Cast & Crew
In Los Angeles, swindler Jeffrey Connor assures his girl friend, Geegee Desmond, that they will be eloping on a Europe-bound boat the next day and will both share in the riches of a stolen emerald. As proof of his intentions, Connor, who acquired the smuggled gem with money given to him by a group of eager investors, gives Geegee two boat tickets. As soon as Geegee leaves his luxurious home, however, Connor arranges for a single plane ticket to Bogota that night and then buries the emerald in a jar of skin cream. Private detective Philo Vance and his assistant, Ernie Clark, meanwhile, respond to a call from the district attorney's secretary and are surprised when District Attorney Ellis Mason gives them the brush-off. As they are leaving the office, Philo bumps into aspiring actress Laurian March, an old friend from New York. Laurian tells Philo that Oliver Tennant, a businessman who is bankrolling her showcase production, invested heavily in Connor's scheme and is now worried that he will lose all. Having heard that Connor hired Philo to guard the gem, Laurian asks the detective for help, but Philo denies any involvement. That night, Philo visits Connor, who claims that he is flying to Bogota in order to go straight, but is being threatened by former cohorts who believe he knows too much. After stating that he told his enemies that Philo was his bodyguard, Connor gives the detective a $1,000 check "for his troubles." When Philo confronts Connor about the emerald, Connor pulls a gun. As Connor squeezes the trigger, however, another shot rings out, and the conman falls dead, while Philo is knocked unconscious. Later, the police accuse Philo of Connor's murder and reveal that they found two boat tickets in Connor's pocket. To help clear himself, Philo instructs Ernie to pose as a policeman and bring the person sitting in Connor's plane seat to his apartment. Ernie brings a nervous Geegee to Philo's apartment, and she admits that she switched tickets after witnessing the murder. Before Geegee can reveal who killed Connor, however, she, too, is shot by an assailant hiding in Philo's bedroom. Later that night, Philo catches Oliver snooping around his apartment, looking for the emerald. Pressed to talk, Oliver tells Philo about the other investors--Charles O'Mara, Connor's business partner, racketeer Guy Harkness and his wife Norma, and socialite Tina Cromwell. The next day, after Philo unsuccessfully questions O'Mara, he returns to Connor's house, which is being searched by the police. While conducting his own inspection, Philo notices Connor's skin cream collection and then detects the strong odor of one of the creams on a pencil on Connor's desk. Not wanting to attract the police's attention, Philo insists on wiping the dirty face of Pat Roberts, Connor's butler's little niece, with the cream and finds the emerald. Philo then hides the jewel in Pat's toy gun. Later, when Philo returns to his apartment, he discovers the Harknesses there, searching for the gem. The racketeer threatens Philo, but he convinces the couple to discuss the situation later during a meeting of the syndicate. Laurian, whose show is about to fold, then shows up at Philo's apartment and, after making a pass at him, asks if she can help solve the murder. Philo agrees and, as he is kissing Laurian, another gunshot nearly hits him. Sure that the killer will return to Connor's house to hunt for the gem, Philo camps out there. Outside, Tina, who embezzled her investment money from her ward's estate, sneaks up to the house and is knocked out by someone hiding in the bushes. A few moments later, Philo is shot at in the dark by an assailant with glowing lips. Eluding his police guard, Philo then finds Laurian and Oliver at the theater and tells them that he has the emerald. Philo instructs Oliver to invite all of the syndicate members to a midnight meeting at Connor's and bring a gun. After Oliver and Laurian show up as scheduled, Philo tricks Oliver into revealing that he never called the other members. When Oliver then confesses that he is jealous of Philo and demands the emerald at gunpoint, Laurian shoots him. Noting that it was she who posed as Mason's secretary and shot at him earlier while wearing lipstick he coated with phosphorus, Philo accuses the ambitious Laurian of the murders. Philo also points out that the automatic with which Oliver tried to kill him had its safety catch on, indicating that he was unfamiliar with how the weapon worked. Thus cornered, Laurian tries to shoot Philo with her gun, but discovers that the sly Philo has removed its bullets. After the police burst in and arrest Laurian, Philo finally retrieves the emerald from Pat's toy gun.
J. N. A. Hawkins
W. Donn Hayes
W. C. Smith
Arthur St. Claire
Lawrence Edmund Taylor
As with all of the PRC "Philo Vance" films, author S. S. Van Dine is not listed in the onscreen credits. According to a Hollywood Reporter news item, independent producer James S. Burkett, who controlled the screen rights to Van Dine's stories and was scheduled to make the film series for PRC, relinquished his rights to the studio in March 1946. PRC then assigned the Alexander-Stern company to produce the films, the first of which was to be directed by Lew Landers, written by Lawrence Taylor and photographed by Vincent Farrar. With the exception of Taylor, none of the above-mentioned collaborators worked on the series.
Although Philo Vance's Gamble was the second film in the series to be produced, it actually was released as the first entry in the series. Philo Vance's Gamble marked the first film in which Alan Curtis appeared as "Vance" and Frank Jenks appeared as his assistant. Hollywood Reporter production charts incorrectly list credits for Philo Vance's Secret Mission, the last PRC Vance film, under this film's title.
The "Philo Vance" series, which included fourteen films made between 1929 and 1947, began in 1929 with Paramount's The Canary Murder Case, starring William Powell and directed by Malcolm St. Clair (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.0760). Powell appeared again as Vance in Paramount's 1929 film The Greene Murder Case and its 1930 picture The Benson Murder Case, both directed by Frank Tuttle (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1921-30; F2.2254 and F2.0352). In 1933, Powell played Vance for the last time in The Kennel Murder Case, the first Warner Bros. production in the series, directed by Michael Curtiz (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40; F3.2259). Basil Rathbone, Edmund Lowe and Paul Lukas each played the detective in M-G-M's three Vance entries, and Warren William appeared twice as Vance in the 1930s, once for Warner Bros. and once for Paramount. Grant Richards and James Stephenson also appeared as Vance for Paramount. In addition, Vance, played by Wilfried Hyde-White, was featured in one British film, The Scarab Murder Case, which was produced in 1936. Although the Hollywood Reporter review for Philo Vance Returns, the second film in the series, suggested that PRC was considering continuing the series beyond its 1947 productions, only three Vance pictures were made by the studio. For more information on the "Philo Vance" series, see the entry for The Kennel Murder Case and consult the Series Index.