Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Striptease on Film: THE SILENCERS (1966)

--> Take four and a half minutes out of your life to watch this (actually, you should take 102 minutes and watch the whole movie sometime because it's delightful, but in the meantime just the opening credits will do):

This is The Silencers, Columbia Pictures’ 1966 spy spoof featuring sexy secret agent Matt Helm (Dean Martin) and a whole lot of jet-set-fabulousness. I’ll leave the film trivia to Wikipedia and IMDb (although I will say, as a point of interest: Cyd Charisse’s singing was almost always dubbed on film, in this case by a young Vikki Carr*). A strange series of happy accidents fueled by out-of-date tech led me to this film, and needless to say I was pretty much hooked on the basis of the credits alone.

What I want to know is the story of this title sequence: Who were these women? Were they actors, dancers, or actual burlesque strippers? (I don't recognize any of them; and I'm pretty certain that any legend who appeared in a Dean Martin movie - even if it wasn't technically
with Dino - would have mentioned it pretty significantly. I met Joel Grey at a party once and I haven't stopped talking about it for a decade. He was wearing a tie with bunnies on it, you know.) Also and of course, I will be eternally frustrated that we never get to see the end of any of these numbers, 1960's Hollywood being what it was, but I like to think they filmed it all. (It is a cherished dream that footage exists somewhere and someday the interweb will acquire it. Now you know what to get me for my birthday.)

I don't tend to draw a lot of direct and specific inspiration from classic performances - my aesthetic is very different, I don't really
dance so much as try not to trip while in heels, and glamour as far as I'm concerned is a thing that happens to other people ... but something about this particular moment in striptease time (and Hollywood and fashion and advertising and all that) delights the hell out of me. There's a wonderful mix of high-glam and sex-kitten looseness: Sure, I'll spend two hours getting my hair done to go to the supper club, but if a few curls happen to tumble out when I take my shoes off and run through the fountain outside, well then rowr.

... also like the then-relatively-new Bond films, the Matt Helm series features its own bunch of fantastic character names: Lovey Kravezit, Coco Duquette, Yu-Rang (
*shudder*) and a crew of henchwomen known as the Slaygirls (wait, I've changed my mind: that's what I want for my birthday).

There is fortunately a lot of great classic striptease on film, from
Teaserama to Christopher Walken's brilliant number in Pennies From Heaven (Go. Watch. NOW. It's manlesque circa 1981); as one of my own favorites, I'd like to add The Silencers to the list. **

* Who was born Florencia Bisenta de Casillas Martinez Cardona. Which is a fabulous name. That’s all.

** By the way, the second movie in the Matt Helm series, Murderer's Row (also 1966) co-stars a ridiculously sexy young Ann-Margret. Also Karl Malden, for whom I have a permanent soft spot.

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