GARDEN MURDER CASE, THE (director: Edwin L. Marin; screenwriters: from the book by S.S. Van Dine/Bertram Millhauser; cinematographer: Charles Clarke; editor: Ben Lewis; music: William Axt; cast: Edmund Lowe (Philo Vance), Virginia Bruce (Zalia Graem), Benita Hume (Nurse Gladys Beeton), Floyd Garden (Douglas Walton), Nat Pendleton (Sergeant Heath), Gene Lockhart (Lowe Hammle), H. B. Warner (Major Fenwicke-Ralston), Kent Smith (Woode Swift), Grant Mitchell (Markham), Frieda Inescort (Mrs. Madge Fenwicke-Ralston), Henry B. Walthall (Dr. Garden), Jessie Ralph (Mrs. Hammle), Charles Trowbridge (Inspector Colby), Etienne Girardot (Dr. Doremus), Rosalind Ivan (Mrs. Jepson – Hammle’s Housekeeper), William Austin (Sneed – Hammle’s Butler); Runtime: 61; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lucien Hubbard/Ned Marin; MGM; 1936)
“Edmund Lowe making his only screen appearance as S. S. Van Dine’s dilettante wealthy sleuth Philo Vance in The Garden Murder Case, is a fruitful one.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Edmund Lowe making his only screen appearance as S. S. Van Dine’s dilettante wealthy sleuth Philo Vance in The Garden Murder Case, is a fruitful one. Director Edwin L. Marin (“Fort Worth”/”Lady Luck”/”Johnny Angel”) does a nice job keeping this minor crime drama entertaining and fast-paced.
It opens with steeplechase jockey Floyd Garden (Douglas Walton) going out to race in a trance-like state for owner Major Fenwicke-Ralston (H. B. Warner) and telling everyone within earshot of him at the exclusive amateur gentleman’s Longview Racing Association, that “I’ve got to break my neck.” Sure enough, during the race Floyd’s horse takes a spill and he breaks his neck. The police rule it an accidental death, but Philo Vance (Edmund Lowe), who was attending the races, ascertains it was murder and offers sufficient proof so that DA Markham (Grant Mitchell) and the dumb lead investigator, Sergeant Heath (Nat Pendleton), go along with him. While all those immediately concerned with Floyd’s death are gathered together in nasty millionaire horse owner Lowe Hammle’s (Gene Lockhart) mansion, he’s shot dead in his library while holding the phone. Three of the women guests swear they heard the major talking in the library: Zalia Graem (Virginia Bruce), Hammle’s attractive ward niece who hates him with a passion and who is the principal beneficiary of his estate; Hammle’s mistress and blackmailing English nurse (Benita Hume), who cares for his bedridden cranky wife (Jessie Ralph) and hates him with a passion; and the major’s secretive wife, Madge Fenwicke-Ralston (Frieda Inescort), who is indifferent to Hammle. But when checked out, the major was playing billiards at the time with one of the houseguests, Woode Swift (Kent Smith), the feckless boyfriend of Zalia’s who just accepted against Zalia’s wishes a lucrative offer to manage for a year one of Hammle’s plants in Paraguay. When the major’s wife telephones Philo late in the evening that she knows who murdered Hammle, he insists that she tell this to the DA, in the morning, in his office, as he picks up someone listening on the phone extension. Mrs. Fenwicke-Ralston is followed by Zalia and falls to her death from the top deck of a Fifth Avenue double-decker bus. Strangely enough the major’s wife told the housekeeper (Rosalind Ivan), while seemingly in a trance just before leaving for the DA’s office, “I’m going to be killed.” In due time Philo figures out the killer is a hypnotist and sets a trap for him or her.
REVIEWED ON 5/31/2009 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