Friday, June 21, 2013

Pre-code: Murder at the Vanities (1934) with Gertrude Michael.

Murder at the Vanities (1934). A wild/musical/murder mystery directed by Mitchell Leisen. Cast: 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. Songs featured in the film by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow include: "Cocktails for Two" sung by Brisson, "Marahuana" 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. It was released on DVD (as part of a six disc set entitled "Pre-Code Hollywood Collection").

On opening night of "The Vanities," the star of the show, Eric, learns from private investigator Sadie, that his ex-girl friend Rita has stolen items from his apartment. Rita, who is a performer in the show, is jealous of Ann because she is engaged to Eric and to top it all off the leading lady of "The Vanities".

Among the stolen items is a picture of Eric's mother, Elsie, who is working in wardrobe under the name of Helene Smith. Only Eric, Ann and Homer, know who Elsie really is. Eric finds out that Rita has questioned the police to find out Elsie's true identity. It turns out that Elsie, is wanted for a murder that she committed many years before.

After several attempts are made on Ann's life, producer Jack calls in police chief Murdock for help. After a performance, Sadie is killed by a hatpin through her heart and her body found up in the rafters. Jack convinces Murdock to investigate without stopping the show. Rita, points a finger towards Elsie as the murderer. When a machine gun with blanks is fired at the end of the musical number "The Rape of the Rhapsody", Rita is shot to death by hatpin looking gun. A stagehand finds the murder weapon, which he gives to Jack, who keeps it hidden from the police.

Not knowing that Rita is dead, Eric goes into her dressing room and is met by Norma, Rita's maid. Norma gives him a letter to the police that Rita asked her to mail and.... tells him that she knows Elsie's true identity. As Eric burns the letter, Murdock arrests him for Rita's murder. Norma, comes forward admitting that Eric has always been kind to her and also informs the police to who the true murderer is....

Lots of twists turns during the many art- deco musical numbers. Some of the dance numbers are really pretty such as, "Cocktails for Two and "Where Do They Come From?" There's a weird number featuring Duke Ellington! Some great acting by Gertrude Michael, Kitty Carlisle and Dorothy Stickney. If you look closely you can spot Ann Sheridan and Lucille Ball among the show girls.(don't blink)

Gertrude Michael (June 1, 1911 – December 31, 1964). She began her movie debut playing Richard Arlen's fiancee in Wayward (1932), but her best-remembered role was Rita Ross in Murder at the Vanities (1934), one of the last pre-Code films, in which she sang the song "Sweet Marijuana".(you can find the song on you-tube).

Among her television appearances, Michael was seen eleven times on Fireside Theater between 1950-1955 and three times on Schlitz Playhouse.

She also made a guest appearance on Perry Mason in 1958 as Helen Rucker in "The Case of the Sun Bather's Diary."

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