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Monday, January 23, 2012

MURDER AT THE VANITIES (1934)

The two main competitors to the Ziegfeld Follies both got the Hollywood treatment in 1934: GEORGE WHITE’S SCANDALS out via Fox in March 1934 & Paramount responding with this Earl Carroll’s VANITIES themed pic in May. (Ziegfeld got his posthumous last laugh in M-G-M’s THE GREAT ZIEGFELD/’36.) Carroll’s revues were little more than dressed up burlesque shows, but this clever little film spends most of its running time backstage on opening night, unraveling a murder plot. Mitchell Leisen had only recently been bumped up from art director to helmer, and he shows off with complicated set-ups that keep the cast & crew in constant motion behind the scenes, pausing only for occasional dressing-room interrogations, and choosing off-beat camera placements for the on-going show. Lots of fun from every angle. Jack Oakie steals the pic as a Stage Manager who insists that the show must go on while Victor McLaglen, a cop in a snazzy tux, attempts to solve the case. Kitty Carlisle makes her modest debut in film with Carl Brisson, one of the murder suspects. His Continental charm doesn’t quite work on film, but watch him in the Liszt Rhapsody ‘numbo’ where he goes proto-Liberace with white tux, white piano, white candelabra, curly hair & dimples. Then watch as a young, glamorous Duke Ellington (& Co.) gets that tune to swing. Add in a couple of new songs like ‘Cocktails For Two’ & ‘Marijuana’ and you’ve got some good, silly stuff.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-I: Like McLaglen, Carl Brisson stared out as a professional boxer. Check him out in Hitchcock’s THE RING/’27.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY-II: It’s worth noting that when Ellington & his band get to work, a line of sexy black chorines are allowed to be just as provocative as their white counterparts. In fact, the stage briefly fills up with an semi-integrated line up. A rare event at the time.

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