I’m probably the wrong guy to review this film, since my antipathy for talky 30s mysteries that consist of the hero wandering around a house, Solving Things, seems well established by now.
I also have little interest in Philo Vance. As the wikipedia entry will tell you, he was a “detective” from the 1920s, but not in the hard-bitten two-fisted style. The name says it all: philovance sounds like an advertising term for the soft quality of milady’s hands, if she uses Luxu soap, or the special quality of a radio's tone. Vance was an intellectual, a bit of a fop, a dilettante, arrogant, and so on. The character had a run of radio shows as well, and not a single one interests me.
This fellow, however, is perfect for the role.
Powell wouldn’t be a leading man these days; he has style and elan, but audience wouldn't accept him as the handsomest guy in the room. He’d be a nervous insurance agent.
The love interest:
One of the great mysteries of “The Maltese Falcon” was why I should think Mary Astor was some great seductive beauty. She's lovely here, though, even though she's dressed entirely in something that looks like Bogie's wet hats and a coat that uses the skin of the Giant Madagascar Bat:
Comic relief comes in two forms: the detective:
That’s Eugene Pallette. He made several billion movies. Says imdb:
There’s comic relief from the coroner, who’s always complaining he’s late for his meal. I think this will have to stand as our Trek Connection this week: (video)
The movie was directed by Michael Curtiz, who would later direct “Casablanca.” He movies things along well enough. Don’t know if he’s responsible for this shot, but it’s unusual, and compared to many of the movies of the time, it’s practically Michael Bay for speed and quick cuts. It's also a huge set; where did they get that background? (video)
The end is the best part - Vance describes how the murder was committed, but instead of simply telling us, the entire complicated affair is shown to us, acted by the malefactors. It’s so complex the entire scene takes five minutes to reenact, and the more complicated and coincidental it gets, the more you realize that no one will ever be tried and convicted. A jury would never believe it.