Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 9, 2017


Alan Curtis and Vivian (Terry) Austin
PHILO VANCE'S GAMBLE (1947). Director: Basil Wrangell.

"Looks like I just got here in the nicotine." -- Ernie.

Private eye Philo Vance is asked by aspiring actress Laurian March (Vivian Austin) to intercede on her behalf with a con man named Connor (Dan Seymour), who winds up murdered. The suspects include Connor's jilted girlfriend, Gigi (Toni Todd); Laurian's angel, Oliver (Gavin Gordon), who is in love with her; the stylish Tina Cromwell (Tala Birell); and others. When more murders occur, Philo must not only catch the killer, but figure out what to do with an emerald he discovers in the dead man's possessions and which has a lot to do with the case. Philo Vance's Gamble could easily be dismissed as a dull, cliche-ridden mess but it does have an interesting denouement, and some clever touches. Curtis [The Invisible Man's Revenge] makes an acceptable if minor Philo Vance, and Vivian Austin is wildly uneven as Laurian but she does have her moments. Frank Jenks [The Houston Story] scores as Vance's assistant, Ernie, and James Burke is fine as a cop named Burke. Gavin Gordon makes a quirky Oliver, but Tala Birell [The Frozen Ghost] has little to do as Tina. Lovable Grady Sutton appears briefly as an office clerk, and Francis Pierlot is great as Roberts the butler. If this picture does nothing else it shows that chapstick, or something along those lines, was around in the 1940's. The Philo Vance movies once starred William Powell but by the forties they had degenerated into a mostly unmemorable and very brief B movie series with lesser actors.

Verdict: Comes together neatly but takes a long time to get there -- and the pic is only an hour. **.

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