The premise of S.S. Van Dine's "The Dragon Murder Case" has got to be one of the best in the mystery genre. It takes the usual impossible crime scenario and builds upon it dramatically. It's a great concept and one of the best ideas for a mystery story that I have come across. However, the execution is let down somewhat by the introduction of a second plot device which really doesn't go anywhere. However, let's focus on the positive first. Aside from the premise, the film's greatest asset is Warren William as Philo Vance. William has great charisma and he looks as though he's a ball playing the part. His performance is thus far the most pompous and most true to the original character of the detective. You also never forget that this Philo Vance is firmly integrated in high society. He waltzes around the first part of the film dressed in a tuxedo, smoking an endless number of cigarettes and playing a game of billiards with his friend, D.A. Markham.
In addition to the characterization of Philo Vance, the rest of the movie succeeds in portraying the high society in which the story is set. The opening moments find the characters driving about in luxurious cars and the set of the house in which the story is set is beautiful with a number of strategically placed fish tanks. It's a beautiful sight to behold. Perhaps some of the reasoning behind this great direction and characterization is because the movie was directed by H. Bruce Humberstone. Humberstone, a few years later, directed some of the very best Charlie Chan mystery films at 20th Century Fox and was also behind the wheel of Fox's brilliant film noir, "I Wake up Screaming."
The rest of the cast of the movie is rather ho-hum. While it's good, it is by no means excellent acting, although Eugene Pallette makes a welcome reappearance as Sergeant Heath and he continues to carry on the role brilliantly in the presence of the new cast. Character actor Lyle Talbot is also on hand as one of the murder suspects. Talbot was a distinguished character actor appearing in 320 titles. Aside from a great amount of television work he also appeared as Commissioner Gordon in the 1949 serial, "Batman and Robin" and had the distinction (perhaps misfortune) of being cast in two films for the notorious Ed Wood in the late 1950's opposite Bela Lugosi.
|Warren William (center) alongside Eugene Pallette (left)|
and Robert McWade (right) in "The Dragon Murder Case"
With a great central mystery and some fine acting from Warren William and Eugene Pallette as well as wonderful direction from H. Bruce Humberstone, "The Dragon Murder Case" is one of the best Philo vance films in the series. We're treated to another impossible crime and despite that rubbish concerning a water monster in the pool, it work out well. "The Dragon Murder Case" easily gets a 4 out of 5 stars from this reviewer.
Notes: Again, this film is well preserved on The Philo Vance Murder Case Collection. No extras are provided for this film, however the picture and sound quality are good for the most part. Thus far, I have had no problems with the DVD at all, despite the fact that it is a DVD-R, which may be off-putting to some potential buyers.