1931-1940ClassicsDramaMitchell LeisenUSA

Mitchell Leisen – Murder at the Vanities (1934)

While musical revue “The Vanities” captivates audience on its opening night, a murder investigation secretly takes place backstage. a lavish backstage extravaganza that’s half musical and half who-dunnit. As the mystery is downright silly, the appeal is all in the attempts at comedy and the staging of a half-dozen song and dance numbers.

“The Vanities” refers to Earl Carrol’s Vanities, a popular upscale girly show featuring heaping stage-fuls of glamorous showgirls. “Through These Portals Pass the Most Beautiful Girls In The World” was Carroll’s catchphrase. If director Mitchell Leisen’s elaborate musical numbers seem tawdry or garish in comparison to Busby Berkeley’s fantastic work over at Warners, it’s most likely because real Earl Carroll numbers are being recreated, in all of their tacky glory.

And they’re certainly eye opening. The statuesque women range from scantily clothed to peek-a-boo draped to hardly covered to out ‘n’ out nude (but holding their arms very carefully). What isn’t cut-away is see-through. The old adage that a play had to be “cleaned up” for the movies wasn’t a joke, as Broadway fare was much more risqué than most anything seen in the movies.

If one looks close and has a good memory for faces (they have faces?) it is said that one can spot Lucille Ball, Lynn Bari and Ann Sheridan among the film’s numerous skin tableaux.

Victor McLaglen is a leering, pea-brained police detective and Jack Oakie a hotshot stage manager with a yen for “Young and Healthy” platinum blonde Toby Wing, surely the most “available looking” glamour girl of the early 1930s. Kitty Carlisle of I’ve Got a Secret” is young, slim and a good singer; Gertrude Michael is the wicked songstress who belts out the tune Sweet Marijuana in front of the tackiest scenery of all time — stage flats representing cactus, with a topless Carroll babe in each cactus flower.

Carl Brisson, a guy apparently born with an insipid, unchanging grin on his face, is the lead male singer. His big number is the standard Cocktails for Two, the one forever vandalized by the Spike Jones comedy version with all the sound effects.

Duke Ellington’s jazz band interrupts a symphonic version of the Second Hungarian Rhapsody, the classical piece ribbed by Dolores Gray and “Klenzrite” in It’s Always Fair Weather. The scene isn’t as liberating as one might think, even with “Ebony Rhapsody” dancers coming “from Harlem” to pitch in. Paramount seems to have lacked the corps of super-talented music arrangers that Warners and MGM used to such good effect.

What plot there is has two murders occurring backstage; it’s all nonsense yet fairly well handled. Charles Middleton, Jessie Ralph and nervous Dorothy Stickney hang around as likely suspects; it seems that someone thought Stickney deserved a big break but her impassioned final speech isn’t very good. Donald Meek plays the coroner; he looks older in 1934 than he does in his 1940s movies! In a scene that might fit in with a 70’s Italian giallo slasher picture, one of the nude showgirls suddenly feels blood drops falling on her shoulder — a woman has been stabbed to death on the scenery catwalks far above.

1.38GB | 1h 29mn | 720×540 | mkv


Subtitles:English, French, Spanish


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