Jackson’s Pre-Code Essentials #46: MURDER AT THE VANITIES (1934)

Welcome to another Wildcard Wednesday! Today’s post is the latest addition in our series of Pre-Code Essentials. Here’s the updated list.



46. Murder At The Vanities (1934)


A homicide detective with an eye for the ladies investigates a murder during an Earl Carroll’s Vanities show. Starring Carl Brisson, Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle, Dorothy Stickney, Gertrude Michael, Charles B. Middleton, Gail Patrick, and Jessie Ralph. Screenplay by Carey Wilson and Joseph Gollomb. Dialogue by Sam Hellman. Based on the play by Earl Carroll and Rufus King. Directed by Mitchell Leisen. Distributed by Paramount.


“On opening night of The Vanities, a music and dance revue, the European star of the show, Eric Lander, learns from private investigator Sadie Evans that his ex-girl friend Rita Ross has stolen articles from his apartment, as he had suspected. Rita, a performer in the Vanities, is passionately jealous of Ann Ware because she is Eric’s fiancée and the leading lady. Among the stolen items is a picture of Eric’s mother, Elsie Singer, who is working as the wardrobe mistress of the show under the name of Helene Smith, although only Eric, Ann and their friend, Homer Boothby, know Elsie’s true identity. Sadie informs Eric that Rita has communicated with Viennese police to determine the true identity of Elsie, who is wanted for a murder she committed in Vienna many years earlier. Rita now plots revenge on Eric. When several attempts are made on Ann’s life before the show begins, producer Jack Ellery calls the police, and his friend, police chief Bill Murdock, arrives with some reinforcements. After a performance, Sadie is found dead in the flies over the stage, killed by a hatpin through her heart. Jack convinces Murdock to investigate without stopping the show. He is charmed by Rita, who leads him to suspect Elsie of the murder. When a machine gun with blanks is fired by Boothby at the end of the production number ‘The Rape of the Rhapsody’ as part of the show, Rita is shot to death.


“A stagehand finds the murder weapon, which he gives to Jack, but Jack conceals it until Eric is identified as the owner. Still unaware that Rita is dead, Eric goes into her dressing room and is met by Norma Watson, Rita’s beleaguered maid who is infatuated with him. Norma gives him a letter to the Vienna police that Rita asked her to mail, and tells him that although she is aware of Elsie’s true identity, she has no intention of exposing her. As Eric burns the letter, Murdock enters and arrests him for Rita’s murder. Although he is handcuffed, Eric finishes the show, and Norma then prevents Murdock from taking him away. Norma reveals that Eric has always treated her with kindness and prevented several beatings at the hands of her mistress. Weary of Rita’s brutality and hatefulness, Norma killed her in a fit of passion, inspired by the tempestuous music and machine gun fire. Norma also reveals that Rita killed Sadie, who had followed her up into the flies. Norma does not reveal Elsie’s true identity and is arrested by Murdock, after which Eric and Ann promise to get the finest lawyer for her defense. Finally, Nancy, a showgirl who has been trying to get Jack’s attention all night, reveals that she saw Rita steal a hat pin from wardrobe much earlier in the evening. With this final evidence, the case is closed, and Jack takes Nancy on a date.” (This summary is brought to you courtesy of TCM.)






P.S. The best song I’ve heard from the jettisoned stage score is “Sweet Madness,” written by Victor Young and Ned Washington, and performed below by Leo Reisman & His Orchestra with Vivien Ruth on the vocals.



Come back next Wednesday for another Wildcard post! And tune in again on Tuesday for my thoughts on the best episodes from the first two seasons of Seinfeld!