Friday, September 02, 2011


Jockey Raymond Walton acts like he's in a trance before a big race in which he's riding a horse belonging to rich businessman Gene Lockhart; he seems convinced he's going to die, and he does, in an accident on the racetrack. Walton's father blames Lockhart for his son's death and he's not the only one who doesn’t like Lockhart; his mistress, a nurse, is about to sue him for breach of promise, and his niece (Virginia Bruce) is pissed because Lockhart is about to send her boyfriend (Kent Smith) to Paraguay so she can't marry him. Also in Lockhart's inner circle is a retired British soldier whose wife (Frieda Inescort) was having an affair with the jockey. When Lockhart is found dead in his study, apparently a suicide, Philo Vance (Edmund Lowe) works on the case with the police. There's another suicide before Vance figures out that folks are being hypnotized into killing themselves; will Vance be the next victim? I've noted before that Philo Vance seems to be the least "marked" of the big 30s movie detectives. He's a man of independent means, and that's all we know about him. The character was played by a variety of actors, and therefore never strongly identified with any one star. Lowe, a drab, middle-range actor with no discernible personality, is OK in the part, though not as good as William Powell was in THE KENNEL MURDER CASE. But Lowe's part is relatively small compared to most leading detective men, and the supporting cast is strong, especially Bruce, H.B. Warner as the old Brit, Jessie Ralph as Lockhart's seriously nasty bitch of a mother, and Nat Pendleton as a comic relief cop. The hypnosis angle is obvious from the start, but the plot is blessedly coherent and easy to follow, and I was surprised by the identity of the culprit. [TCM]

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