Review: Varietease (1954)


Directed by: Irving Klaw | 65 minutes | music, eroticism, comedy | Actors: Lili St. Cyr, Cass Franklin, Irving Klaw, Monica Lane, Vicki Lynn, Christine Nelson, Bettie Page, Bobby Shields, Twinnie Wallen

The only way a viewer can still enjoy “Varietease” is by seeing it as a document of a bygone era. As a testimony to what (bad) burlesque entertainment was like What it was like when women didn’t take off all their clothes while stripping and it was mostly about teasing. But also how lackluster the sketches were at the time and how a range of mediocre variety acts were collected together to entertain the viewer.

Bettie Page features prominently on the front of the DVD cover. Of course, because she is the biggest name in the film and therefore the biggest crowd puller. Her part in the film, however, is negligible. She only does the opening act, an act that is also very tame, both in terms of piquancy, dance qualities, and general entertainment value. She wears a somewhat boring Arab outfit, and she does little to entertain the viewer. Let’s face it, Bettie Page is not a good dancer, but in “Teaserama”, the film she would make a year later, she is nevertheless very captivating. Because of her mischievous facial expressions – which she also shows here – but also because of her funny hip movements and dance steps. In “Varietease” it is all a bit less. Also literally, because she only has one appearance in the film.

Most of the film is filled with uninteresting acts from other “artists”. Stand-up comedians who come up with the most bland and matured – but maybe not then – jokes, song numbers that don’t even sound that bad, but certainly don’t make hearts beat faster, and few fascinating transvestite acts, of which flamenco perform later appears to have been literally copied for ‘Teaserama’. A contrived act with a dancing couple where everything goes wrong is not exactly stimulating.

Fortunately, the film does have some revivals. Especially Lili St Cyr, presented here as the big star, is still doing something interesting. The glances behind the scenes at her changing sessions are sometimes quite stimulating. Especially the moments when she lies lasciviously on the couch in her underwear and slowly takes off her panties, or takes off more and more from half behind the changing screen and then hangs the clothes over the edge, are fun teasing. In her final striptease act she wears a small, rather racy bra, but the act itself is not very special.

More fun is the act of Chris La Chris, a sensual and gracefully dancing red-haired lady with feathers on her bottom. She moves her hips around excitingly, with the feathers swinging back and forth. Nice, and at least she can dance. Finally, what’s nice is part of the scene in which a woman at her table in the restaurant makes some seductive movements in a beautiful black dress with a slit to show off her bare leg. This scene only goes on for a while, waning the viewer’s attention.
Apart from these sporadic acceptable moments, “Varietease” is unfortunately not worth it.