To begin with, Amazon in its infinite wisdom, had thrown almost all the versions or prints of this particular movie into one bag. This is a pity as the quality of the various versions different greatly. This review is taken from the Alpha Video Distributors, Inc., 1996. It is VHS format. Now I am not one of those that are overly picky about the quality of many of the old movies, but I will say that for a VHS version of an old black and white, the video and the sound of this particular print was pretty good. On a scale of 1-10 I would probably give it an 8. (I would have watched a DVD version but this was the only one the library had and I am too cheap to buy my own). That being said....
William Huntington Wright, writing under the pen name of S.S. VanDine wrote twelve novels from 1926 to 1939 featuring a sort of later day Sherlock Holmes in the form of Philo Vance. These novels were extremely popular during their time but alas have fallen out of favor with the reading public and are seldom seen or read these days. Much of the problem here is that current readers have a bit of difficulty identifying (or even liking for that matter) the hero, Philo Vance.
From this group of twelve books, there were a total of fifteen movies made featuring the main character. Of these fifteen movies, William Powell played the led in four of them. He fit the part perfectly but was able to "mellow" the character down and make him more palatable and acceptable to the general public. Take a look at the description of Philo in the author's own words:
"Vance was what many would call a dilettante, but the designation does him an injustice. He was a man of unusual culture and brilliance. An aristocrat by birth and instinct, he held himself severely aloof from the common world of men. In his manner there was an indefinable contempt for inferiority of all kinds.
He was unusually good-looking, although his mouth was ascetic and cruel...there was a slightly derisive hauteur in the lift of his eyebrows...His forehead was full and sloping--it was the artist's, rather than the scholar's, brow. His cold grey eyes were widely spaced. His nose was straight and slender, and his chin narrow but prominent, with an unusually deep cleft...Vance was slightly under six feet, graceful, and giving the impression of sinewy strength and nervous endurance."
Powell was able to pull this character off and make him rather likable...a bit more like "one of us."
The move being reviewed here, The Kennel Murder Case, has sort of drifted into the status of being a classic; a classic detective story with all of the trappings. The main characters of the story are of all upper crust and obviously quite well off and privileged. It must be noted there that this work was performed and the film was made in 1933 during one of this countries most difficult times and people wanted their movies to allow them to escape the rather difficult lives they faced on a daily bases. They wanted desperately to see how the other half lived; it gave them hope.
The story starts at a high end dog show where soon after one of the dogs is murdered! (Actually, the dog was the only one of the murdered I felt even slightly sorry for). This quickly changes to the murders of a rather wretched, evil and highly unlikable gentleman and then another. There are more than enough viable suspects to choose from and our brilliant hero Philo must untangle a very twisted web of deceit, jealously, greed, love and competiveness. He does this in a brilliant Homes lie tradition, observation, logic and a phenomenal analytic mind. Was it actually murder, or as the not so bright police detective feels, merely another suicide? This folks is a good mystery!
Like so many of these movies made during this era, the audience was well prepared and primed for the characters they encounter so that character development was not all that necessary and the film maker could concentrated on the story. This work is running over with all of the stereotype characters we were all so familiar with; the clueless D.A., the rich spoiled heiress, the incredibly stupid police detective, obnoxious reporters and groveling servants....right down to a very suspicious butler!
The cast includes a very young and actually quite good Mary Astor along with Eugene Pallette, Ralph Morgan, Jack LaRue, Helen Vinson, Paul Cavanagh and Robert Barrat. Each play their part quite well.
In addition, many of the men in the move carried walking sticks and all wore fedoras. I like that.
This film last for 75 minutes and is a great popcorn burner that once gotten into, will keep you glued to the screen as clues come flying at you hot and heavy.