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Film / Murder at the Vanities

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Murder at the Vanities is a 1934 musical film directed by Mitchell Leisen.

It is set at a production of "Earl Carroll's Vanities", Earl Carroll being a real guy and his "Vanities" being a real and very popular musical revue show. This edition of the "Vanities" stars European singer Eric Lander and his American girlfriend Ann Ware (Kitty Carlisle in her film debut). Eric and Ann show up for that night's performance and gleefully tell everyone that they're going to get married right after the show ends.

Eric's old girlfriend Rita Ross, another star in the show, does not like this at all. It turns out that Rita, who is Evil with a capital E, has hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on Eric. The PI (a woman, which is still unusual but was even more unusual in 1934) discovered that Eric's maid Helene is actually his mother, and Helene is wanted for murder for killing a man back in Austria 30 years ago. Rita demands that Eric break up with Ann and threatens to turn his mother in if he doesn't.

Soon after, somebody gets murdered. A while after that, somebody else gets murdered. Meanwhile, the whole movie is filled with half-naked to mostly-naked Chorus Girls in the most Stripperific costumes ever seen outside of an actual strip club—in fact, this movie has just about every Fanservice trope known to humanity in 1934. There's also a song about how great marijuana is. (Really!)

Jack Oakie, best known for playing Napaloni in The Great Dictator, plays Jack Ellerby, the increasingly frantic manager of the show. Gail Patrick plays Sadie, the lady PI. Ann Sheridan and Lucille Ball both appear as background chorus girls, and Alan Ladd also appears as a dancer. More importantly, Duke Ellington himself appears, along with his orchestra, playing in the "Ebony Rhapsody" number.


  • Aside Glance: As he's walking off with Nancy the gorgeous chorus girl at the end of the film, Ellerby briefly looks straight at the camera and grins.
  • Asshole Victim: Not only did Rita Ross abuse her maid Norma (see The Dog Bites Back below), but she also stole from Lander's apartment, was going to expose secrets about Lander, and was trying to sabotage his relationship with Ann. Once the truth comes out, no one is too upset about her death.
  • Chorus Girls: The film is filled with chorus girls, wearing Stripperific costumes, or wearing lingerie, or, most unbelievably, topless with Hand-or-Object Underwear. In fact, they are billed first in the credits collectively as "The Most Beautiful Girls In The World" (this was an actual tag line from the actual Earl Carroll show). Ann's first song in the show is a whole number about the chorus girls called "Where Do They Come From (and Where Do They Go)?".
  • Creator Cameo: Mitchell Leisen can be seen as an orchestra leader.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Happens twice with Murdock, the big dumb ox of a detective played by Victor McLaglen. Ellerby calls the cops because it seems that someone has twice tried to kill Ann before the show even started, but Murdock can't be bothered, instead trotting off after the chorus girls. ("Them babies look like they got clues or something.") Later, after two murders, Murdock goes to grill Lander, but is distracted by the shapely bottom of a chorus girl in a leotard and has to remind himself to go to Lander's dressing room.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Eric is about to be arrested for the two murders when Norma, who adores him, confesses. Norma, Rita's personal maid, eventually had her fill of the unending verbal and physical abuse that Rita subjected her to. She got a gun and shot Rita on the stage at the end of the "Ebony Rhapsody" number.
  • The Dying Walk: Everybody falls to the ground when the "Ebony Rhapsody" number ends with the composer shooting everybody. After the curtain closes everyone gets up except for Rita. She is helped to her feet, walks a few tottering steps over to Murdock the detective, then collapses into his arms. She was shot for real, and she's dead.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Rita's first line has her screaming at Norma, "Well, how long does it take you to get a bottle of champagne?", her face contorted in rage. She's established as a horrible bitch.
  • Ethnic Menial Labor: Eric has an Asian manservant, while Ann has a black maid. They're the only people of color in the movie except for Duke Ellington and his orchestra.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: Just a few hours over the course of an evening as a musical show is occasionally interrupted with murder. It might even be Real Time once the show starts, but it's hard to tell.
  • Genre Mashup: A raucous Stripperific musical stage show is mashed up, rather awkwardly, with a murder mystery.
  • Hand of Death: A hand is seen wielding a knife, cutting a rope holding a sandbag, which falls and narrowly misses Ann's head.
  • Hand-or-Object Underwear: Of all the T&A in this movie, the most shocking moment has to be during the "Sweet Marijuana" number, when the chorus girls are topless and holding their breasts with their hands. Even more surprisingly, it's one of the topless chorus girls who is spattered by the Rain of Blood and screams, which leads to the discovery of Sadie's body.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: One of the songs Lander sings in the show has a lyric about being carefree and gay.
  • Lingerie Scene: Naturally, all the scenes inside dressing rooms have all the women in lingerie.
  • The Musical Musical: It's a film adaptation of an actual musical show, although all the movie's musical numbers were original.
  • Ode to Intoxication: This film, made in 1934, has Rita sing a number called "Sweet Marijuana" about how great marijuana is.
    Soothe me with your caress
    Sweet marijuana, sweet marijuana
    Help me in my distress
    Sweet marijuana, please do
  • Rain of Blood: The first murder is discovered when a topless chorus girl, holding her breasts in her hands, is spattered by blood dripping from up above. It's from Sadie, who was stabbed in the heart and is lying dead on a catwalk.
  • Running Gag: There's a running gag throughout the film in which Nancy, a curvaceous chorus girl with a squeaky voice, keeps trying to tell Ellerby something, only for Ellerby to blow her off. Finally, after the murder's been solved, she gets to tell Ellerby what she wanted to say—that she saw Rita stealing the hat pin, knowledge which could have solved the mystery a lot earlier.
  • Seashell Bra: This movie has all the fanservice in the world, including a chorus girl wearing nothing but a seashell bra and a seashell bikini bottom.
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: While the chorus girls are dressed in a succession of Stripperific outfits, the big stars in the show, Ann and Rita, instead are in sexy backless dresses.
  • Stripperific: Chorus girls in Seashell Bras, chorus girls in pasties, chorus girls in skintight leotards, Lingerie Scenes, topless chorus girls holding their breasts...this film is wall-to-wall fanservice.note 
  • Tempting Fate: As they waltz into the theater after agreeing to get married, Ann says "This is the happiest night of my life, Eric, and nothing, nothing can spoil it." Turns out that some murders can spoil it.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: Where Norma the maid keeps Rita's letter to the Vienna police, rather than mailing it.