Movie Critique – The Kennel Murder Case

Stars: 5 / 5

Recommendation: A plot requiring intelligence, wit to separate wheat from chaff, and charm to make the suspects talk - fits Philo Vance perfectly. 

The Kennel Murder Case is a 1933 American pre-Code mystery film based on the 1933 novel of the same name by S. S. Van Dine. It stars William Powell as Philo Vance, the debonair amateur sleuth, and Mary Astor as Hilda Lake in the lead roles. 

The plot resembles a locked room mystery where a man is found dead inside a locked room having been shot, struck with a blunt object and shot. The victim had many enemies including the butler, making it a cliché. Philo Vance not satisfied with the police deduction makes his own investigation into the crime. 

This is the first adaptation of S. S. Van Dine's Philo Vance novels by Warner Brothers. However, earlier movies were made by Paramount and later by Warner Brothers, Paramount and MGM. This film also marked the last appearance of William Powell as Philo Vance. This is considered as one of the greatest screen adaptations of a golden age mystery novel, and also the best of the Philo Vance movies. 

Philo Vance was first introduced in the 1925 book, The Benson Murder Case, by S. S. Van Dine, a pseudonym used by American art critic Willard Huntington Wright. A total of 12 books were written with this fictional character solving cases in the 1920s and the 30s. Most of the novels have been adapted to the big screen and small screen as well. 

What always charms me with these old pre-code mystery films or earlier film noirs is that the characters are introduced in the opening credits with their name and the character name against their picture. It sets a stage about the characters to the viewer even the actual film begins. 

I have seen William Powell's Thin Man series a few years ago; and he made an excellent impression of a drunk aristocrat solving cases with his wife becoming the famed pair Nick & Nora Charles. Those movies started to release a year after this film. I can see how good an actor Mr. Powell was when I compare both the roles - a sleek debonair as Philo Vance or a drunk aristocrat as Nick Charles, he lives the part. 

Although Powell doesn’t have a heroine for himself in this film, his dog forms a sort of partner, and even aids in the case. I love the suits, the walking sticks and hats all the men wore; or the dresses the women wore in the movie. Certainly takes you back to an era when clothing yourself was an art in itself. 

As simple as it seems, this locker room mystery gets as complicated as it can get with all kinds of clues leading into so many paths; and practically everyone becomes a suspect; making it more difficult for the cops to find the true killer and a motive. Philo Vance has his work cut out for him. He does entertain the viewers along the way while he solves the case.

A plot requiring intelligence, wit to separate wheat from chaff, and charm to make the suspects talk - fits Philo Vance perfectly. I most likely will be checking more this amateur detective's movies from yester years.

Spoiler Alerts:

1) Plot Reveals:

a. Frank Conroy who portrays the role of Brisbane Coe, reads a book titled Unsolved Murders. No author on the book cover. Wonder if it was a real book. 

2) Sub-Plots:

a. The film was remade in 1940 by Warner Brothers as Calling Philo Vance with James Stephenson playing Vance.

3) Grammatical / Historical / Location / Character Errors:

a. About twelve minutes into the film, you can see the boom mic reflected in a mirror in Miss Delafield's apartment (Check the top of the mirror).

b. When first Vance and the detectives try to enter the room, they break down the door. However 15 minutes later on the same night, when Vance enters the room again, the door is intact. How could they have fixed it that fast?

c. When Philo Vance opens the closet door, a dead Brisbane Coe falls out and his hat rolls away from his head. But on the close-up shot of the dead body immediately after, the hat is back on Brisbane's head. Then on the next shot which is of Brisbane and the servant, the hat is once again off his head.

d. The stock photo that was used for the film by the TCM network never appears in the film. There are definitely scenes between William Powell and Helen Vinson (portrays the role of Doris Delafield, the murder victim's love interest), but none in that angle of the stock photo. Perhaps that was a publicity photo as opposed to a scene from the film. 


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