is her alien like looks.
The Bashful Blonde with the Beautiful Bends, Doreen – somehow, high class attitude on a skid row stage just doesn't work. As she puts on her aloof airs and throws all manner of dainty hand signs, Doreen ends up looking like a post-menopausal dowager gone dopey.
The Beautiful Bell of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Sparkling, Vivacious Iva Pratt – if you ever wondered what it would be like to see Minnie Pearl, Maude Fricker, or Granny Clampett on the Burly-Q stage, Iva and her mammoth milk jugs will cure your need for bumpkin bodkin. It's a truly disturbing experience.
The Toast of the Coast, Joanna – doing her best to stay perpendicular amongst all the faux fancy lunges and dives, the only thing flashy about this hard looking lady is her rhinestoned dress. Once she takes it off, it's a fringe bikini freak out that only an aging hippy - or Hiawatha - could appreciate.
The Featured Attraction, Jennie Lee – it's odd; Ms. Lee is referred to as the 'featured' attraction, yet it's the far less attractive Illona that's the "star" of the show. In either case, Jennie has the best bustline and the most convincing come-hither of the entire lot. Naturally, she stands out among the rest of these dive bar damsels.
The Bavarian Orchid, Illona – though she looks about as European as Lucie Arnaz Luckinbill, Illona attempts to make up in aerobatics what she lacks in pizzazz. The effort results in a draw. She's a fiery fish, flopping around like her back's come unhinged, but the lack of "upper body character" derails her attempts at titillation.
Oddly enough, it's hard to figure out what is more mediocre here – the skin or the sketches. Many of the baggy pants comedians are rushed and nervous, stumbling over each other and killing the punchlines to many of their bits. Granted, this is what happens when stage performers are placed in front of a stationary camera and told to ramp it up for 'the pictures'. The single surreal standout amongst all the failed actresses and pretend pin-ups is the short, stumpy Iva Pratt. Dressed like a reject from the dirty version of Hee Haw, this little gal doesn't do much, but makes quite an impression with what she eventually offers. To be blunt, this gal's got some big breasts. Large, pendulous and strangely symmetrical, as she bops around her personal pillows flop around, giving the illusion of ghosts bouncing basketballs on her chest. Placing her in such a crassly comedic setting must have been a star attraction demand. Ms. Pratt is packing when almost everyone else here is lacking.
You think that Ding-Dong contained some well worn grade-Z femme flesh? Check out the bust out babes sauntering their stretch marks as part of the frequently less than Merry Maids extravaganza:
The New Orleans Pepperpot, Cherrie Lee – strutting around the stage like she's either killing a series of cockroaches, or caught in the grips of a severe case of St. Vitus Dance, Ms. Lee is a laughable lady of lewdness. She does more damage to the Crescent City's reputation that any natural disaster.
The Girl of the Minute with the Lovely Hour Glass Figure, Doreen Cannon – this is a weird act. Doreen slinks around like a theme park Catwoman in training, staring unusually hard at a cigarette in her hand. And she never looses a stitch of clothing. What's that all about?
The Candy Kid from Texas, Taffy Terrell – while her entrance is awkward (what's with the black muff and mittens, Ms. Terrell?) the rest of Taffy's onstage temptation is actually pretty good. Though she too is a little haughty for her hand me down surrounding, she provides a small shot of (cl)ass to the otherwise crass proceedings.
The Best Pocket Venus, Gerri Darnelle – in the race for most outstanding miniaturized Miss (what else could the nickname mean), Gerri beats the jawbreaking Audrey by a couple of brain cells. Unlike her Ding-Dong counterpart, Ms. Darnelle looks intelligent, savvy, well-mannered and potty trained. Too bad none of that equals onstage erotica.
The India Rubber Girl, Betty Shay – the most asexual contortionist act in the history of burlesque, Betty's troubling trannie looks make her handstands and back flips all the more concerning. Besides, she resembles the results of a gene-splicing experiment between Joan Crawford, Danny Thomas, and Vince Lombardi. Eww!
The Calendar Girl, Petty Varga – another hoofer who obviously took lessons from the wrong instructor (in this case, a drunk midget) Petty looks pickled as she wobbles like a weeble back and forth. Attempted to look coquettish but merely coming across as winded and out of shape, this morose mouth breather is enough to put you off partial nudity forever.
The Titian Haired Temptress, Rhea Walker – wearing what looks like a modified drapery and dancing around like she's auditioning for the role of Gayle in a revival of the Three Stooges Disorder in the Court, Ms. Walker is just weird. There is nothing very sexual about her. In fact, she comes across as kind of sad.
The Blonde Doll of Burlesque, Diane Delayne – at this point in the proceedings, the audience must have been growing antsy. With headliner Zabouda nowhere in sight and derivative dames like Diane out on stage shaking their fans, this night of entertainment was surely becoming an evening of irritation.
