Okay, I promise no more octopuses for a while, unless there’s popular demand. A gill-man might be in the future, though.

Instead, inspired by Bacchus’s post of a fetching smiling showgirl a few months back, I’ve decided to go rummaging around deep in the history of movies to see what might be interesting. Unsurprisingly, there was some pretty racy stuff in the early era of talkies, it turns out, before the pokenoses got the upper hand in 1934 and imposed the Production Code, sometimes known as the “Hays Code,” after its author Will H. Hays, who had previously achieved distinction as a national luminary as the chairman of the Republican Party and campaign manager for Warren G. Harding.

This post’s subject is Murder at the Vanities (1934). The core plot isn’t anything special: murder, blackmail, horny cops, lovebirds threatened by a dark secret, etc. All a pretty normal day at the office if you work in New York. But what makes this movie especially entertaining is that the plot plays out backstage during a Broadway musical, which gives the moviemakers all the excuse they need to put on a long series of musical production numbers.

Musical production numbers filled with scantily-clad showgirls, of course, as the tableau vivant in the opening number “Where do They Come From (and Where Do They Go)?” makes clear (click image for larger version):

murder at the vanities

The “girls in boxes” image in the background makes me wonder whether this movie doesn’t deserve a shout-out in the ASFR community. [Bacchus: ASFR…wuzzat?]

The musical contains an “island fantasy” scene as well, complete with a chorus of scantily-clad nereids.

scantily clad nereids

And watching this scene, I kept thinking of an audience, in some local movie palace in Bridgeport or Kalamazoo or Duluth, really getting its money worth for a few hours away from the Depression and the small-town grind. More specifically, I thought of an imagined fifteen year-old boy in the audience, desperately hoping that it’s dark enough because, well, you know why.

Enjoy this while it lasts, kid. It’s 1934. Mr. Hays and his Code are coming down. Probably you’re not going to see anything this sexy on a movie screen for another thirty years.

But the number that really struck me was a “Mexican fantasy” scene, with a song called “Sweet Marihuana.”

marihuana song from murder at the vanities

Another tableau vivant, this one with topless, albeit chastely-posed, chorines representing cactus flowers, I guess. Might we have a closer look? Well, of course.

cactus girl chorine

The lyrics to the song:

Soothe me with your caress,
Sweet marihuana, marihuana.
Help me, in my distress
Sweet marihuana, please do.

You alone can bring my lover back to me.
Even though I know it’s all a fantasy.
And then, put me to sleep.
Sweet marihuana, marihauna.

As the late, great Anna Russell would say, “I’m not making this up, you know.”

Bonus attraction: Duke Ellington himself, and his orchestra. They get a number in which they run the white boys right off the stage.

the duke

I bet Mr. Hays really didn’t like that either.

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