Musical Monday: Murder at the Vanities (1934)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 600. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

murder at teh vanities2This week’s musical:
Murder at the Vanities (1934) – Musical #685

Paramount Pictures

Mitchell Leisen

Jack Oakie, Victor McLaglen, Kitty Carlisle, Carl Brisson, Jessie Ralph, Dorothy Stickney, Gertrude Michael, Toby Wing, Gail Patrick, Donald Meek, Charles Middleton, Lucille Ball (uncredited), Ann Sheridan (uncredited), Alan Ladd (uncredited)
Themselves: Duke Ellington and His Orchestra

It’s opening night of Jack Ellery’s (Oakie) new show, and there’s a great deal of backstage drama. The show stars Eric Lander (Brisson) and Ann Ware (Carlisle) who have planned to get married. Rita Ross (Michael) previously had a romance with Eric and is angry that she’s no the female lead in the show, so she’s out for revenge. Eric has secrets and Rita is ready to expose him, but a murderer backstage has other ideas.

• First film of Kitty Carlisle.
• Carl Brisson’s Hollywood debut.
• Joseph I. Breen, director of the Association of Motion Picture Producers (AMPP), suggested several edits to the film, such as scant costumes of the dancers. Some edits to the script were also recommended like revising “Crawling out of the minister’s night shirt'”; ” Those dames has got some clues I’d like to work on”; and “Go and rivet some panties on those cuties of yours.” Breen also wanted the song “Sweet Marijuana” played down. The full number and those lines all made it into the final film.
• Based on Earl Carroll’s “Vanities,” which were popular on Broadway.
• Costumes designed by Travis Banton


• The wave effect with the fans in the “Live and Love Tonight”

Notable Songs:
• “Where Do They Come From (and Where Do They Go)?” performed by Kitty Carlisle
• “Live and Love Tonight” performed Carl Brisson and Kitty Carlisle
• “Sweet Marijuana” performed by Gertrude Michael
• “Cocktails for Two” performed by Carl Brisson

murder at the vanities3

murde at the vanities4

My review:
Wow, this may be the most Pre-Code film I’ve ever seen.

From the costumes (or lack thereof), lines (“Go in and get your clothes off”) and a song about marijuana, “Murder at the Vanities” (1934) may be the very definition Pre-Code film.

This backstage film mixes music and murder. As “The Vanities” are playing on stage, backstage sandbags are dropping trying to kill the lead, blood drips from the rafters onto chorus girls after a murder, and another actress is planning blackmail.

Overall this film is fun and also visually beautiful. I love the ocean water effect with huge ostrich feather fans in the “Live and Love Tonight.” The “Where Do They Come From (and Where Do They Go)?” number is wild but also has some interesting pieces – like the girl in the compact. Of course most people know this film for the song “Sweet Marijuana” performed by Gertrude Michael. Michael sings about marijuana while chorus girls sitting in cactus flowers are topless, just covering themselves with their hands and arms.

There is one number that made me gasp … the title “The Rape of the Rhapsody” is about how classical music has been turned into swing. The title is a bit much, though I did enjoy seeing Duke Ellington and his band. It starts off fun with Ellington’s orchestra peeking out behind classical music performers. However, the number has some issues with Black female dancers are in stereotypical costumes and then the song has a … surprising (if not shocking) finish.

Murder and music are blended well in this film, though I did figure out who the murderer was before it was revealed. Overall I found this to be a good bit of fun with some humor and great music.

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1 thought on “Musical Monday: Murder at the Vanities (1934)

  1. I’ve been wanting to see this for a while, Jessica, but you have really made me want to bump it up on my list. I’m especially curious about the scene that made you gasp! I’m not the biggest fan of musicals as a rule, but this one I gotta see!


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