Plot: A death threat has been made against Lynn (Donald Cook), one of the members of an affluent family that is involved in the casino business. He is warned that if he goes to his uncle’s casino, he will be killed and while most dismiss the threat, Philo Vance (Paul Lukas) takes an interest in the situation. As it turns out, the threat was indeed legitimate and Lynn is poisoned, but he is able to survive, thanks in part to Vance being at the casino to investigate. While the events at the casino unfold, back at the family’s estate, Lynn’s wife is also poisoned and she isn’t as fortunate, dying as a result. Lynn and Vance return to the family home and the detective begins to unravel the clues, while also engaging in a romance of sorts with Doris (Rosalind Russell). As always, Vance has to cope with red herrings, false leads, and unexpected turns, but can even he figure out this complex murder mystery?
Entertainment Value: The Philo Vance series might always involve a murder mystery of some kind, but the films have a wide scope of tones and approaches, which keeps things fresh despite the numerous installments. The Casino Murder Case mixes in romance and even screwball style comedic touches, which seem to take precedence, even once the murder has happened. I didn’t love Paul Lukas as Vance, but it is tough to live up to such naturals as Basil Rathbone, William Powell, and Warren William, though he still feels a little miscast here. Aside from that, I had a good time with this one and while not given the spotlight often, the mystery at hand is always interesting and has some nice twists, with a proper finale to boot. The humor is the real draw here however, elevated by Rosalind Russell, who really shines in The Casino Murder Case. I appreciated how well the humor and mystery elements worked together, so the tone is consistent and makes sense, even in the sillier moments. The pace is brisk and the movie is never dull, so the entertainment is more than solid here. So for fans of Philo Vance, old school murder mysteries, or screwball comedies, this one is worth a look.
I did miss some of the previous Philo Vance performers, as a murderer’s row of suave gentlemen had taken up the mantle by this point. Paul Lukas is a capable actor of course, but feels like an odd choice for this role. I don’t mind a change of pace in this respect and Lukas is passable, I think it is just hard to not him to the standard of the previous Vance players, which is a high watermark. But Rosalind Russell exceeds all expectations here and turns in a dynamic, electric performance. I have to think even those who don’t normally appreciate murder mysteries will seek this one out, just to take in her terrific effort. The screwball comedy with light romance elements is right in her wheelhouse and she more than delivers here. She would later perfect this type of role, but she is great in this one and carries the movie at times. I also missed Eugene Pallette as Heath, as he brought a lot to the Vance films he was involved with. The cast here also includes Alison Skipworth, Donald Cook, and Leo G. Carroll.
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