“And Mr. Vance, here’s to the power of suggestion.”
Margaret O’Dell (Louise Brooks) is a beautiful, blackmailing showgirl who is tired of the limelight and is now looking for the highlife. Known professionally as The Canary, she plans on leaving that all behind and marrying the rich and socially connected Jimmy Spotswoode (James Hall), whether he wants to or not. Jimmy’s father Charles Spotswoode (Charles Lane) is against the idea. Jimmy is too. He had dumped Alice LaFosse (Jean Arthur) for the conniving canary but has since come to his senses and is now back with Alice.
The Canary threatens Jimmy that she will expose him as an embezzler of his father’s company if he refuses her. Charles attempts to bribe her to leave Jimmy alone but she wants more than just money. She wants the prestige she believes she will gain. Wanting to make one more big score before tying the knot The Canary calls two other men that she has been blackmailing. John Cleaver (Lawrence Grant) and Louis Mannix (Louis John Bartels). She demands one more big check from them and she wants it tomorrow night. Eavesdropping on her phone conversations is her ex-husband Tony Skeel (Ned Sparks). He wants half of what she is expecting and has no problem with slapping her around to get it. He plans on being there the next evening when the payoffs come in.
In the meantime she is being stalked by Dr. Ambrose Lindquist (Gustav von Seyffertitz) who proclaims that if he can’t have her, no one can.
The next night Charles pays her one last visit. After getting another refusal from her he leaves. In the lobby he and the night manager hear her scream. They knock on her door but she assures them that she if fine. The next day she is found strangled.
Time of death is placed at about midnight. District Attorney John F.X. Markham (E. H. Calvert) and Police Sergeant Ernest Heath (Eugene Pallette) call in Private Detective, and friend of the Spotswoode family, Philo Vance (William Powell). Vance believes that he can determine who the murderer is by observing the suspects. The best way to observe people is in a friendly game of poker.
“The Canary Murder Case” was released in 1929 and was directed by Malcolm St. Clair and Frank Tuttle. This is a pre-code mystery by Paramount Pictures based on a story by S.S. Van Dine’s private detective character Philo Vance. It is the first of three Philo Vance mysteries done by Paramount with William Powell as Vance.
The film was initially done as a silent picture but was reworked to add in sound. The lead actress, Louise Brooks, left for a career in Europe and refused to return to Hollywood to record lines for the film. Paramount had to hire Margaret Livingston to dub Brooks’ lines and to re-shoot some scenes with Livingston shown in either profile or from the back.
During all this, Paramount had threatened Brooks that she would never work in Hollywood again. Brooks purportedly responded “Who wants to work in Hollywood?” Well eventually she returned to Hollywood but could not get good roles. She was no longer a star, but her feud with the studio made her a legend.
The movie was interesting to a point but due to talkies being still experimental there is a limit to how much action could be achieved. The film quality is also not the best but that too is unavoidable. The issue with female star not being present added a strange out of body feel to the film.
Although not necessarily a great movie, it is important for its historic value. It is certainly worth a look.