Wednesday, March 4, 2015

In short: The Dragon Murder Case (1934)

There’s trouble at the palatial home of (now dead) ichthyologist Stamm. Mony (George Meeker), the fiancée of Stamm’s daughter Bernice (Margaret Lindsay), dives into the place’s curious half-natural pool during a party full of people hating him, and just disappears without a trace. Has his mysterious vanishing something to do with a mythical monster supposedly living in the Dragon Pool, or is it just a particularly clever murderer having a bit of fun?

Fortunately, district attorney Markham (Robert McWade), doesn’t just bring mentally challenged Sgt. Heath (Eugene Pallette) with him to solve the case but also brilliant amateur detective Philo Vance (Warren William) who proceeds to cut his intellectual way through dragon myths, obfuscations and false alibis alike.

The Dragon Murder Case is the sixth film based on the popular yet not exactly well-loved (even by critics fond of its particular mystery sub-genre) Philo Vance series by S.S. Van Dyne concerning the adventures of what just might be one of the least sympathetic detectives around. At least in the novels, that is, for the movie Vance is rather more the clever, sometimes sarcastic, always debonair man of the world kind detective than the incredibly annoying upper-class twat of the books. This goes for Warren William’s first and only appearance in the role as well. As William plays him, Vance even has a somewhat friendly rapport with odious comic relief cop Sgt. Heath, instead of just using him as a verbal punching bag.

If you’re willing to go with the film’s old-fashioned style of improbably done murders among rich people – and if you aren’t, watching a Philo Vance mystery can only lead to tears – H. Bruce Humberstone’s film is a pretty fun time. And I say that as someone who is not a big fan of “golden age” mysteries and their preoccupations. Well, except for the preoccupation with mythology, sometimes occultism, and weirdness, things The Dragon Murder Case uses with a bit of style and certainly with relish, while presenting its really not very complicated plot with verve and clarity.

That’s more than enough for me to recommend a pacy little programmer like this.

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