This is a fine film that features William Powell shortly before his Thin Man days. He plays the character, Philo Vance, who is a debonair detective and bon vivant. Sound familiar? Powell made five “Philo” movies before moving to MGM and being paired with Myrna Loy, and this was his last. (Philo Vance is a character in 12 crime novels by S.S. Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright) and was featured in 15 movies.)
So along with the witty Powell, there is a great cast of suspects: Ralph Morgan (older brother of the more famous “pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain” Frank), Mary Astor, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Hohl, Helen Vinson, and Jack LaRue. There’s a murder, maybe, or two, and everyone has a motive. Eugene Pallette, the always recognizable rotund, gravel-voiced actor, plays a dim-witted detective whose amusing banter with Powell is always at Pallette’s expense. The coroner is humorously played by Etienne Giradot who after Powell, gets the best lines.
The seemingly unsolvable crime is slowly unraveled by Powell (“It’s a maze of conflicting clues”), and you might get it beforehand or you may not. How does a man in a room locked from the inside get murdered, or was it suicide? The director creatively uses split screens and imaginative flashbacks, and if you don’t know his name, you certainly know the movies Michael Curtiz directed: Casablanca, Mildred Pierce, Yankee Doodle Dandy, and many more. This is a well-crafted story with a clever plot. And you need to pay attention; it’s an early sound-film, and the movie unfolds through the dialogue. If you’re a mystery fan, a William Powell fan, or just a fan of well-written films, you’ll want to watch this entertaining movie.
“It’s slightly complicated since the man was shot, slugged, and stabbed himself, particularly in the back.”