Tuesday 28 November 2023

The A-B-C's of Love (1953)

The A-B-C's of Love, released in 1953, is one of the six burlesque movies included in the Something Weird DVD boxed set Strip Strip Hooray.

Lillian Hunt is the credited director and she’s credited on a lot of these burlesque movies. I know nothing else about her and I have no idea of the precise nature of her contribution to these movies. Directing a burlesque movie must obviously have been quite different to directing feature films.

In the case of most of the movies in this set we know which burlesque theatres were involved but in this case that information seems to be impossible to ascertain.

The burlesque movie had a brief blossoming in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These were actual burlesque shows filmed live in actual burlesque theatres. Although usually shot without a theatre audience what the movie gives you is exactly what the audience would have seen. This obviously gives these movies a great deal of historical importance. We don’t need to speculate on what a real burlesque show in the golden age of burlesque was like.

This is both the strength and the weakness of these movies. They show burlesque as it really was, both the good and the bad.

The good is represented by the strip-tease routines which offer a kind of innocent naughtiness and cheerful sexiness, qualities totally lacking in popular culture today.

These strip-tease artistes would have been horrified to be told they were part of the sex industry. They considered themselves to be in show business. They could dance and they devised and then worked up their routines the same way that any other live theatrical performer would have done. They were not just taking their clothes off. They were putting on a show.

For the most part they were quite unembarrassed by the taking off their clothes part. They were never completely naked. They would strip down to a G-string and pasties.

Having said that, how much the girls could get away with varied enormously from city to city. It was entirely up to the whims of the local authorities. On the rare occasions that they could get away with dispensing with the pasties they would do so. On even rarer occasions audiences in some places might get a “blink and you’ll miss it” glimpse of the girl without her G-string.

In a burlesque movie it’s G-strings and pasties. While considered somewhat scandalous at the time if released today these movies would get at most a PG rating.

The strip-tease routines have plenty of nostalgia value and some are pretty impressive.

The bad in burlesque is represented by the other entertainments on offer. The strip-tease routines were just part of a burlesque show. There would often be straightforward musical numbers and dance routines (this movie offers us a frenetic fully clothed tap-dancing routine).

The songs were usually not very good. Some of the dance numbers are OK.

But the worst part of burlesque was the comedy, and there was a huge amount of it. The comedy was usually provided by what were known as “baggy-pants” comics. There were dirty jokes but they were not the problem. The problem is that this style of comedy was excruciatingly unfunny. You wait for the punchline is these sketches but usually there is no punchline. Sitting through the comedy routines is an ordeal.

Comedy of course is a very individual thing. Maybe audiences of the time actually enjoyed this brand of comedy.

The burlesque movies give us the lot. You get half a dozen (occasionally more if you’re lucky) strip-tease routines but you get at least one straightforward musical number and a lot of comedy.

How good a particular burlesque movie is depends entirely on how good the strip-tease artistes are. They’re the reason you’re going to watch these movies. Everybody’s Girl (1950), Midnight Frolics (1949), 'B' Girl Rhapsody (1952) and French Follies (1951) are pretty good - the strippers are good and their routines are clever and erotic in that delightfully vintage 1950s way. The A-B-C's of Love is the weakest such movie I’ve seen so far. The strip-tease routines are not that great.

These burlesque movies won’t appeal to everyone but if you have an interest in burlesque or vintage erotica they’re essential viewing. And if like me you just enjoy oddball movie genres they’re intriguing. There are however much better movies in this genre than The A-B-C's of Love.

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