Hooray and hallelujah! The “Citizen Kane” of the striptease movies is coming back to the big screen! The 1954 revue “Striporama” is on its way into the revival circuit, opening a blast of vintage fun with a peerless celebration of the glory days of burlesque entertainment.
Although billed as an “adults only” film when first released, “Striporama” is not a dirty film, in any sense of the word. It presents a brand of striptease which offers more “tease” than “strip.” This is the “sell-the-sizzle-and-not-the-steak” brand of filmmaking in which the elegant ladies of the show, led by the burlesque icon Lili St. Cyr, leaves the audience hungering for more while really giving away a peek of proper flesh and the promise of something naughtier. This is genuine power-of-suggestion entertainment which is jolting in a current cultural environment where anything and everything goes.
“Striporama” is spun around the flimsiest of plotlines: the New York Council for Culture is creating a time capsule which documents the artistic environment of the era. The council rules that burlesque films cannot be included in the time capsule, leading a trio of baggy-pants burlesque funnymen to break into the council’s meeting chambers with guns and a movie projector. While holding the council hostage, the comics unspool burlesque films to show why they deserve to be preserved for posterity.
“Striporama” then launches into a plotless revue format which mixes hoary comedy routines with bizarre musical numbers and extraordinary displays of striptease performances. The comedy skits, anchored by Jack Diamond and Mandy Kay, offers jokes as old as the pyramids (i.e., an Abbott and Costello-style moneychanging routine where two tens are exchanged for a five). These comic interludes are frequently hilarious for the wrong reasons, most notably the unexpected guest appearance of the boom microphone’s shadow in several scenes.
The dance numbers must be seen to be believed. A wild Apache Dance in front of a Paris bistro offers a wild love/hate rough-house where kicks in the fanny accompany twirls of balletic grace (and look for B-Movie icon Jeanne Carmen in her first film role, a brief appearance as a smoking bystander to the dance mayhem). Then there is the musclebound Mr. America who is called in to carry a zaftig lady on his broad shoulders while he dances and plays the harmonica. A harem number closes the film, with scores of delightful dancing girls recalling the exotica of ancient Arabia.
But the real stars of “Striporama” are the striptease performers, and the main attraction today is the brief but memorable presence of the queen of the pin-ups, Betty Page. The lovely but elusive Miss Page only appeared in three feature films and “Striporama” presents a rare opportunity to enjoy a walking, talking (okay, one line of dialogue), full-color Betty discreetly disrobing to enjoy the happiest bubble bath every recorded on film. Watching Betty twirl in the bathtub, happily blowing soap bubbles into the air and winking at the camera with mischievous glee is a long-forgotten peak of B-Movie classicdom. A man would have to be stone-cold dead not to want to yank off his clothing and join Betty in her bubbles.
Also in “Striporama” is the beautiful and athletic Lili St. Cyr, the most famous striptease artist of the 1950s, whose stunning beauty and gymnastic talents grace a marvelous number entitled “Cinderella’s Love Lesson.” The film also presents the only known cinematic record of two of burlesque’s top female stars: Georgia Sothern, a.k.a. “The Human Dynamo,” who burns up the screen with a kinetic dance number that puts all of the gyrating bodies on MTV to shame, and Rosita Royce, a graceful novelty dancer who employed a troop of white doves to help her remove layers of her flowing gown. Talk about too much of a good thing!
Don’t be fooled by its racy title. “Striporama” offers nothing that contemporary audiences would consider vulgar; in fact, the only person here who goes topless is beefy Mr. America. Instead, “Striporama” is really a high-quality entertainment which presents a rare glimpse of the talents of a bygone era…and its magic has not dimmed the least over time.