He’s one of the most enduring characters of detective fiction. Movies audiences of the 1930s ate him up. But like most detective heroes of that era he wasn’t portrayed by just one actor.
Tomorrow, on that cable network we all love, they’ll be airing a series of various mystery movies from that vintage period. If you can’t watch them, record them and see them at your leisure.
It all begins with The Bishop Murder Case which stars Basil Rathbone as Vance. But this is a very early talkie (1930) and quite stilted. Hard to watch. The next entry, The Kennel Murder Case, which stars William Powell as Vance and co-stars Mary Astor, is perhaps the best of all the films in the series.
Warren William (above), who also portrayed Perry Mason in many films of the period, tries his hand as Vance in The Dragon Murder Case. Then, it’s Paul Lukas as Philo Vance in The Casino Murder Case. Talk about miscasting! His hungarian accent is very off putting.
They cast Edmond Lowe as Vance in the Garden Murder Case. Then gave James Stephenson a crack at the role in Calling Philo Vance. That one’s set in wartime, but if the plot seems familiar you’ll soon realize it’s a reworking of The Kennel Murder Case.
Still, they’re all great fun and it’s a chance to see how the movies supplied the public with the kind of detective fare which network TV now offers.
Philo Vance is, of course, a fictional character created by S. S. Van Dine, the pen name of Willard Huntington Wright. Not only were the novels (there were twelve) popular, but the films and a radio series made Philo Vance famous throughout the 20’s, 30s and 40s. He was a cultured smoothie and provided actors with choice roles. And, as we’ve noted, audiences lapped him up.
We expect you might too.