Sherri "Yum Yum" Winters – not even worthy of a clever catchphrase name, Sherri slithers around in her fur stole and beaded belt, doing the old fashioned petticoat peek a boo. Once she's down to pasties and panties, she lets loose with a series of slutty squats that would make modern high school girls squirm with envy.
The Featured Attraction, the Toast of the Town, Janine France – resembling a semi-sexy string bean, Ms. France tries to fancy up her overall routine with a lot of high kicks and ballet bopping. Unfortunately, her whisper thin shape still resonates loud and clear.
The Magnificent Zabouda – don't get the wrong idea here, Ms. Z is about as foreign as Betsy Ross. Sure, she's exotic looking in her belly dancing digs, but the overall effort smacks of a local Greek restaurant, complete with some Americanized gyros. All the waving arms and finger flexing can't hide the fact that this gal is all gristle. It's no surprise then that the MC fails to use her full official nickname, 'The Terrific Turkish Torso Twister'. Must have been afraid of some arcane truth in advertising laws.
With a set of comedians who do a much better job at pitching the puns, Merry Maids of the Gay Way is both helped and hindered by the number of nudes offered. On the plus side, more gals mean more gratuity – and substantially less showcase time. Indeed, the dance numbers here practically fly by compared to the overlong routines of Ding-Dong. Of course, the downside is rather obvious. More women means more uninviting physicality to gander. Unlike Ding-Dong, there is no large lunged lass to create any concrete corporeal interest. But Doreen Cannon sure delivers a surreal stage showing. A little leg is all we see, that's it. The rest of the act is her bogarting her butt – a cigarette butt. The whole nicotine fit as exotic display must have been all the rage back when tobacco was a side dish to most meals – and conversations. But this act is the entertainment equivalent of second hand smoke. While there may be no proof it causes death, it can't possibly be good for you.
As usual, Something Weird serves up the best monochrome movies they can find, though oddly enough, both films here look more 'gray on gray' than black and white. Also, unlike other burlesque films that have a hard time translating to the small screen parameters of today's home theater, the 1.33:1 image on both films is framed so that each gal is covered in defect defining close-up. Be on the look out for unplucked brows and a bevy of uneven teeth. On the sound side there is nothing technically tantalizing about 40s/50s mono, with its tinny, flat features.
Almost as if to make up for the lack of audio and visual splendor, SWV piles on the Burley-Q bonus features, taking a standard two hour disc (each film here is about an hour, a perfect preservation of burlesque's "five shows a night" mentality) and bumping it by another 90 amazing minutes. We are treated to a series of sensational striptease trailers, including B-Girl Rhapsody, Naughty New York and, a personal favorite, The Strip Tease Murder Case. Frequently nothing more than a collection of animated ad copy so outrageously over the top and campy (you'll learn a dozen or so new adjectives for describing the female form here) that you have to wonder if anyone EVER took these commercial come-ons seriously.
Even better, the DVD provides FIVE bump and grinding short subjects, with names as nominally naughty as Slick Chicks, The Girl Behind the Curtain (where, frankly, she should have stayed), Strip For Action, Strip Strip Hooray! and the racially insensitive skit The Immigrant. Again, the diversity of dame disrobing is startling. Some of our ladies look like they've spent hours in meticulous primping and preening for their partial to fully topless performances. Others look like the trailer trashy wives of long distance truckers, gals given a sawbuck, a shot of bourbon, and a moth eaten bathrobe and told to strut and fret their fetlocks before the Bolex. Anyone wondering where actresses in today's adult industry get their hopelessly hideous names need only look to 'Robin Jewell', 'Lorraine Lane', 'Tangore', and 'Miss Lotus Dubois' for pre-XXX examples of moniker mishandling. Along with a wealth of poster art and publicity photos in the two mammoth galleries, this is another stellar compendium of a long lost performance art.
While it may seem unfair to rate these rarities based almost exclusively on how attractive their performers were/are, the truth is that the strip show world of nudies and cuties lived and died under such superficial sentiments. Men didn't drag their wives for a night out at the burlesque house to witness girl power and female liberation. They wanted to see some tempting 'T', and if they were lucky, a little arousing 'A'. And if such pelt packaging was good-looking enough, these gents would definitely consider returning stag for another scandalous slice of variety act vice. So the quality of the onstage loveliness was usually comparable to the overall financial solvency of the showcase. If that is indeed the case, then Ding-Dong: A Night at the Moulin Rouge/ Merry Maids of the Gay Way had relatively short runs. Frankly, as long as there was flesh, most men probably didn't mind the occasional occlusions and hysterectomy scars. Guys are funny that way. Must be something biological.
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