Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

Stylish whodunit with the incomparable William Powell as Philo Vance. A perfect example of the highly entertaining and expertly-made programmers that the studio system could produce when it was firing on all cylinders.

Vance is called in to investigate the murder of wealthy Long Island dog breeder Archer Coe, found dead in a locked room with a gunshot in his head and a pistol in his hand. Everyone assumes it was a suicide, but Vance suspects otherwise and sets about investigating the various suspects, all of whom have their own motives for killing Archer Coe.

This standard mystery plot (from a story by S.S. Van Dine) rises well above the average programmer thanks to the expert direction of Michael Curtiz, who keeps things moving at a good pace and tells the story with interesting stylistic flourishes, especially in some of the scene transitions, aided by strong cinematography by William Rees. Powell is so naturally stylish and charming that he commands attention every time he's on-screen, making his performance here (and in other films) seem like an extension of his own personality. Excellent cast all around, including Mary Astor, Robert Barrat, Eugene Pallette, Paul Cavanagh, Etienne Girardot and other reliable character actors who all play their parts to perfection.

There's a great moment when Vance whips together a model of Coe's house to demonstrate how the murder took place, and produces a highly-detailed, intricately-designed scale model that appears to have taken weeks to create. Apparently the detective had the prop department of Warner Bros. at his disposal!

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