Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
In this movie we have probably the finest of the fourteen Philo Vance whodunits with 1933s The Kennel Murder Case, debonair William Powell as Vance for the last time before he starred in The Thin Man movies starting the following year. His portrayal of Vance is more professional and subdued than his Thin Man character, but hes charming in both roles. The briskly-paced, 73-minute black-and-white was directed superbly by an innovative Michael Curtiz, which made watching it a pleasure and never boring. You may have heard of his gorgeous movie Casablanca? Also in 1933 he directed The Mystery of the Wax Museum that I really enjoyed and a few others later on.
The action begins in the snooty Long Island Kennel Club as dogs are being judged. Vance is there with his black terrier Captain (he loses) and so is the hateful person who would be discovered the next morning by the butler peeking through the keyhole, for the man was sitting in his locked bedroom, with a gun in his hand and a bullet hole, not bloody, in his head. Vance hears of the apparent suicide and decides to follow his hunch that it was murder.
This case is not an easy one. About seven people wanted this guy dead and a couple make no bones about it (women actually), but fingerprints seem to be their only clue until Vance and Detective Sergeant Heath, played by frog-voiced Eugene Pallette, discover another body, a wounded Doberman Pincher in the library, a broken vase, other weapons and wounds on the first victim and a book called Unsolved Murders being read by the second victim. An ingenious solution to the locked room comes from that book and Vance explains how the murders must have happened, but theyre stumped on who killed the second man. Fortunately Vance has an idea.
What a fun movie! Its not very politically correct either because the harried coroner, a little guy, grumbles about having to miss his breakfast and lunch, that he was called out after midnight and the guys not even dead and all sorts of delightful things. The doctor, played by Etienne Girardot, and Heath provide great comic relief against the drama of a killer on the loose.
Mary Astor, later the femme fatale in The Maltese Falcon, has a smaller, milder role in The Kennel Murder Case, but shes still a most appealing suspect that two men are in love with. You will have to watch the movie to find out if shes in love with the good guy!
A novel by S.S. Van Dine was adapted by Robert Presnell, Sr. for the big screen and Im sure it had to be received well by critics and moviegoers in the Depression. The many-layered story is an absorbing and entertaining one as are the various characters. Not all the suspects are socialites, nor are the suspects of foreign origin more suspicious than the others. You will be just as stumped as Vance and I were. You will also enjoy the unusual ending, but the best part is the detective work before that in my opinion.
Philo Vance: What do you think of the suicide theory now, Sergeant?
Detective Sgt. Heath: Well, it's slightly complicated since the man was shot, slugged and stabbed himself - particularly in the back.
I heartily recommend The Kennel Murder Case. Its a classy whodunit from a time when there was no evil mastermind behind it all, but a group of real, dog-loving human beings you can care for even while suspecting them of murder. Enjoy!
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