Murder at the Vanities

1934

Crime / Music / Mystery / Romance

0
IMDb Rating 6.5 10 866

murder pre-code

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Plot summary


Uploaded by: FREEMAN
November 29, 2022 at 06:52 AM

Top cast

Ann Sheridan as Lou - Earl Carroll Girl
Lucille Ball as Earl Carroll Girl
Dennis O'Keefe as Chorus Boy
Alan Ladd as Chorus Boy
720p.BLU
818.67 MB
1280*960
English 2.0
NR
24 fps
1 hr 29 min
P/S ...

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by melvelvit-1 10 / 10

Mischievous musical and Pre-Code last hurrah

Released just before the Production Code crackdown in July, 1934, Mitch Leisen's all-star Paramount musical is both leeringly suggestive -some even claim misogynistic- and a heck of a lot of fun. Two murders occur on the opening night of "Earl Carroll's Vanities" (one on-stage), but that doesn't stop the manager (Jack Oakie) from putting on a show as a lascivious police detective (Victor McLaglen) investigates. Everyone is hiding something and Gypsy Rose Lee must have seen this backstage murder mystery before she penned "The G-String Murders" as the denouement is similar, albeit more satisfying here. Gertrude Michael, as a vicious diva, stops the show (in more ways than one) with her exotic "Sweet Marijuana" number and Duke Ellington finishes with the truncated "Rape Of The Rhapsody". The hit song, "Cocktails For Two", also came from this bizarre and bawdy camp classic. Here's Louella O. Parsons in the "Los Angeles Examiner" on May 17, 1934:

Earl Carroll's hand-picked beauties' pirouette about on the Grauman United Artists screen in a fig leaf and not much else. But September Morn herself never had a better figure than these charmers, who are made up to please the eye, especially the eye of the tired businessman. But don't for a moment think Mr. Carroll's girls, au naturelle, are the only attraction. Believe it or not, MURDER AT THE VANITIES is a musical comedy thriller, if you know what I mean -a murder mystery incorporated in a musical show. It all happens on the opening night at the time the play is in progress and a search is on for a murderer. Just by way of suspense, a cop threatens to stop the show every few minutes. Victor McLaglen is something new in cops. All the time he is trying to track down the murderer, he keeps his eye fastened on the chorus beauties. The murder mystery is good with the exception of the denouement, which is pretty flat. Probably faulty direction. Dorothy Stickney, who plays the maid, is about as melodramatic as the heroine in a ten, twenty, and thirty show. For no good reason, she rates a never-ending closeup in the big dramatic scene. The girl ensembles are good, and it's a positive relief to get away from the inevitable overhead shots. The costumes are beautiful; in fact, this is a musical that Paramount can feel is really to their credit. As for Carl Brisson -well, he would be an addition to any show. Good-looking with a delightful singing voice and an easy, assured manner, he is all his press agents claim for him. I also like Kitty Carlisle, who plays the leading lady in the show. Gertrude Michael, as the deep-eyed villainess, gives an interesting if rather fictional portrayal. Jack Oakie, as the stage manager, is the same old wisecracking Jack, but we wouldn't change him. Jessie Ralph is excellent as the seamstress. Others in the cast are Charles Middleton, Gail Patrick, Donald Meek, Barbara Fritchie, Toby Wing and Lona Andre. The screen play is by Carey Wilson and Rufus King, and the direction by Mitchell Leisen. The music is by Arthur Johnstone and the lyrics by Sam Coslow. In addition to MURDER AT THE VANITIES, there is a Mickey Mouse cartoon, a Paramount Newsreel, and a two-reeler, THE WRONG DIRECTION.

I disagree with Lolly on the denouement, it's satisfying if over-the-top. Why would she blame the director? Was she displeased with the story's ending -or the way it was staged? And what's a "ten, twenty, or thirty show"? Note the swipe taken at Busby Berkeley and his "overhead shots". As hard as it may be to believe today, the public was tiring of Buzz' schtick by May, 1934. Mitch Leisen said, "if you are showing a stage show that's supposed to be in a theater, you should stay within the bounds of the proscenium arch, and not do a Buzz Berkeley routine with a stage set that's acres big."

Q: Don't you think Berkeley's spectacular effects justified taking this liberty? ML: Apparently they did because they're reviving all of his pictures and none of mine, but personally I don't like it.

Reviewed by lugonian 7 / 10

Mystery at the Musical Theater

Earl Carroll's MURDER AT THE VANITIES (Paramount, 1934), directed by Mitchell Leisen, from the stage work by Earl Carroll and Rufus King, marked the studio's contribution to the stage musical of the precode era. Almost in the league as Warner Brothers' WONDER BAR (1934), with plot set in a single night revolving around an handful of sinful characters, VANITIES contains its own assortment of odd characters, great interplay between Jack Oakie and Victor McLaglen, risqué dialog and semi-nude chorines listed in the opening credits as "The Most Beautiful Girls in the World," makes this particular production something to consider.

