Murder at the Vanities (1934)

Genres - Comedy, Musical, Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy Thriller, Whodunit  |   Run Time - 95 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

One of the more notorious of the pre-Code films, Murder at the Vanities is not a great film by any means, but it's a great deal of fun. Combining the musical and murder mystery genres was an interesting idea, and it works fairly well, despite a screenplay that, a few great wisecracks aside, is fairly lame. The story is delightfully lurid, but not especially well written, with red herrings thrown in willy-nilly yet still not able to make the unmasking of the killer a surprise. Vanities also has some terribly wooden acting from Kitty Carlisle and Carl Brisson (although both are in good voice for their musical numbers) and a disappointingly dull performance from Victor McLaglen. Jack Oakie is fun, Toby Wing livens things occasionally, and Dorothy Stickney has some good moments, but the real fun in Murder is in the musical numbers. "Cocktails for Two" is the score's "standard," but there's more fun to be had from the feather-filled "Live and Love Tonight" and even more fun from the film's two highlights, "Marihuana" and "Ebony Rhapsody." The former is a surreal reefer number featuring gigantic cacti (the flowers of which contain nude women) and a delirious, desire-laden Gertrude Michael performance; the latter is a bizarre desecration of the "Hungarian Rhapsody," with a swinging Duke Ellington performance, that ends with an actor portraying Franz Liszt gunning down the cast. These numbers alone, so strange and so utterly fantastic, make the film worth catching.