Barbara Stanwyck is a ‘Lady of Burlesque’ on Prime Video and on MGM+

Set in the low rent world of burlesque, where preening strippers, backstabbing baggy pants comedians, and specialty act has-beens play to diminishing audiences, William Wellman’s Lady of Burlesque (1943) is surprisingly racy for a war-era comedy.

Perhaps it’s because the material is such a natural for the director, who thrived on cocky, wisecracking characters and sleazy surroundings in his pre-code comedies. Based on the novel “The G-String Murders” by Gypsy Rose Lee (actually ghost written by Craig Rice), he rises to the occasion in this sanitized but still suggestive murder mystery.

Brassy Barbara Stanwyck is “Dixie Daisy, the Darling of Burlesque,” the new headliner in a second-rate theater where the former glamour star Lolita La Verne (Victoria Faust) declares war on the saucy interloper. When the one-time queen is found murdered, strangled by her own G-string, Dixie becomes the prime suspect and turns detective to clear her name as the murders continue.

Wellman struggles against the censors and mostly wins, creating a genuinely tawdry world of showbiz sleaziness and dropping saucy suggestions throughout the backstage drama. And Stanwyck is a firecracker as the slumming vaudeville queen clashing with the has-beens and would-be stars who think they own this venue. She drives this energetic murder mystery with cocky confidence. Her sauciness and Wellman’s crackling pace and hard-boiled wisecracks keep the film humming.

Lady of Burlesque never quite catches fire, thanks to a thoroughly routine murder mystery plot and a lackluster supporting cast, but it smolders throughout and the excellent backstage/onstage play is worthy of a film in itself.

Micheal O’Shea plays the baggy pants comedian who teams up with Dixie, Gerald Mohr is the victim’s gangster lover, and J. Edward Bromberg, Stephanie Bachelor, and Charles Dingle costar.

It earned an Oscar nomination for the original music.

Black and white

This film was produced independently outside the major studios and slipped into the public domain decades ago. It has proliferated in poor quality TV prints, VHS tapes, and DVD releases. We only recommend superior editions at Stream On Demand.

Streams for a limited time on Prime Video and on MGM+

Also on DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Lady of Burlesque [DVD]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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