Murder at the Vanities

Murder at the Vanities is a 1934 American Pre-Code musical film based on the 1933 Broadway show with music by Victor Young. It was released by Paramount Pictures. It was directed by Mitchell Leisen, stars Victor McLaglen, Carl Brisson, Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, Gertrude Michael, Toby Wing, and Jessie Ralph. Duke Ellington and his Orchestra are featured in the elaborate finale number.

Murder at the Vanities
Directed byMitchell Leisen
Produced byE. Lloyd Sheldon (uncredited)
Written byCarey Wilson
Joseph Gollomb
Sam Hellman (dialogue)
Jack Cunningham (uncredited)
Earl Carroll (play)
Rufus King (play)
StarringVictor McLaglen
Carl Brisson
Jack Oakie
Kitty Carlisle
Gertrude Michael
Toby Wing
Jessie Ralph
Duke Ellington
Music byHoward Jackson (uncredited)
William E. Lynch (uncredited)
Milan Roder (uncredited)
CinematographyLeo Tover
Edited byWilliam Shea (uncredited)
Release date
  • May 21, 1934 (1934-05-21)
Running time
89 min
CountryUnited States

The film is primarily a musical, based on Earl Carroll's long-running Broadway revue Earl Carroll's Vanities, combined with a murder mystery. Songs featured in the film by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow include "Cocktails for Two" sung by Brisson, "Sweet Marijuana" sung by Michael, "Where Do They Come From (and Where Do They Go)" sung by Carlisle, and "Ebony Rhapsody" by Ellington. In the film, Lucille Ball, Ann Sheridan, and Virginia Davis had small roles as chorines. It was released on DVD (as part of a six disc set entitled "Pre-Code Hollywood Collection") on April 7, 2009.[1]


Jack Ellery (Oakie) is staging a lavish musical revue, starring Eric Lander (Brisson), Ann Ware (Carlisle), and Rita Ross (Michael), supported by a cast of a hundred background singers/dancers (almost all women, and many scantily clad) and two full orchestras. On opening night, just before the show, somebody tries to kill Ware several times. Ellery calls in police lieutenant Murdock (McLaglen) of the homicide squad to investigate. During the show a private detective and then Rita are murdered. Ellery hides this from the rest of the performers, claiming the victims are just sick, and talks Murdock into investigating while the revue continues on, otherwise Ellery will go broke.

Several twists and turns follow, but finally the murders are solved just after the show ends. In the last scene, Nancy (Wing), a squeaky pretty blonde showgirl, finally gets to tell Ellery and Murdock what she has attempted to tell Ellery several times throughout the show. However, he kept putting her off, she was just trying to gain his attention, and he was too busy staging the show. She actually had a vital piece of information that would have solved the first murder much sooner, and might have prevented the second murder. Now that the show is over and a success, Ellery's attention is finally on her, and they go out for the night to celebrate. She giggles once again and moves off stage left in front of him, and then Oakie breaks the fourth wall just momentarily, looking into the camera with a devilish grin, before he follows her.




The film was a box office disappointment for Paramount.[2]

"this thing is a total mess"[3]

" A backstage Musical/Mystery so strikingly off-beat and off-color one can quickly forget how dreadful it really is."[4]

"And, hell, while, we’re on a roll, what song is playing during the so-close-to-nudity-if-someone-just-had-sneezed moment of the film? A musical number called “Sweet Marijuana.”"[5]

"A half an inch from being Showgirls, Murder at the Vanities came out a few short weeks before the enforcement of the Hays Production went into full force. Filled with lewd dialogue, scantily clad ladies, and, oh hey, murder, here’s a movie that has something for anyone looking to see just how outrageous films could be in 1934.[6]

Pre-Code era scenes


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