Julia Ross secures employment, through a rather nosy employment agency, with a wealthy widow, Mrs. Hughes, and goes to live at her house. 2 days later, she awakens - in a different house, ... See full summary »
Joseph H. Lewis
Dame May Whitty,
Shortly before the curtain goes up the first time at the latest performance of Earl Carroll's Vanities, someone is attempting to injure the leading lady Ann Ware, who wants to marry leading man Eric Lander. Stage manager in charge Jack Ellery calls in his friend, policeman Bill Murdock, to help him investigate. Bill thinks Jack if offering to let him see the show from an unusual view point, after he forgot to get him tickets for the performance, but then they find the corpse of a murdered women. Bill suspects Eric of the crime, especially, after the second female lead Rita Ross told him she saw the women leaving from Eric's room. Then Rita is shot onstage with Eric's gun. Jack and Bill decide not to stop the show, but Bill preparing to arrest Eric. Is he on the right track ? Written by
Stephan Eichenberg <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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.
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