The Kennel Murder Case
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Michael Curtiz continued his rise to the top at Warner Bros. with this 1933 adaptation of S.S. Van Dine's popular mystery, the first Warner's film to feature noted society sleuth Philo Vance. In fact, he rather enjoyed taking on the sophisticated whodunnit. With Warner's rapid production schedule, he was already churning out several films a year, most of them forgettable. In 1933 alone, Curtiz would have six directing credits and direct two other films credited to others. Of these, only The Kennel Murder Case and the classic horror story Mystery of the Wax Museum were standouts.
As with his other films at Warner's, Curtiz kept things moving in The Kennel Murder Case. He used dissolves and wipes to race from scene to scene, while within scenes he used a mobile camera to cover up the genre's inevitable talkiness. He also was proving expert at getting actors to do their best. Powell gave his best performance of the year as Vance, with strong support from leading lady Mary Astor and sidekick Eugene Pallette. Thanks to Curtiz, the picture turned a surprising profit of almost $400,000, which helped him win better assignments at the studio. Two years later, Warner's would trust him with their first swashbuckler, Captain Blood, one of the studio's most lavish films of the thirties.
For Powell, The Kennel Murder Case seemed something of a setback. He had already played Vance in three early talkies at Paramount, starting with The Canary Murder Case in 1929. Two years later, he left Paramount for Warners, with the promise of better material, script approval and more money. But during his time there, he only appeared in one other film of distinction, the tragic romance One Way Passage (1932), with frequent co-star Kay Francis. Disappointed with his prospects at Warners, he would jump ship for MGM in 1934. That very year MGM would transform him into one of Hollywood's top stars as yet another sophisticated sleuth, Nick Charles in The Thin Man, with Myrna Loy as his partner in marriage and mystery.
Powell's move to MGM hardly marked the end for Philo Vance, who would resurface at Warners, Paramount and even MGM. Warren Williams took over the role at Warners in The Dragon Murder Case (1934), then moved to Paramount in 1939 for The Gracie Allen Murder Case, a story Van Dine wrote for the popular comedienne. MGM had other plans for Powell, so they cast Paul Lukas in The Casino Murder Case (1935) and Edmund Lowe in The Garden Murder Case (1936). Warners would remake The Kennel Murder Case as Calling Philo Vance in 1940, this time with James Stephenson as the sleuth.
Producer: Robert Presnell
Director: Michael Curtiz
Screenplay: Robert N. Lee, Peter Milne, Robert Presnell
Based on The Return of Philo Vance by S.S. Van Dine
Cinematography: William Reese
Art Direction: Jack Okey
Music: Bernhard Kaun (uncredited)
Costume Design: Orry-Kelly
Cast: William Powell (Philo Vance), Mary Astor (Hilda Lake), Eugene Pallette (Sgt. Heath), Ralph Morgan (Raymond Wrede), Jack LaRue (Eduardo Grassi), Helen Vinson (Doris Delafield), Robert McWade (District Attorney John F.X. Markham).
by Frank Miller