Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review - "The Casino Murder Case" (1935)

1935's "The Casino Murder Case" was the first Philo Vance film to be produced at M-G-M instead of Warner Bros and this is evident. The production values of this film are excellent and really lend weight to the mysterious goings-on in high society. However, we're once more faced with a new Philo Vance and a mew mystery. How does this film hold up in those regards?

"The Casino Murder Case" begins with Philo Vance (Paul Lukas) learning that some violent episode might occur at a famed casino that evening. Arriving, Vance witnesses a young man collapse dead, having been poisoned. He was the heir to a vast fortune and there is ample motive for his murder. However at about the same time across town, his wife is also poisoned. Luckily Vance is on hand to solve this most unusual case.

Reviewing the Philo Vance movies is actually quite difficult. I have a great deal of material to try to cram into a review - I have to discuss actor's performances, the plot and any technical mumbo-jumbo which I deem noteworthy. However, I have enjoyed all of the movies on this DVD collection, so I do highly recommend all of them. Now then, onto the review proper. As a mystery, "The Casino Murder Case" succeeds brilliantly. It's got a large number of suspects as well as plenty of potential motive and another interesting scenario involving two connected deaths happening nearly simultaneously across town. It's a great premise and as Vance delves deeper into the mystery, we realize only too late that we've been fooled and that we fell for a big red herring. In those respects as a story, the movie is great. The execution is less than perfect however.

Clocking in 82 minutes, "The Casino Murder Case" is the longest of the Philo Vance movies. Remember, back in the day movies hardly ever exceeded an hour. However a great deal of time could have been trimmed away from this story. There is some obvious padding and the film can make on drift once and a while. If the story had been streamlined and less attention devoted to less important actions, this could have easily been the best of the Philo Vance series since it features great performances, a good scenario and great production values.

Headlining the film is Paul Lukas as Philo Vance. Lukas is easily the screen's most charismatic Vance. He does not betray the pompousness which Warren William and William Powell revealed in their performances. This interpretation is of a man about town who lives in a beautiful penthouse apartment who fences with his butler to stay in shape. While this may not be the Philo Vance of the novels, he makes for a very entertaining character in the movie and he's the society sleuth one might expect in a film of this kind. Perhaps I am somewhat biased here though - I am personally a fan of Paul Lukas, who I always thought had a great amount of charisma on screen.

Paul Lukas and Rosalind Russell
The cast also composes of some familiar faces to fans of the silver screen. Rosalind  Russell plays the film's heroine and she and Lukas have great chemistry. Arthur Byron also turns up in the film. Byron is perhaps most recognizable as Boris Karloff's victim in Universal's 1933, "The Mummy." Further down on the cast list is Ted Healy as Sergeant Heath and it's during his performance that I really begin to miss Eugene Pallette. Even further down on the cast of characters is Leo G. Carroll as a butler. Carroll is a famed actor of the '30's, '40's and '50's appearing in six Alfred Hitchcock films. Carroll also turned up in a Charlie Chan mystery, "Father of the Bride" with Spencer Tracy and the uproarious comedy "We're No Angels" opposite Humphrey Bogart and...Basil Rathbone.

Overall, "The Casino Murder Case" is not bad. Paul Lukas is great as a charismatic and suave Philo Vance. While the central mystery is good, the execution of the mystery does leave something to be desired as it feels as though the movie has a great deal of padding. While it's a good movie, "The Casino Murder Case" is far from the best of the Philo Vance series and therefore it receives a 3 out of 5 stars.

Notes: I don't have much to say here. Again, the picture and sound quality is good - not perfect but I have seen much, much worse. This movie also features the original theatrical trailer with some interesting scenes shot especially for the theatrical preview.

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