“I have a strange premonition that the Canary is headed for disaster.”
Detective Philo Vance (William Powell) investigates the mysterious murder of a blackmailing showgirl known as the Canary (Louise Brooks), who accumulated countless enemies and/or jealous lovers just before her death.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Detectives and Private Eyes
- Louise Brooks Films
- Murder Mystery
- William Powell Films
The Canary Murder Case was the first cinematic translation of an S.S. Van Dine Philo Vance detective novel, but is even more notable today as the film that destroyed Louise Brooks’ career in Hollywood. A so-called “transitional talkie”, it was originally shot as a silent film, then later dubbed; but Brooks, who was in Europe at the time making Diary of a Lost Girl with G.W. Pabst, refused to return to America, and her character was dubbed by Margaret Livingston instead. While it’s jarringly obvious that Brooks herself isn’t speaking, she nonetheless manages to project a memorable hussy within her brief period on-screen, and we miss her striking presence once she’s gone. Indeed, the remainder of the film falls mostly flat, thanks largely to its awkward “silent film” pacing, in which characters speak, then pause briefly before responding; not even William Powell emerges unscathed. The murder mystery is mildly interesting, but far too talky — and it takes so long for Vance to figure out the identity of the murderer (which most audience members will have guessed long before) that impatience finally sets in.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Louise Brooks in a too-small role as “the Canary”
No, unless you’re a die-hard Louise Brooks fan; for a much more engaging and creatively filmed Philo Vance flick, see The Kennel Murder Case (1933). Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.