Murder at the Vanities - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Murder at the Vanities Reviews

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January 31, 2016
the murder mystery is a flimsy excuse to put on a musical within a musical and show case the singers & dancers paramount had under contract this pic is perhaps best known 'cos it faetures the 'marijuana song" sung infront of a giant prickly cactus!
September 29, 2015
This "pre-Code" backstage musical from Paramount is pretty ordinary. Not unlike in 42nd Street, Footlight Parade, and their ilk, the performers are seen onstage and off, and the plot revolves around maintaining the show despite trouble. This time the trouble is, of course, murder. Victor McLaglen is the homicide detective who spends more time ogling the chorus girls than solving the crime. Jack Oakie is the stage manager who withholds evidence in order to keep the show from being shut-down. Everybody else is a red-herring or them who done it. Unfortunately, the plot is hum-drum and the musical numbers are sub-Busby (though purposefully racy). Not worth your time.
November 8, 2012
2: There's nothing about the story that is terribly controversial for a pre- or post-code film, but the camera angles and costumes are rather revealing. There are times when one isn't sure if the woman in the dance numbers are completely nude due to the skin-colored nature of their practically non-existent costumes. It's a silly murder mystery combined with a behind-the-scenes show business romance.
½ June 25, 2012
OK pre-code would like to see an updated version
jjnxn
Super Reviewer
½ April 7, 2012
Murder mystery with a musical backdrop shows its age but has some interesting numbers in particular Duke Ellington's orchestra's production and the now infamous Marijuana number with discreetly covered but unquestionably topless showgirls. Lost in amongst the hundreds of hopeful showgirls and chorus boys are Lucille Ball, Ann Sheridan and Alan Ladd all still years away from any kind of fame and hard to spot. The acting is okay but this is more of a curio as a good example of some of the things that were common before the code, implied or actual nudity, drug references and occasional swearing that would disappear for almost 3 decades when the Hayes code took full effect within a very short time after this film premiered.
August 13, 2010
good pre-code with the marijuana song!
July 10, 2010
I finally saw this movie after hearing about its pre-Code wickedness, and have to say it was disappointing. Mostly an excuse to parade around "The Most Beautiful Girls in the World" onstage wearing skimpy outfits, during boring and very mediocre songs, it also tells the tale of murders occurring backstage while the "show goes on". There is an unethical producer, an unethical homicide detective, some intrigue about the male lead and his relationship to the wardrobe mistress, a scheming singer, Gail Patrick in a small role as a "private dick, eh?", and Kitty Carlisle, yes, that Kitty Carlisle, in a singing role that is the most wholesome in the movie. There is also a welcome appearance by the Duke Ellington Orchestra that is sadly marred by a fairly offensive act, that was sure to add shock value, I suppose. A short number touting the benefits of "Sweet Marijuana" is probably what gained this movie notoriety, though it is lame and almost funny, with nude ladies popping up out of cactus flowers from behind the singer (pot grows on cacti? Do some research! Ha ha). I think the song is a rip-off of an old blues song about opium or heroin, anyway; every musical number is just for shock value and not for quality. The murder mystery portion of the movie is vaguely interesting, but this film is mostly an excuse to shock and show scantily-clad women. Not really worth the time.
October 11, 2009
The movie was decent, indeed. I only saw it because of its status as a precode movie, but I definitely enjoyed it. The characters were highly memorable, even if the song numbers weren't always. I did love "Cocktails for Two" and "Marihuana," but I could take or leave the rest. Not a bad flick.
April 26, 2009
Muder mystery musical beleve it or not. A damned good one too.
½ April 17, 2009
Wow (mildly stunned). Not so great a mystery, but pretty novel and amusing.
½ October 7, 2004
In the 1910s through 30s (and into the 40s), the Broadway musical was largely made up of big splashy revues named after their respective producers. Flo Ziegfeld had his Follies, George White his Scandals and Earl Carroll his Vanities. [i]Murder at the Vanities[/i] takes place backstage at a production of the latter, allowing for a muder mystery to slowly unfold among a [i]Vanities'[/i] worth of unrelated production numbers. As it happens, the mystery is pretty weak, but some of those numbers are just marvelous. So, let's get the mystery out of the way. Gail Patrick (Carole Lombard's bitch sister in [i]Godfrey[/i]) is killed and if you're honestly interested in that sort of thing, rent Wellman's [i]Lady of Burlesque[/i] (1943). The story is more fun, it's got Barbara Stanwyck and it's available on DVD.

I sought out [i]MatV[/i] because of one song, "Sweet Marihuana." I've read about this number in at least three books on the Pre-Code Era and my curiosity was, to say the least, piqued. (A musical number about marijuana in a movie from 1934?!?!?) Turns out, "Sweet Marihuana" is not the most interesting number in the show. Sure, she sings about the drug while topless girls covering their nipples with the hands pop out of giant marijuana leaves. And sure, at the end of the number a murder victim is discovered when her blood drips down onto the breast of a topless chorus girl... Okay, I guess it was kind of interesting. I guess I was hoping more something along the lines of that giant banana number in [i]The Gang's All Here[/i].

So what did I find more interesting? "Live and Love Tonight" was set on a tropical island shore. Carl Brisson began the number uptage, on an island set. The stage itself was covered with chorus girls, each holding large feathered fans that I assume were blue with white tips. The number was choreographed so that the girls moved the fans to simulate the ocean, complete with waves crashing against the shore. It was an astonishingly conceived number and must have been heaven to witness onstage. Er, soundstage.



But the best was yet to come. The second act of [i]MatV's[/i] Vanities opened with "The Rhapsody and the Rape." The first half of the number was done very Viennese. Brisson was Liszt, composing his "Second Hungarian Rhapsody" to his beloved Kitty Carlisle. They sang to each other while chorus girls dressed as the Viennese nobility looked on. The set changes, and Liszt is now leading his orchestra in his Rhapsody. [indent][i]But wait! What was that crazy jazz sound? [/i]


[/indent]Every time Liszt/Brisson turns his back, black musicians pop out from behind the white orchestra, playing a blue note, a riff or some kind of crazy bebop. Slowly, the black orchestra supplants the white orchestra, black chorus dressed as maids shove the white nobility to the back and Brisson/Liszt is replaced by Duke Ellington. The number has segued into "Ebony Rhapsody," with the white Kitty Carlisle replaced by the white (and not very talented) Gertrude Michael. That's right. A song called "Ebony Rhapsody" featuring Duke Ellington and his orchestra and an all-black chorus still features a white woman in the star spot.


And that, Bettie, is why I love movies from the 1930s.
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