Censorship, Transatlantic [mis]interpretation & Murder at the Windmill (1949)


Set of 8 American lobby cards for Mystery at the Burlesque AKA Murder at the     Windmill (1949)

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As these American lobby cards reveal, the 1949, British murder mystery film Murder at the Windmill, was released in America as Mystery at the Burlesque. Unfamiliar with the nuances of British censorship law, American film promoters either simply misunderstood Revudeville or thought it best to locate the Windmill within a context that would be familiar to American audiences – the burlesque house. However the Windmill absolutely was not one such space, the entertainment it offered was understood by the theatre itself, its audience & the popular British media to belong to a very British variety tradition.

Furthermore, one of the identifying features of female performance within burlesque is movement. Certainly the bumps & grinds found in American burlesque houses could never have occurred at the Windmill. One of the several catchphrases that sprung up around the Windmill was ‘If it moves, it’s rude’ & for good reason. The Lord Chamberlain (the official theatre censor) strictly forbade any movement whatsoever from the theatre’s static nudes, who had to be carefully & tastefully posed & lit to conceal as much as possible.

Regarding these materials, a lobby card, as Poole & Poole state:

is essentially what its name implies. Lobby cards depict various scenes from a movie printed on card stock material & displayed in & around the lobbies of [movie] theatres.

They continue,

Lobby cards were printed & issued to the movie theatres in sets. The average lobby set consists of eight different cards… One of the purposes of lobby cards was to give a pictorial synopsis of a subject movie.[1]

As this film was set & filmed inside the famous theatre & also starred many of the Windmill performers, the film & its promotional materials, such as these lobby cards, give us some fascinating insights into the theatre at the time the film was made.

Below is a short sequence from Murder at the Windmill, that you may recognise from one of the lobby cards

To return to the main #TheyNeverClothed exhibition catalogue page click here.

[1] Poole, E. E & Poole, S. T. (1997) Collecting Movie Posters: An Illustrated Reference Guide to Movie Art. Jefferson: McFarland & Co. Inc.