Plot: A man has been discovered dead, with an arrow pierced into his chest on an open lawn. In order to crack the case, master detective Philo Vance (Basil Rathbone) is brought in and right off the bat, he reveals some fresh information. He takes one look at the corpse and realizes things are not what they seem, as someone shot in the chest would grasp at the wound, even in the throes of death. But while he is able to glean some valuable clues from the scene, he soon has even more to deal with, as the killer strikes again and again. Vance scours each crime location and grills the long list of possible suspects, but even his advanced skills of deduction are put to the test. Can Vance solve this head scratching murder mystery before all but one of the suspects wind up as victims?
Entertainment Value: In the decades since Philo Vance was created, detectives have been given all kinds of unique skills, from psychic powers to conversing with the dead, but this is a straight forward, old school murder mystery. Vance is just a smart person with some great instincts and skills of deduction, so he just looks for clues and solves the cases. This is a formula that still holds up, but this installment in the Vance series is quite dated and to be honest, slow. I don’t mind a deliberate pace or slow burn at all, but this movie moves at a snail’s crawl and tends to repeat itself often. Each new discovery begins a cycle of suspects and alibis, which is fine, but it happens so often and there’s not much new in these sequences. I do like that the movie is packed with false leads and red herrings, however. I also had fun with the dynamic between Vance and the lead officer, as that was more or less Vance correcting all these wrong guesses, which I found kind of humorous. The cast is also a mixed bag, but we have Basil Rathbone as our anchor, so that is always welcome. In the end, The Bishop Murder Case is a passable watch, but the pace can be brutal at times.
If you need a detective in your movie, it is hard to find a better choice than Basil Rathbone and in The Bishop Murder Case, we’re given a glimpse as his sleuth skills even before he took the mantle of Sherlock Holmes. His performance here is a good one and his skills are made all the more evident due to some of his costars, who take a much different approach. While Rathbone has a natural presence, some of the others are more theatrical, as if they’re in a silent movie or on stage, performing for the people in the last row. The result is humorous at times, but it undermines some of the suspense, while Rathbone is more subtle and effective. I like that his character is even jokingly called Sherlock Holmes at times, an interesting, unintended in-joke that would prove to be quite appropriate. Leila Hyams also has a good performance here, while George F. Marion is over the top as the strange Mr. Drukker. The cast also includes Roland Young, Zelda Sears, and Alec B. Francis.