Wednesday, May 20, 2009


The latest edition of Earl Carroll's Vanities, a Ziegfeld Follies-type Broadway revue, is about to open. Stage manager Jack Oakie has his hands full getting all the acts on and off the stage in a timely fashion. His leading man (Carl Brisson) and lady (Kitty Carlisle) have just announced their engagement, triggering jealousy in chorus girl Gertrude Michael, who until recently had been sleeping with Brisson, who has hired a private eye to recover some things she had stolen from him, including evidence that Brisson's dresser (Jesse Ralph) is actually his mother, who is wanted for killing a man in Vienna many years ago. When it seems like someone is out to cause a nasty accident for Carlisle, the police are called in, but it's the private eye who winds up dead up in the rafters, dripping blood onto a naked showgirl at the end of a number. Oakie talks the cops into letting the show go on while they investigate. After another death and several racy musical numbers, the villain is uncovered.

This is notorious among pre-Code movies; released just months before the Production Code went into effect, it has naked women (strategically covering themselves with their hands), near-naked women (in skimpy outfits), a character who gets away with murder, and a song about the pleasures of "Sweet Marijuana." The songs are done like Busby Berkeley production numbers, but more realistically, actually fitting on a theater stage, and they're all fun. There's a number that features dancing girls using feather fans to portray ocean waves which occasionally disgorge a woman onto an island shore. Weirdest of all is "Rape of a Rhapsody" in which Liszt plays his Hungarian Rhapsody, then is forced to yield the stage to Duke Ellington and his band who play something called "Ebony Rhapsody"; the bit climaxes with a man coming on stage and gunning everyone down! Oakie, who says "Judas H. Priest!" every five minutes, is fine as the center of the whirlwind (the movie moves at a very fast clip, taking place almost in real time). Victor McLaglan is unmemorable as the cop who keeps one eye peeled to appreciate the underdressed chorus girls all around him. Gail Patrick and Donald Meek are among the supporting players. Good fun all around. Available on the Universal Pre-Code Hollywood boxed set. [DVD]

No comments: