It’s opening night of Earl Carroll’s newest show and it’s the hottest ticket in town. Stage manager Jack Ellery (Jack Oakie) wouldn’t even be able to get a ticket for the president if he wanted one. Just before the show is set to start, the show’s stars Eric Lander (Carl Brisson) and Ann Ware (Kitty Carlisle) decide to get married as soon as the show is over. But once they arrive at the theater and word gets out about their impending nuptials, Ann is nearly killed twice before going on stage. But the show must go on and Ellery refuses to cancel the show. Instead he calls his friend police lieutenant Bill Murdock (Victor McLaglen) to investigate while the show is still going on.
Murder at the Vanities is kind of like if you took the ending of 42nd Street and combined it with a murder mystery storyline. On the whole, Murder at the Vanities doesn’t quite work as either a mystery or a musical. Paramount was clearly trying to hop on the backstage musical bandwagon set in motion by Busby Berkeley, but the musical numbers aren’t executed as well as Berkeley’s. But I’ve got to give them points for putting a totally unusual spin on the backstage musical concept. The mystery element of the story isn’t particularly compelling, either. But despite all that, Murder at the Vanities is still a darn fun movie. For its sheer outrageousness, it’s a pre-code classic. Not only does it have women in skimpy costumes as far as the eye can see, it’s also got a musical number called “Sweet Marijuana.” And as an added bonus, Duke Ellington makes an appearance! If nothing else, it’s worth watching just because it’s a pretty unusual movie. You just don’t come across very many murder mystery/musical movies.