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Cult Epics presents
The Irving Klaw Classics: Volume 1-4 (1951-1956)

"In the 1950s, Irving Klaw, known as the King of Pin Ups, was famous for his photos of beautiful girls in lingerie and high heels. In the period of 1951-1956, he produced over a hundred short 8mm films."
- from the back cover blurb

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: December 06, 2006

Stars: Bettie Page
Other Stars: Tempest Storm, Jackie Miller, Lili St. Cyr, Peggy Leer, Gwen Nicholas, Chris Dimes, Jackie Lens, Chris Pennease, Honey Baer, Nora Connors, Patsy Wooden, Karin Lane, Jonnie Wilson, Barbara Pauline, Ramona Lackey, Jeanne Landis, Lili Dawn, Kathleen Bright, Georgia Whitfield, Trudy Wayne, Dorian Dennis, Roz Greenwood, Evonne, Bonnie Belle, Donna Brown, Denise Dennis
Director: Irving Klaw

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality, nudity)
Run Time: 03h:13m:23s
Release Date: October 31, 2006
UPC: 881190005491
Genre: cult

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+C+B- B+

DVD Review

If it wasn't for all of those naughty 8mm shorts made by Irving Klaw back in the 1950s, a genre icon like Bettie Page may never have been. For that reason alone, heaping the platitudes on the Klaw name is deserved, but as this four-disc set from Cult Epics tries to show, there was more going on than just Page (she's only featured on one disc here), though over time she has certainly become the name brand of 1950s erotica. But don't expect a formal history lesson from this release because there's no narration, no background info—just over three hours of short after 8mm short from the Klaw archives.

The four discs in this set each look at a distinct sub-genre of Klaw's work, beginning with the obligatory collection of Bettie Page films (44m:11s). All of the title cards for the 16 shorts refer to her as "Betty", but that's neither here nor there because even though the image quality is a bit stodgy, the odd Page charisma is quite apparent. That's unique grindhouse sexiness, a weird mix of innocence and experience that Klaw plied from Page with ease. Included here are gems like her two infamous "clown dance" shorts, as well as more traditional dance/pose productions, all of which showcase trademark Page moments, such as her exaggerated, surprised look that sort of became her trademark expression.

On Disc 2 it's 14 of Klaw's wrestling shorts (49m:04s), featuring an assortment of talent including Jackie Lens and Peggy Leer. The concept here is women in garters, bras, and panties in full catfight/throwdown mode, and this was really something of a groundbreaking move for Klaw, because as a genre it still goes on today (albeit more explicitly). The repetition factor is a little high, and if the material doesn't float your boat there isn't much here other than the unintentional campiness of some of the performances.

Disc 3 (46m:50s) has twelve of Klaw's fetish shorts, which get back closer to traditional 1950s erotica. These are much tamer than some of the rougher Page/ball-and-gag bondage types, yet there are things like the occasional whip used as an accoutrement. Mostly it's women like Ramona Lackey or Gwen Nicholas doing a variation of the bra/black stockings/garters shuffle, augmented by very, very, very, very high heels—we're talking "these shoes ain't made for walkin'" heels.

The final disc—number four— runs the longest (53m:18s), and looks at 14 of Klaw's so-called "dance" films. There's a fine line between these and the fetish examples, though clearly the dance titles carry a more defined sexuality throughout. It's sway/shuffle/spin time, as scantily clad women like Lili Dawn and Trudy Wayne parade around in a way that Klaw seemed to have down to a science, and like some of the other discs in this series, there is a fair amount of seen-that-before as it plays on, so take it in small doses.

If you're on board with the whole 1950s/Bettie Page experience, something like this four-disc set from Cult Epics will be a cross between a history lesson and an archive. It's a rather tough genre to explain the appeal of to those on the outside, so if you already know which side of the fence you're on then the decision has already been made. A collection of Irving Klaw shorts is like a groovy time capsule—a groovy, sexy time capsule.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Each disc is presented in its original full-frame aspect ratio. The back cover touts "new transfers from the original 8mm films", and while that means the shorts here are going to probably look their best, it doesn't mean they're going to look good. Print damage on over 50-year-old 8mm film is inevitable, and these aren't pristine by any means—there are excessive soft edges, grain, nicks, splices, burns across the board here—but somehow the mediocre-to-poor quality still gets Klaw's message across. Disc 3's fetish titles look the worst of the lot, while by comparison the bonus film on the fourth disc almost looks brand new.

The image quality is often poor, but I'll put the blame on the source material rather than the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: C+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The only audio is 2.0 mono, which carries an assortment of 1950s-style instrumentals (rock, jazz, swing, big band, lounge) over the visuals. It's not indicated whether or not these are the original soundtrack recordings, but considering the clarity I'm going to guess they are not. No hiss or distortion, and overall a rather anonymous mix and presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 52 cues and remote access
18 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
4 Discs
4-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Each disc comes in its own clear plastic Nexpak case, all fitting inside a cardboard slipcase. The only information on the case cover art are the titles, with each disc cut into a single chapter per title.

Disc 1 carries four additional Page bonus films (14m:12s), including Betty Page Nude, Betty Page in Black Lingerie, Betty Page in White Lingerie and Betty Page in Red Lingerie. The nude short is the only one in color, though if it wasn't for the red balloon or her purple hair ribbon I wouldn't have necessarily even noticed (because the color is so faded, not because of Page cavorting casually topless with a giant wagon wheel).

Disc 2 goes against the concept of the volume and has three non-wrestling shorts (13m:29s). But it does have two of the bigger names in vintage erotica, namely Tempest Storm and Lili St. Cyr, so that is probably more of a positive than a negative. The basic here-it-is Tempest Storm Strip Tease Dance and the practically theatrical Lili St. Cyr in Dance of Carmen show off their talents nicely, and make for a nice break from the wrestling, if you ask me.

Disc 3 has 10 extra Klaw shorts (33m:52s), including more of Lili Dawn and Barbara Pauline. Unlike the other discs, there isn't much here to differentiate this material from the main disc content, though perhaps a bit softer in tone and not so high-high-high-heel-oriented.

Only one bonus film (06m:45s) on the last disc, but it is easily the most overtly sexual of the bunch. It's called Bumper Lil, and the title card doesn't name the star—no, it's not Lili St. Cyr—but she looks a lot like the very top-heavy Dorian Dennis. The theme here is simple, just six minutes of nearly unfettered large breast shaking and gyrating that is noticeably less innocent and far more sexually raw. An eye opener. Really.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Certainly a specialty release if there ever was one, this four-disc set of 1950s erotica from Irving Klaw carries not just the expected Bettie Page material, but a cross-section of his wrestling, dance, and fetish shorts.

Strange, sexy, and almost historical. Recommended for all fans of Page-era erotica.


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