The zany plot follows nitwit Gracie Allen trying to help master sleuth Philo Vance solve a murder. Allen's uncle fixes her up with Bill at a company picnic. When the two go out to a ...
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The zany plot follows nitwit Gracie Allen trying to help master sleuth Philo Vance solve a murder. Allen's uncle fixes her up with Bill at a company picnic. When the two go out to a nightclub that night, Gracie inadvertently links Bill to the murder of a thug after finding the dead body and Bill's cigarette case at the scene of the crime. While being questioned at the club, she meets Vance who's investigating the homicide. After Gracie's bungled attempts to solve the case, Vance decides it might be easier to have her working with him. Despite Gracie's "help," the two eventually find the real killer.Written by
Daniel Bubbeo <email@example.com>
THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE (Paramount, 1939), directed by Alfred E. Green, the tenth installment to the then popular "Philo Vance" murder mysteries that initially began with William Powell's portrayal in THE CANARY MURDER CASE (1929), returns Warren William to the role for the second and final time, with this being something completely different, placing S.S. Van Dine's fictional character solving his latest caper opposite none-other than Gracie Allen. After many years as part of the Burns and Allen comedy team opposite husband, George Burns, from vaudeville, radio, motion pictures and later television, Gracie Allen finally gets her chance to work opposite another straight man. By 1939, the motion picture field saw the temporary or permanent splitting of popular screen partnerships, ranging from Oliver Hardy of Laurel and Hardy fame, partnered opposite Harry Langdon in ZENOBIA, to the popular song and dance team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers ending their 10 film union-ship with THE STORY OF VERNON AND IRENE CASTLE. While George Burns didn't go solo until a decade after Gracie's death by the 1970s, this is Gracie minus George, acting as sidekick to Philo Vance, whom she addresses as "Fido." For a change of pace in the series where Philo Vance is actually a secondary character, appearing 28 minutes into the story and not around for the fadeout, leaving much of the 77 minutes over to Gracie Allen. The story begins in the city limits of Riverwood where employees of the Vogue Perfume Company are gathered together for their annual picnic. Bill Brown (Kent Taylor), the company's perfume mixer, loses the companionship of his girlfriend, Ann Wilson (Ellen Drew) to fellow employee, Fred (Richard Denning), leaving him to spend much of his time alone. Enter Gracie Allen, having just returned from her trip in Europe, arriving at the picnic, where her Uncle Ambrose (Jed Prouty) introduces her to his staff and to Bill. Bill accepts Gracie's company and later that night escorts her to the Diamond Slipper Cafe. As the plot develops, Benny the Buzzard (Lee Moore), who has escaped prison, arranges a meeting with Diamond Slipper manager Danny Mirche (Jerome Cowan). It is revealed through Dixie Del Mar (Judith Barrett), Benny's girlfriend and night club singer working for Mirche, that she knows that Benny took the rap for Danny, and believes there's trouble ahead. Later, Benny is found dead in Mirche's office, with the body discovered by Gracie, who also finds Bill's cigarette case on the floor in the office, believing that he done it. Sergeant Heath (William Demarest) and Attorney Markham (Donald MacBride) arrive at the scene after receiving a mysterious phone call, and through Gracie's testament, they place Bill under arrest with Gracie as material witness. With Dixie found dead through poisoning, Detective Philo Vance (Warren William) is called to investigate, accompanied by Gracie Allen. Philo Vance will never be the same again.
Unlike film series featuring such notable detectives as Sherlock Holmes, Charlie Chan or Bulldog Drummond, Philo Vance has faded to obscurity regardless of its long range of films lasting through the 1940s. Although Gracie Allen, in her final film for Paramount, never assisted the likes of Holmes, Chan or any other fictional film sleuths for that matter, this edition, ranks one of the more notable and acceptable entries. While the actors play it straight, the comedy rests upon Gracie in her typical manner and funny, and not so funny verbal exchanges (Demarest: "The chief wants to see you. Gracie: "I just love Indians"). Aside from acting daffy, Gracie also takes time to sing the Frank Loesser song, "Snug as a Bug in a Rug" during the picnic ceremony.
With H.B. Warner as Richard Lawrence, and Horace MacMahon as Gus the Waiter, in support, the cast also includes the comedy team of Al Shaw and Sammy Lee as "Two Thugs" taking part in the confusion of shaking hands with Gracie, getting all tangled up in the process. Other highlights include a well staged race against time through the Broadway district of Manhattan as Gracie rides behind the motorcycle cop going through traffic bound for the night club to prevent Philo Vance from smoking a poisoned cigarette accidentally placed in the case by his servant (Willie Fung).
Unavailable on the television markets since the 1970s, THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE finally made it to home video in 2006 through Video Attic and DVD in 2008 through Nostalgia Family. THE GRACIE ALLEN MURDER CASE is definitely of nostalgic interest to those who enjoy the antics of Gracie Allen and a curio for anyone who has never seen the likes of her or Philo Vance. (**1/2)
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