In the middle of 2007, a crushing blow was delivered to the lovers of the truly bizarre, the sleazy, and the entirely otherworldly when the seven-year-old partnership between Image Entertainment and Something Weird Video ceased to be. Although the dedicated folks at Something Weird continued to release more strange ditties upon the unsuspecting world via their wonderful website, there seemed to be something ultimately missing overall — as we stopped seeing stores carry deranged goodies like Please Don’t Eat My Mother, Doctor Gore, and the double feature offerings of gems such as Alley Tramp and Over 18…and Ready!
Earlier this year, we received the long-awaited word that Image and Something Weird were once again joining forces to distribute more cinematic curiosities from the vaults. And, to begin this epic reunion, we have been treated with a previously unheard of sextuple feature. The subject? Well, you might call it a sexual sextuplet of sorts — though not in the traditional “fornicatin’ folks” way. No, this is sex of a different color (well, black-and-white, for the most part), as Something Weird and Image bring us the 2-Disc Strip Strip Hooray, which showcases six burlesque class-icks from the late ’40s to the early ’50s.
During the final years of the original American burlesque era, various stages across the nation were overrun with an assortment of unremarkable tunes by forgotten artists, jiggleful dances from female strippers, and corny routines performed by lowbrow comedians. While these variety shows for adults were usually acted out onstage in front of a (barely) live audience, a few were filmed specifically for the purpose of exhibiting in moviehouses well after the phenomenon had ceased to entertain in person. And that’s what we get here, beginning with 1949’s Midnight Frolics, which was filmed in L.A.’s Belasco Theatre.
We start with a musical piece, wherein just about every girl in the chorus struts about onstage, belting out some sort of mostly-decipherable song. Next, a few comedians come out to play — delivering jokes and routines that are sometimes amusing, but which usually border on cringe-worthy. And then, strippers are introduced — coming out to taunt and tease oversexed individuals in the audience by removing one article of their gaudy costume after the next, making their departure from the screen once they’ve dwindled down to their pasties and g-strings. And that’s how the whole film goes, usually in that order — one act to the next.
Actually, that’s how all of the movies in Strip Strip Hooray (four of which were photographed by Ed Wood regular, William C. Thompson) go, from the aforementioned opener, to proceeding projects Everybody’s Girl (1950), French Follies (1951), ”B” Girl Rhapsody (1952), The A-B-C’s of Love (which has a copyright date of 1954, though the disc, artwork, and IMDb all list it as a 1953 film), and the finale, A Night in Hollywood (1953).
Most of the disrobin’ ladies featured in these films aren’t all that famous in today’s circles, though there are a few exceptions, including top-heavy burlesque queen Tempest Storm (aka The Girl with the Fabulous Front), who showcases the conclusion of A Night in Hollywood in full color, nonetheless. An interesting factoid here: the highlight of the fifth film, The A-B-C’s of Love — a performer billed as “Gilda, the Golden Girl of Burlesque” — actually started out her career as part of Hal Roach’s Our Gang/Little Rascals troupe!
Of course, the anonymity of these gals is nothing compared to some of the comics we bear witness to in Strip Strip Hooray. Seeing these fellers now, it’s hard to fathom that comedy legends like Abbott and Costello started out on the burlesque circuit (in fact, a few of their famous routines performed here were well-known Bud and Lou skits). A couple of these old hat funnymen do stand out, though (often for their sheer ridiculousness) — George “Beetlepuss” Lewis being my personal favorite (his “Ice Cream Vendor” act in the first film nearly had me in tears).
As anyone who has seen a past Something Weird/Image release knows, these films often look pretty darn good for being so obscure. Indeed, the presentations here are also commendable, though there are many splices to be found, often during the comedy routines (which some might view as a blessing). The set is split up to house three movies per disc, and there are no additional special materials to be found — which is something weird in itself, when you consider how many trailers, shorts, and galleries the older SWV titles featured. But then, a six-pack of naughtiness like this has all kinds of bonus items: all of which are presented two at a time (folks like George “Beetlepuss” Lewis aren’t the only ones to make bad puns, you know).
Welcome back to the “mainstream” world, Something Weird.