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The Kennel Murder Case

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The Kennel Murder Case (1933) starring William Powell, Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette, directed by Michael Curtiz
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The Kennel Murder Case (1933) starring William Powell, Mary Astor, Eugene Pallette, directed by Michael Curtiz

In The Kennel Murder Case, Philo Vance, accompanied by his prize-losing Scottish terrier, investigates a locked-room murder. The murder of a prominent and much-hated collector whose broken Chinese vase provides an important clue.


Discovering the dead man in The Kennel Club Murder
Discovering the dead man in The Kennel Club Murder

The Kennel Murder Case is a very enjoyable locked door murder mystery. William Powell does a wonderful job as Philo Vance. He’s never been stumped … before. And, he spoke to the dead man the day before his death. The soon-to-be deceased was very excited about his dog’s upcoming victory in a dog show. So, Philo’s convinced that the man didn’t commit suicide. Although, initially, it seems that he must have. He died in a room, bolted shut from the inside, after all.

Not the Thin Man

There are some outward similarities to William Powell’s portrayal of detective Nick Charles in the Thin Man series. But, they’re fairly thin, no pun intended. In both, he plays a confident, somewhat snarky, playboy detective. Both have their dogs involved in the case. But that’s where the resemblance ends. For one thing, Philo Vance is perpetually sober. For another, this series of murders is taken somewhat more somberly. Series of murders? Yes.

Points of interest

  • The solution to the locked door mystery is brilliant, and visually demonstrated by Philo Vance.
  • Philo’s dog, a Scottish Terrier, is cute … but not really essential to the solution of the case. Another dog is, however.
  • Eugene Pallette does a wonderful performance as the police sergeant. He’s not exactly bumbling, but he’s prone to get an idea and stick to it, no matter what. For example, after the coroner declares that the dead man was actually killed by being stabbed in the back, the detective asks him: is there any way it could still be a suicide?
  • The coroner, does excellent comedy relief, while being very good at his job. The comedy comes from the running gag of interrupting him during his breakfast … lunch … and dinner to examine yet another corpse!
  • The final recreation of what actually happened in the murder is riveting. The soon-to-be dead man was bleeding to death … internally. He didn’t even realize that he was dying. Which led to the criminal actions of several other people.

Suspects – there’s a lot of suspects

  • The dead man’s niece Hilda Lake (Mary Astor) resented her uncle’s tight control of her finances, as well as his jealousy of any men who showed interest in her.
  • Her boyfriend, Sir Thomas MacDonald (Paul Cavanagh), suspected Coe of killing his dog. Eliminating the competition in the kennel show.
  • Raymond Wrede (Ralph Morgan), the dead man’s secretary, was in love with Miss Lake. But Coe laughed at him, and belittled him for daring to love his niece.
  • Doris Delafield (Helen Vinson) was Coe’s next-door neighbor and lover. She’d been cheating on him with …
  • Eduardo Grassi (Jack La Rue), who worked for an art museum in Milan. When Coe found out about the cheating, he cancelled a contract to sell his collection of Chinese artworks to them.
  • Liang (James Lee) was Coe’s cook. He also worked long, hard, and illegally to help Coe garner his collection. He warned his employer against the proposed sale. So, Coe fired him.
  • Brisbane Coe (Frank Conroy) hated his own brother.
  • Gamble (Arthur Hohl), the head servant, had a criminal past. Which he’d kept secret from Coe.

Editorial review of The Kennel Murder Case courtesy of

Archer Coe has been found dead in his locked bedroom. The cops consider it suicide, but Philo believes otherwise. When the Coroner shows up, he finds that Archer had been hit with a blunt object, stabbed and shot – making suicide unlikely. When the evidence points to his brother, Brisbane is found stabbed to death in the closet. Archer had a number of enemies, any one of which would have been glad to knock him off, but which one did and how did the murder occur in a room looked from the inside. Only one man, the keen, fascinating, debonair detective Philo Vance, would be able to figure out who is the killer.

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