Varietease (1954)
By: J.R. McNamara on August 10, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Umbrella Entertainment (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 1.0. 71 minutes
The Movie
Director: Irving Klaw
Starring: Lili St. Cyr, Bettie Page, Bobby Shields, Twinnie Wallen
Country: USA
Irving Klaw ran a mail order business specializing in the distribution of photographs and short film strips of semi nude women. A lot of titillation for a reasonable price! His family started in the business with a magazine store in Brooklyn, Movie Star News, that due to public demand, started delving into this world, with Klaw himself eventually specializing in bondage and fetish photography (which made a star of bondage model, Bettie Page) and eventually film. He made several films, including the seminal and best known burlesque flick Teaserama. This film Varietease was his first such film, and features all of the defining parts of burlesque: the striptease, the comedy and the singing, which was streamlined in his second feature to show more chicks, and less comedy and singing. The Kefauver Hearings, which took place in the 50s, cited comic books and 'pornography' as the cornerstone of young criminal behaviour and organized crime. Disillusioned, Klaw eventually shut his business down and to avoid persecution or prosecution he burned all his negatives but did not know that sister and partner Paula had kept the better ones hidden. These are the surviving photos you see today. Klaw died in 1966 of appendicitis, but his legacy of 'men's entertainment' lives on.

Varietease is a cinematic representation of what burlesque clubs of the fifties would have been. The MC, the comedy, with male and female comedians, the singing, the scatting (the jazz kind, not the poop kind), and of course beautiful women stripping down to their underwear and jiggling their wobblers about for a bit. But of course it is all done in the best possible taste. There are some well known acts in this film: Bettie Page, Lilli St. Cyr, and some lesser ones, who thankfully only ever starred in this feature, such as scatting (again, not poop) be bopper, Bobby Shields.

The best thing about this production is the full version of Bettie Pages 'Dance of the Seven Veils'. The come hither eyes, the gyrating hips…the interesting costumes…there is nothing not to love about this feature except for the lack of audio/ visual quality. I understand that some think this lends a sense of 'authenticity' to the movie, but at the end of the day it is quite obvious this is an old feature and really could have done with a clean up, especially in the light of the recent interest in Bettie Page's career.
A veritable Trevor trove of video disasters: chroma noise, color bleeding, cross coloration, low level noise and more artefacts than the Egyptian section of a museum. Attention DVD movie distributors: try cleaning up an image before releasing a DVD!!
The audio doesn't fare much better, and sounds like it is recorded through a tin can and a string, but after listening to some of the 'performances', it is a bit of a relief.
Extra Features
The commentary is by David F. Freidman, who has a wonderful first hand experience of the entire burlesque and cinema scene and knows a good story or two about this era. His stories never get dull and if he ever starts to ramble, he is pulled back into line by Mike from Something Weird Video, who is his co-commentator. Definitely an essential commentary!!

This feature has trailers for Varietease (1 minute 48 seconds) and Teaserama (2 minutes 19 seconds).

There is a scene from Striperama, which was released the year previous to Varietease that features Bettie Page speaking, which for fans of Ms Page is a real treat (5 minutes and 5 seconds).

There is also a Black and white scene from Teaser Girls in High Heels, which is a film from a 50s arcade machine, and still even has the 'Deposit another coin' stop in it (7 minutes 31 seconds).
The Verdict
Not as well known as Teaserama, and nor should it be. This film is an interesting side look into the world of burlesque, but is obviously the precursor to the superior Teaserama. The quality of the DVD is abysmal though, and my low score reflects that.
Movie Score
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