S.S. Van Dine was an American Golden Age detective novelist whose elaborate mysteries featuring amateur sleuth and know-all Philo Vance were hugely successful for a few years. I’ve only read one of them so far, although I’d like to take a look at some of the others. Van Dine is, though, an acquired taste, and Ogden Nash wrote a derisive rhyme about Vance, who needed “a kick in the pance.”
Vance – played by William Powell- is the hero of The Kennel Murder Case, which is easily available on DVD, and I rather enjoyed watching it – a guilty pleasure, perhaps. The story starts, to my mind, unpromisingly, with a dog show (Vance’s dog isn’t successful) but we are introduced to Archer Coe, and soon learn that he is the sort of chap who is crying out to be murdered, given the number of people who have good reason to hate him.
Sure enough, Archer is found dead by his butler the following day – in a locked room! The hopeless police (and medic) at first leap to the conclusion that it is a case of suicide, but Vance – who has abandoned a trip to Europe to help out the authorities – soon demonstrates that this is a murder case. The plot thickens when Brisbane Coe, Archer’s brother, is also found dead.
The plot is satisfactorily convoluted, and although the characterisation is not exactly sophisticated, the story moves at a decent pace. Turning a Golden Age murder mystery into a good film is a real challenge – Hitchcock himself admitted defeat in the end, after a few unsatisfactory attempts. My own favourite remains Green for Danger, but The Kennel Murder Case is decent light entertainment and a pleasing period piece.