Movie Review: The Kennel Murder Case (1933)

Today is Mary Astor’s birthday, and we will discuss her memorable role in one of my all-time favorite golden age movies: “The Kennel Murder Case.” Mary Astor plays beautiful Hilda Lake under the thumb of her verbally abusive uncle, Archer Coe. Her impending marriage and considerable fortune are in jeopardy when Coe is murdered in his bedroom, locked from the inside.

“The Kennel Club Murder Case” is a classic murder mystery movie named after an S. S. Van Dine novel of the same name in which Philo Vance (William Powell), an amateur detective, sets out to solve the murder of Archer Coe (Robert Barratt), a wealthy man and fellow competitor in the Long Island Kennel Club’s dog show. While the police believe that Coe committed suicide, Vance finds evidence that points to murder, and he discovers that Coe had many enemies who had a motive to kill him.

As Vance investigates, he uncovers a web of deceit and betrayal among Coe’s family and associates, including his niece Hilda Lake (Mary Astor), her boyfriend Sir Thomas MacDonald (Paul Cavanagh), Coe’s secretary Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan), Coe’s lover Doris Delafield, his cook Liang, his brother Brisbane (Frank Conroy), and his head servant Gamble (Arthur Hohl). Vance suspects Brisbane of the murder and uncovers evidence that he had access to the murder weapon and the means to lock Coe’s bedroom door from the outside.

However, Vance’s investigation takes a dramatic turn when Brisbane is found dead in a closet, and Vance discovers a book on unsolved murders in his possession. Vance realizes that the murder was committed by two people: one who stabbed Coe and left him for dead and another who later shot Brisbane, mistaking him for Coe. The killer then attempted to kill Sir Thomas and injured Delafield’s dog.

Ultimately, Vance arranges a confrontation between Wrede and Sir Thomas over Hilda Lake, leading to the Doberman recognizing Wrede as the killer and attacking him. Wrede confesses to the murder, revealing that he was enraged when Coe refused to support his courtship of Hilda Lake, and he stabbed him in a fit of rage. “The Kennel Club Murder Case” is a classic example of a whodunit mystery that keeps the reader guessing until the end.

Mary Astor’s performance in “The Kennel Murder Case” is widely considered one of the film’s highlights. Astor played the frustrated and angry Hilda Lake, bringing complexity and nuance to the character that helped elevate the movie.

Astor’s performance was praised by critics at the time of the film’s release in 1933, with many noting her ability to convey a wide range of emotions and create a believable and compelling character. Her performance was also noted for its subtlety and restraint, which helped to make her character all the more intriguing.

Mary Astor’s performance in “The Kennel Murder Case” is considered to be one of the strongest of her career and a testament to her skills as an actress. Her work in the film helped to solidify her status as one of Hollywood’s leading ladies and cemented her place in cinema history.

William Powell’s performance as Philo Vance in the 1933 film “The Kennel Murder Case” is considered to be one of the defining portrayals of the character. Powell brought a level of charm, wit, and intelligence to the role that helped make Vance one of the most iconic detective characters of the 1930s.

Powell’s portrayal of Vance was noted for his suave and sophisticated demeanor, as well as his quick wit and impeccable sense of style. He imbued the character with a level of charisma that made him both likeable and captivating, despite his sometimes aloof and intellectual nature.

William Powell’s performance in “The Kennel Murder Case” helped to establish the Philo Vance character as one of the most beloved and enduring detectives in Hollywood history. His work in the film set the standard for future portrayals of the character and helped to solidify Powell’s status as one of the most talented and versatile actors of his time.

Anchored by excellent performances by Mary Astor and William Powell, “The Kennel Murder Case,” directed by Michael Curtiz, is a faithful adaptation of Van Dine’s classic locked room mystery. With clever shots, dissolves, and well-written pacing, “The Kennel Murder Case” will be enjoyable for classic movie lovers.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

You can stream “The Kennel Murder Case” for free on Amazon Prime or get a remastered version released in 2022 from Amazon here.

You can read my review of the S. S. Van Dine novel: The Kennel Murder Case here.


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