Philo Vance Murder Case Collection [3 Discs] [DVD]

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The Dragon Murder Case
Warren William delivers a curiously subdued performance as dilettante sleuth Philo Vance in The Dragon Murder Case. The plot centers around a mysterious "dragon pool" on the Stamm estate, which figures prominently in the deaths of several unsympathetic society types. As usual, Inspector Markham (Robert McWade) and Sergeant Heath (Eugene Pallette) are all for snapping the cuffs on the most obvious suspect, but Philo Vance knows full well that appearances are deceiving. The all-suspect cast includes Margaret Lindsay, Lyle Talbot, Helen Lowell, Dorothy Tree, Robert Barrat and George Meeker, many of whom thoughtfully remove themselves from suspicion by getting killed themselves. Not a particularly mysterious mystery, The Dragon Murder Case works better on a melodramatic level, with some genuinely spooky camerawork courtesy of the ever-reliable Tony Gaudio. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Kennel Murder Case
Often (and accurately) described as a model of the whodunit genre, The Kennel Murder Case stars William Powell, making his fourth screen appearance as S. S. Van Dine's dilettante detective Philo Vance. This time the story involves intrigue at the Long Island kennel club. The murder victim is Robert H. Barrat, who works overtime making himself a much-hated target in the first ten minutes. With the aid of a Doberman, Vance solves not only Barrat's murder but a follow-up killing designed to deflect attention from the killer. The suspects include Mary Astor, Ralph Morgan, Jack LaRue, Helen Vinson, Paul Cavanaugh and Arthur Hohl, all of whom have "done it" from time to time in other murder mysteries (movie buffs, however, will have little trouble spotting the killer; the person in question has probably been the hidden murderer in more films than any other member of the Screen Actor's Guild). Kennel Murder Case was William Powell's last "Philo Vance" film; it would be remade in 1940 as Calling Philo Vance, with James Stephenson as Vance and a new World War II angle added to the plot. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Casino Murder Case
S. S. Van Dine's intelligent, insufferable amateur sleuth Philo Vance is the protagonist of The Casino Murder Case. Paul Lukas plays Vance, who is brought to the mansion of a wealthy, eccentric widow (Alison Skipworth) by a mysterious unsigned letter. Several murders are committed in the elderly woman's home, with the evidence pointing to various red herrings before the truth is revealed. Rosalind Russell plays the old lady's secretary (and Vance's object of affections); Eric Blore is Vance's droll valet; and Ted Healy is the obnoxious Sgt. Heath, ever willing to slap the cuffs on the wrong person. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Bishop Murder Case
Nine years before stepping into the role of Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone essayed the character of S.S. Van Dyne's dilettante detective Philo Vance in The Bishop Murder Case. The murderer this time is a mysterious figure known only as "The Bishop." Plotting his killings in the systematic manner of a chess game, The Bishop tips off each of his crimes by sending the police cryptic messages in the form of nursery rhymes (his first victim, felled by an arrow, is referred to as "Cock Robin"). Heroine Belle Dillard (Leila Hyams) fears that The Bishop may be her own sweetheart, Sigurd Arnesson (Roland Young) -- indeed, that's what the police think as well -- but Philo Vance carefully puts the clues together to finger the actual culprit. With surprising foresightedness, several of the characters remark upon Vance's deductive skills by referring to him as "Sherlock." Well-directed, and with an imaginative use of "natural" sound in the exterior scenes, The Bishop Murder Case is ultimately laid low by its molasses-slow pacing, though things become moderately exciting when the heroine is kidnapped in the last reel. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

Calling Philo Vance
Calling Philo Vance is a perfunctory remake of 1933's The Kennel Murder Case, which many aficionados consider the best of the "Vance" films. James Stephenson plays the titular gentleman sleuth, who must solve the murder of the inventor of a revolutionary new bombsight (the original film concerned a championship dog race). The principal suspect is the victim's brother, who is taken out of the running when he, too, is bumped off. The actual killer is in the employ of an unnamed foreign government-and, in the tradition of Kennel Murder Case, is also the least suspicious and most cooperative of the suspects. With Calling Philo Vance, mystery novelist S. S. Van Dine's dilettante detective bade farewell to the screen for seven years, returning in 1947 through the facilities of low-budget PRC Pictures. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

The Garden Murder Case
Edmund Lowe made his only screen appearance as S. S. Van Dine's dilettante sleuth Philo Vance in The Garden Murder Case. The story wastes no time getting started, with Floyd Garden (Douglas Walton) being killed in the first reel from a fall in a steeplechase. It looks like an accident -- but then, so do the subsequent deaths of Lowe Hammle (Gene Lockhart) and Mrs. Fenwick-Ralston (Frieda Inescourt). The police are baffled, but Philo Vance (Lowe) deduces that the victims were done in by a very clever -- and very deadly -- hypnotist. The revelation of the killer's identity won't be surprising to longtime mystery buffs, but it proved quite a shock to audiences in 1936. The tense final scene, in which the murder attempts to mesmerize Vance into committing suicide, was effective enough to be "borrowed" for the 1946 Sherlock Holmes film The Woman in Green. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi

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