“Sure it’s funny. And so is a chicken crossing the road. But nobody’s ever solved that yet”
When Tobias Greene, the family patriarch, passed away, his will declared that his four heirs had to remain in the house for 15 years before his estate could be divided amongst them. Standing to inherit were his wife (Gertrude Norman) his two sons Chester (Lowell Drew) and Rex (Morgan Farley) and his two daughters Sibella (Florence Eldridge) and Ada (Jean Arthur).
Each year on December 31st the family lawyer, must verify that all the heirs are still living in the mansion. This is the tenth year that everyone has been rounded up for the head count. This year, however, things are a little different. Soon after the attorney leaves Chester and Ada are shot. Chester’s wound is fatal.
Because of the status of the family in the community, district attorney John F. X. Markham (E.H. Calvert) and police Sergeant Ernest Heath (Eugene Pallette) call in criminologist Philo Vance (William Powell) to assist. At first blush the motive appears to be robbery; however, Vance is a student of murder psychology and becomes intrigued with the family members and their shared motive.
The family dynamic is far from harmonious. No one likes anyone. Everyone is a suspect. Mrs. Greene is bedridden due to paralysis in her legs. A fact attested to by her doctor Arthur Von Blon (Ullrich Haupt). She’s cranky and is suspicious of her kids. Sibella is a snob and barely talks to anyone. Ada is a wallflower. Chester is a snot and Rex is a paranoid wailing wimp. In addition both daughters seem to romantically interested in the good doctor Von Blon.
Of course the murders don’t stop there. Vance may not have to come up with the culprit if the one who-done-it ends up being the last man, or woman, standing.
"The Greene Murder Case" AKA “The House of Fear” was released in 1929 and was directed by Frank Tuttle. This early talkie is a pre-code film from Paramount. It is the second of three films Paramount did starring William Powell as S.S. Van Dine’s character Private Detective Philo Vance. In 1937 the movie was remade as “Night Of Mystery”.
This is a real oldie and not easy to find but interest in The Philo Vance character as well as William Powell and Jean Arthur fans keep it from total obscurity. Since it is so old the primitive sound techniques make it a move that you will not see on TV any more even late night.
As far as murder mysteries go it is not exactly an edge of your seat movie, but at only about 66 minutes long it is an easy watch. It is an interesting slice of the late twenties and early thirties.
The movie is your basic “Old Dark House” type mystery. There are parts of it that, in fact, remind me of Roger Corman’s “The Old Dark House” done in 1963.