Philo Vance has been around the block a few times. The star of Twelve novels and fifteen films (as well as radio and TV series), his speciality is murder cases. All twelve novels are named “The X Murder Case” and all but two of those was adapted to film at least once. The Kennel Murder case is his sixth outing, but fifth film. It features William Powell as the detective for the fourth and last time. The first four Philo Vance films were among the earliest talkies and were all released over a fourteen-month period. If they’d kept making them at that rate there’d be 298 of them by the beginning of 2016!
The Kennel Murder Case is one of those mysteries where a man makes so many enemies that his murderer is the first over the finish line in a packed race. It all kicks off at the Long Island Kennel Club where Philo Vance is competing with his dog and happens to meet the to-be-murdered man. Being a particularly inquisitive detective, he cancels a trip to Europe as he’s concerned that the papers and police have it all wrong. From here we’re introduced to all manner of shifty suspects and the film gives you every reason to suspect each of them. As usual (or perhaps it wasn’t usual back in the third full year of talking pictures), the obvious conclusion you’re led by the nose to is rarely the correct one.
It’s quite easy to sit back and watch Willaim Powell puzzle through this mystery. It’s diverting and his charm is present and correct. There’s quite a large cast of characters and they all put in decent performances. As usual, Eugene Pallette is great fun. Here he’s Detective Heath, usually on hand to make our favourite detective look like a genius. While interesting, diverting, mildly entertaining and all that, the proceedings are often quite flat. Perhaps there’s a crudity to how the film is assembled? It certainly feels old and creaky. The gulf in production value is especially evident next to other films from the same year such as Trouble in Paradise and One Way Passage. The Kennel Murder Case is one not to be immediately switched off… but not something to be sought out, either.