Vintage Movies: “The Kennel Murder Case”

MAGNET contributing writer Jud Cost is sharing some of the wealth of classic films he’s been lucky enough to see over the past 40 years. Trolling the backwaters of cinema, he has worked up a list of more than 500 titles—from the silent era through the ’90s—that you may have missed. A new selection, all currently available on DVD, appears every week.


The Kennel Murder Case (1933, 73 minutes)

The Kennel Murder Case is the fourth and final entry in a series of films starring William Powell that brought the popular Philo Vance crime novels of S.S. Van Dine to life. The first, 1929’s The Canary Murder Case, co-starring the enigmatic, helmet-haired Louise Brooks, was initially shot as a silent. When the studio decided to re-cut the movie to cash in on the “talkie” craze, Brooks refused to return from Europe to dub her dialog. When informed she would never work in Hollywood again if she didn’t play ball, she replied, “Who wants to work in Hollywood?”

Upper-crust with excellent powers of deduction, Powell would later co-star with Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora Charles in the even more popular Thin Man series. Powell’s mastery of patrician behavior was perfect for Vance, whose character is not far removed from Conan-Doyle’s archetype of the private detective, Sherlock Holmes.

The Long Island Kennel Club is buzzing with serious canine competition among New York’s high society, and no one is more eager to win than the cantankerous Archer Coe (Robert Barrat). “Great Scots in ring number two, please. Have your dogs ready,” announces the public address system. Vance’s Scot’s Terrier, Captain, finishes out of the money, prompting Coe to offer two-sided consolation. “Tough luck, Vance. I was looking forward to beating you tomorrow.” Vance soothes his dog, saying, “Don’t be too down-hearted, Captain. You’re still a champion with me.”

In a serious dig at her despised uncle, Coe’s niece, Hilda Lake (Mary Astor), brings his terrier into a grooming station to compare him with the dog of her fiancée, Sir Thomas MacDonald (Paul Cavanagh). “Well, what do you think?” she asks. “I think it’s a pretty close thing when these two get into the ring tomorrow,” he chuckles.

Just then, Coe storms into the room, demanding an explanation for removing his dog from its cage: “What the devil do you think you’re doing, Hilda!?” She replies, “I wanted to prove you’re going to lose tomorrow. I want you to loan me $2,000 to place on Ghillie, Tom’s dog.” Coe sniffs, “That’s cheek for you. She wants to bet against me with my own money.” Hilda bristles, “I wasn’t asking for your money. I merely wanted you to loan me some of my money.” Coe brushes off her request and leaves. “You know how much I hate him, Tom,” she says. “The things he’s done to me.”

Later that night, with the kennel grounds drenched by a summer storm, a frantic MacDonald notices Ghillie is missing from his cage. Two kennel attendants burst into the room, saying, “Sir Thomas, we’ve found Ghillie. He’s out back in the alley.” Hilda gasps, fearing the worst. As they bend over the mangled pup, a red-eyed MacDonald swears, “I’ll kill the man who did this!”