Producer Earl Carroll is ill and unable to attend the opening night of his Vanities, which leaves Jack Ellery (Jack Oakie), former reporter turned stage director, in charge. Eric Lander (Carl Brisson) and Anne Ward (Kitty Carlisle), the show's leading couple, plan on getting married after the performance, much to the dismay of temperamental blues singer, Rita Ross (Gertrude Michael), who wants Eric for herself and will stop at nothing to get him. Before the curtain goes up, Anne finds her life being threatened by falling props and sandbags that nearly miss her, causing Ellery to notify his friendly rival, Police Lieutenant Bill Murdock (Victor McLaglen) to investigate. Sadie Evans (Gail Patrick), a female investigator hired by Eric, arrives to return valuable information stolen from him by Rita. Because Miss Evans has learned more than she should, her life is threatened by Helene Smith (Jessie Ralph), a wardrobe woman with a mysterious past of her own. During a performance, blood is felt dripping upon a chorus girl, causing her to scream and Murdock to trace the dripping blood to the body of Sadie Evans, stabbed by a large pin. When Rita threatens to expose what she knows about Eric in Vienna, she, too is murdered by a mysterious bullet. The show goes on as Ellery and Murdock work together in hope of rounding up the usual suspects.

Other members of the cast include Charles Middleton as Shakespearean actor Homer Boothby; Donald Meek as Doctor J.T. Saunders; and Barbara Fritchie as Viven. Notable performances go out to the comic-strip appearance of Dorothy Stickney as Norma Watson, Rita's abused maid; and Toby Wing as Nancy, the giggly blonde wanting desperately some time alone with Jack Ellery, who constantly casts her aside until later. Kitty Carlisle, best known for her role opposite the Marx Brothers in A NIGHT AT THE OPERA (MGM, 1935), and as TV's panelist on the 1960-70s quiz show, TO TELL THE TRUTH, performs well in her motion picture debut, especially opposite Carl Brisson who, at times, resembles Carlisle's NIGHT AT THE OPERA love interest, Allan Jones, but minus the Danish accent.

A well-crafted murder mystery with an abundance of fine tunes by Arthur Johnson, Sam Coslow and Johnny Burke, include: "Cocktails for Two" (sung by Carl Brisson); "Where Do They Come From and Where Do They Go?" (sung by Kitty Carlisle); "Lovely One" (sung by male chorus); "Where Do They Come From and Where Do They Go?" (concluded by Carlisle); "Live and Love Tonight" (sung by Brisson); "Sweet Marijuana" (sung by Gertrude Michael); "Cradle Me With a Hatcha Lullaby" (instrumentally performed by male dancers); "The Rape of the Rhapsody" (sung by Brisson, orchestrated by Duke Ellington and his Band; reprized by Kitty Carlisle); "Doing the Ebony Rhapsody" (sung by Gertrude Michael); "Cocktails for Two" (sung by Brisson, chorus); and Finale: "Live and Love Tonight," "Sweet Marijuana" and "Cocktails for Two."

While "Cocktails for Two" became a song hit that that was later spoofed in the 1940s by band-leader Spike Jones, "Live and Love Tonight" is actually one of the better and nicer tunes helped by its production number treatment set on an island with Brisson as the sole male surrounded by under-dressed island girls (Carlisle included) and others using ostrich feathers as water waves. Gertrude Michael's rendition to "Sweet Marijuana" surrounded by dancing shadows, appears to be the sort of tune 35 years ahead of its time, fitting more into the 1960s hippie generation than 1934. Franz Liszt's "Second Hungarian Rhapsody," the longest of the production numbers, is an interesting attempt turning slow tempo classical composition to upbeat jazzy orchestration with Duke Ellington at the piano. Larry Ceballos and LeRoy Prinz are credited for their impressive (or suggestive) choreography.

Rarely televised possibly due to its subject matter that make precode movies all the more worth seeing today, MURDER AT THE VANITIES, having been one of an assortment of rare classic films aired Sunday nights (1974-75) on Hartford, Connecticut's WFSB, Channel 3, did become available on home video in the 1980s (retail price: $59.95) and finally DVD in 2009. Its availability should add to the rediscovery of buried treasures such as this. (***)

Reviewed by ptb-8 8 / 10

WONDERBAR amped to 11

Thus sumptuous Paramount art deco musical is almost a definitive pre code extravaganza and is on per with WONDERBAR and FASHIONS OF 1934 and TOP HAT as the glittering perfection of code- cusp risqué showgirl and nightclub sophisticated sexiness. Made at Paramount in late 1933 and clearly designed to outshine the WB Busby Berkeley extravaganzas, this one does it with nude showgirls, drug references, weapons, a slinky killer, murder in the ceiling and dripping blood, and big stage show numbers all crammed over the orchestra pit on the opening night of a big Broadway show. I was reminded of almost every Busby Berkeley film but clearly on a lower budget with the difference being made up by having spectacular costumes. In color this film would be an enduring musical of its time. In gorgeous B&W it still rates but one can see how colorful the costumes are even in monochrome. One startling song SWEET MARIJUANA manages the unparalleled feat of including nudity drugs murder and blood all on screen during the tune. There is a hilarious and nutty island mermaid number and a fantastic and simple art deco staging of COCKTAILS FOR TWO. This film clearly influenced THE GREAT ZIEGFELD made at MGM in 1936.

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