Monday, July 4, 2016

Old-timey movie review: The Benson Murder Case

The more William Powell/Philo Vance movies I see, the more I appreciate  Michael Curtiz's The Kennel Murder Case. The rest are fairly amateur productions.

Once again William Powell is the detective, but he is not allowed to use any of the charm we'd see in the Thin Man. It's another unlikely whodunnit with another unlikely solution.  The first act is people arguing with the ultimate murder victim to the point of threatening him with murder. He of course is murdered and Philo Vance figures it out.

The film gets points for the murder taking place in a lodge on a dark and stormy night. This never gets old.

The characters and scenes are pretty standard. It's the cinematography that baffles me though. In some of the office scenes the camera is so far back we can barely make out the characters, yet we can see how high the walls are on the set.

In other shots of the same office, the camera is overhead. What?! Once again, baffling! Maybe for an establishing, outdoor shot, but indoors! In an room with people? Just goofy.

Compare this camerawork, to the daring, dizzying cinematography in Kennel Murder Case. Curtiz knew what he was doing.

Conversely, there isn't a single close-up in the entire film. All these great 30s character actors and we don't get to see any of them up close. I'm sure the close up had been invented then. Especially William Powell's expressive, handsome mug.

Check it out on YouTube, or if it ever turns up on TCM, but keep in mind, it's just a warm-up for Nick Charles.

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