Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
While there have been many film adaptations of the Philo Vance novels, no actor played the role better than William Powell. Playing suave and sophisticated characters came naturally to Powell, so the role of the detective Vance (and later the more humorous detective Nick Charles) was a perfect fit for the star. Of the four films that Powell played the Vance character, the one that was widely considered the best of the bunch was the 1933 mystery movie, The Kennel Murder Case.
The film opens in the classic murder mystery style, making a quick appearance with Vance (played by Powell, of course) at a dog show competition before shifting the focus onto fellow competitor Archer Coe (played by Robert Barrat). Coe, an unlikeable fellow who isn’t afraid to anger others, goes around carelessly making a multitude of enemies in a matter of minutes, making it clear to the audience that he is going to be the eventual murder victim and we are just racking up suspects at this point. The mystery begins the next morning, however, when Coe is found dead in his locked bedroom of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot.
Before long, Vance has arrived at the scene and is pointing out clues to both the police and the coroner that this is no simple suicide, but is indeed murder. Suspects start coming out of the woodwork, until only one appears to perfectly fit the crime at hand. But what happens when that chief suspect winds up dead as well?
There is plenty to like here, even if the film itself is standard detective fare, with a case that is surprisingly convoluted even by movie standards. There is a five minute explanation by Vance near the end of the film where he goes step by step how both murders take place, down to the smallest detail, and at that point even he doesn’t know who the killer is, so don’t worry if you can’t figure out who the real bad guy is. Sometimes, that just isn’t the point of the film.
Here, the performance of Powell as Vance is much more important than the case itself. He plays the role smart and sophisticated, with an air of confidence that is clearly lacking in the police force that is working with him. It is almost as much fun watching Powell play the serious detective as when he plays the ambivalent, almost carefree Nick Charles in the Thin Man series of films. While in those features he gets the man while cracking wise and drinking as much as the human body can safely consume, here he plays it straight and actually acts the part of a true detective, making everyone else look inferior in comparison. In either case, Powell is at the top of his game.
Overall, this is a fantastic detective film with a great performance by its leading performer. Special kudos should also be given to director Michael Curtiz, who keeps the pace moving well while using some great camera angles throughout the film (particularly during Vance’s recap of the crime). I’d definitely recommend this film to fans of the detective genre or of classic cinema in general. 3.5 out of 4 stars
This review is part of my 2012 Favorite Movie Stars Movie Write-Off, as it stars one of my favorite movie stars, William Powell.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 9 - 12