Written by Kami at Classic Couple
Lady of Burlesque (1943) is based on The G-String Murders a 1941 detective novel written by famous burlesque performer Gypsy Rose Lee. The film, directed by William A. Wellman and starring Barbara Stanwyck and Michael O’Shea, is a faithful and fun-to-watch adaptation of the novel.
It’s the story of Dixie Daisy the hot up-and-coming star of a new burlesque show at a former opera house. While Dixie chases her fame and fortune as a marquee performer, she comes up against competition for the headliner spot in the form of two determined rivals. When one rival is murdered, the whole company comes under suspicion. When her second adversary is killed, Dixie herself becomes a prime suspect. Determined to vindicate herself, Dixie sets out to trap the real killer.
A surprisingly engaging film, Lady of Burlesque is a comedy posing as a murder mystery. Promotional posters for Lady of Burlesque capitalized on its uniqueness with copy like “Girls & Gags! Music & Mirth! Mystery and Murder!” As promised, the film delivers all of it.
Strong on-stage performances of the characters in the burlesque show deliver the comedy and entertainment. Stanwyck as Dixie is stunning as she sings, dances, and performs a variety of numbers. Michael O’Shea as her prospective love interest is a convincing comic as a former vaudeville comedian before acting in movies. Their characters play well off one another, both on and off the stage.
Backstage, where the murder mystery plays out, delivers the drama. Glimpses into the dressing room highlight competition among the women not only for the headliner spot but for men. Budding romances and secret liaisons come to light, adding intrigue when not one, but two murders occur. Everyone’s a suspect as local police try to solve who murdered two female performers leaving a signature of wrapping their G-strings around their necks.
The film gives audiences a peek into the behind-the-scenes world of burlesque. In the 1930s and 1940s, burlesque was ever-present in cabarets and clubs across America. Part music hall, part performance art, and part adult entertainment, most popular burlesque shows featured singers, comedians, dancing girls and striptease acts. Fear of police raids was a reality for burlesque shows. Performers were often arrested and struggled to make a living.
Lady of Burlesque takes viewers backstage, focusing on the business of running a show and the challenges facing performers within it. The film’s show teeters on the edge of closure under threat of raids and struggling finances. The entertainers and stagehands, despite their differences, are resolved to keep the show going and to continue making a living.
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Then, head over to TheFilmDetective.tv to catch Barbara Stanwyck in Lady of Burlesque (1943)!