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Peek-A-Boo & B Girl Rhapsody
The twelfth volume of the ongoing Kino Lorber/Something Weird Video Blu-ray series Forbidden Fruit: The Golden Age Of The Exploitation Picture offers up "Burlesk As You Like It!" presenting Lilian Hunt's 1953 film Peek-A-Boo. Like most vintage burlesque pictures, Hunt's entry in the cannon offers up a mix of beautiful women performing exotic strip tease routines and fairly terrible, though not completely charmless, baggy-pants style comedy routines. Hunt was a performer herself in her younger days and made quite a name for herself when she retired from performing and starting managing dancers, producing stage shows and routines and then being savvy enough to have some of her productions filmed and then independently distributed to theaters around the country, making her the rare female to really take advantage of the financial opportunities the exploitation film market made available during this period. For this reason alone, her work is historically significant, but on top of that, Hunt's burlesque pictures, and other similar films made by some of her contemporaries, offer interesting snapshots into
Shot entirely inside the New Follies Theater in Los Angeles by cinematographer William C. Thompson (who wound up working on quite a few Edward D. Wood Jr. pictures including the immortal Plan 9 From Outer Space), the evening's entertainment is hosted by Leon DeVoe, Billy Foster, Jack Mann and Johnny Maloney, a quartet of schlubby looking goofballs armed with a barrage of bad jokes and terrible comedy routines. Relics of the vaudeville era, these guys are painfully unfunny, but then, that's half the charm of watching old burlesque movies like this. Odds are that if you're watching a proper burlesque feature like this, rather than 8mm strip tease reels, you're going to come across performers like these guys who were in place to keep the crowds amused in between the strip tease acts that were obviously the real reason that anyone would go to these events in the first place. If you're able to appreciate and laugh at terrible comedy, you'll get a kick out of this material, if not, well you've got a fast forward button on your Blu-ray player's remote, so put it to good use and spare yourself.
As to the ladies that appear in this picture, there's a lot to like here. Thrill to routines from the likes of Sherry "The Yum Yum Girl" Winters, who performs in a full length gown complete with a fur scarf, the lovely blonde Virginia Valentine and her tassel twirling breasts, the energetic Jenny Lee, the rather butch but not unattractive Suzette "The French Doll", and the headliner, Venus "The Body Beautiful." While the routines vary in quality quite a bit (Valentine simply cannot dance but makes up for it with a whole lot of boob-swirling!) there's curves aplenty on display, enough to please anyone with a taste for vintage cheesecake.
There isn't' much to the production values here. The camera is stationary, basically giving viewers the experiences of what it would have been like sitting front and center in the audience at the New Follies Theater. The backgrounds on the stage can and do change throughout the feature, which gives things a bit more visual flair than they'd have had otherwise but for the most part, this is a ‘set it and forget it' situation in terms of how the movie was shot. Audio appears to have been recorded live off of the stage so there isn't much to the sound design either. On a technical level, like most burlesque pictures, Peek-A-Boo is a pretty primitive affair, but then, no one was watching these movies for the cinematography.
Peek-A-Boo is presented by Kino and Something Weird Video in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and properly framed at 1.33.1 with the with sixty-nine minute feature taking up 17.5GBs of space on the region free 50GB Blu-ray disc. There's some noticeable print damage here, the opening credits and first few minutes of the movie look to maybe have warped a bit, but it looks solid for what it is and given the age and obscurity of the picture. Generally the image is stable and shows pretty nice detail. The black and white image features good contrast and is free of any obvious digital manipulation. It looks nice and filmic and is free of visible compression artifacts, edge enhancement or noise reduction issues.
The film gets a 16-bit English language LPCM 2.0 Mono audio track. Audio quality is fine is limited by the original elements. Dialogue generally comes across fairly clean if a bit on the flat side. This was obviously dubbed into English, so keep that in mind. Overall though, it sounds fine. Optional English subtitles are provided.
The first extra on the disc is a commentary from film historian Eric Schaefer, the man who wrote Bold! Daring! Shocking! True!: A History Of Exploitation Films. His commentary is an informative one, offering up a lot of biographical details of the various women that appear in the film and going over other films that they've appeared in when applicable. He also covers Lilian Hunt's career, goes over some of the comedy that we are subjected to in the feature and gives a nice overview of the history of burlesque films and their historical significance in the pantheon of American exploitation films. Schaefer knows what he's talking about and does a pretty deep dive on this one, digging up a lot of interesting information.
The disc also includes a second feature, "B" Girl Rhapsody, from 1952, also directed by Lilian Hunt. This seventy-seven minute film was once again shot front and center in the New Follies Theater in Los Angeles. For those keeping score, look for routines from Bennie Moore, Artie Lloyd and George Rose but more importantly, well, there's the ladies. Things start off with an amusing seaside style chorus line number before Frenchy LeVonne, Nona Carver and Ginger DuVal each offer up some fairly decent dance routines. Chili Pepper follows (do you think that was her real name?) and she's great, lots of energy and enthusiasm and no shortage whatsoever of spirit. Crystal Star and headliner Lily Ayers follow, with Lily's final routine stealing the show as she's in all seriousness quite a graceful dancer and offers more than just the suggestive bumping and grinding so often associated with burlesque.
"B" Girl Rhapsody is also presented taken from elements supplied by Distribpix in AVC encoded 1080p and framed at 1.33.1. Taking up 15.7GBs of space, image quality is comparable to the main feature in that it looks good but limitations of the source material are visible. Once again we get a 16-bit LPCM Mono track in English with optional English subtitles for the feature. As far as extras go, "B" Girl Rhapsody includes a commentary from Alexandra Heller-Nicholas that does a nice job of going over the history of the ‘nudie cuties' featured in the movie, information on Hunt's life and times and exploring the histories of the different performers that appear in the picture and more. Her occasional doses of humor help to keep this an interesting and entertaining talk.
Rounding out the extras on the disc are trailers for The Devil's Sleep, Pin-Down Girl, Sex Madness Revealed and Text Tube Babies, menus and chapter selection.
Kino and Something Weird Video's Blu-ray release of Peek-A-Boo and "B" Girl Rhapsody wont' change the minds of those who don't appreciate vintage burlesque films, but for those who do? Both transfers offer significant upgrades from their aged DVD counterparts and the two commentary tracks offer plenty of background and insight into the history of these two pictures and the fifties burlesque scene in general. Recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.