Murder At the Vanities (1934)

MITCHELL LEISEN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5

USA, 1934. . Screenplay by , , dialogue by , based on the play by , . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by , , . Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Earl Carroll, the “troubadour of the nude”, produced a number of Broadway plays featuring scantily-clad women for audiences who found that the Ziegfeld Follies weren’t quite racy enough. Among them were his annual “Vanities” as well as a murder mystery play adapted to film in this juicy pre-code melodrama.

Dazzling escapism is played out on a musical theatre stage while crimes go unsolved in the wings as leading man has announced plans to marry leading lady , which enrages second ingenue , who wanted both the part and the man. Brisson hires a private detective () to help him keep secrets involving the kindly wardrobe lady (), but their business becomes suspect when two bodies turn up dead, murdered with hat pins that featured in the show’s costumes.

Girl-crazy cop comes to investigate the matter but producer begs him to let the show continue as he interrogates suspects, distracted by all the scantily-clad chorus girls making sweet noise on stage while trying to piece together alibis and motives.

The idea that a police officer would allow a performance to continue after two dead bodies show up backstage is, of course, preposterous, but it does allow for a series of lovely musical numbers (including an appearance by none other than and his orchestra) to be performed between revelations of clues that eventually add up to a satisfying conclusion by the time we reach curtain.

Beautiful costumes and a magnificent cast are amped up by some curious pre-Code elements, including Michael singing a song extolling the lovely virtues of marijuana. Features a very funny supporting performance by , at the time considered “the most beautiful chorus girl in Hollywood”.

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