Where else besides Amazon Prime Video for movies like this. It’s Philo Vance Returns, from 1947, and I never saw it until now. That makes a lot of sense, as I must have been about six years old when it came out, and in those days I wasn’t watching anything but westerns and cartoons. Also, I never knew Philo Vance had gone away, so I was not surprised when I learned he had returned. Anyhow, that’s an device they use for movie titles when they want to make a sequel. Checking on Amazon I see two additional Philo Vance films streaming now, so get ready for more of the same.
Apparently Wikipedia knows about this one, and that’s where I’m getting details. Here is the cast.
- William Wright as Philo Vance
- Vivian Austin as Lorena Blendon Simms
- Leon Belasco as Alexis Karnoff
- Clara Blandick as Stella Blendon
- Ramsay Ames as Virginia Berneaux
- Damian O’Flynn as Larry Blendon
- Frank Wilcox as George Hullman
- Iris Adrian as Maggie McCarthy Blendon
- Ann Staunton as Helen Varney Blendon
- Tim Murdock as The Policeman
- Mary Scott as Mary, the Maid
We can tell from the title this is going to be a private detective movie. The opening scene shows glamorous cabaret singer Virginia Berneaux making a hit with a club audience.
She’s also making a hit with rich playboy Larry Blendon. He’s been married (and divorced) four times before. Not bad for somebody who has yet to see 36. Her Russian agent, Alexis Karnoff, is excited, as well. He sees star potential for his client and money when she hits the big time. Maybe not so much if she marries and quits the business.
Larry wines and dines her and woos her, shortly taking her to meet his loved grandmother Stella. Stella is appalled to see Larry again making a fool of himself over a glamorous woman. She shows Virginia the gallery of past Blendon wifes. Virginia vows her’s will be the last portrait on the wall.
Not quite. Larry drops Virginia off at her residence, and as he prepares to drive away a hand with a pistol pokes out the window of a parked car, and a single shot ends the expectations of poor Virginia.
Larry is heartbroken. After dealing with the police he goes home to break the news to Stella. Then he phones his friend Philo Vance. Philo hears two gunshots over the phone, then nothing.
He rushes to the Blendon home to find Larry dead on the floor, but only one bullet wound. The maid Mary looks on.
Philo detects somebody lurking outside the French door. He yanks it open, and a body falls to the floor. It’s Katherine, wife number 1. The pistol in her hand has been fired. That possible explains the second gun shot. I never figured out what happened here.
Philo detects a second lurker. It’s Alexis, come to look after his interest in Virginia. He want to help Philo track down the person who murdered her. They team up.
The triple murder hits the headlines.
Philo and Alexis set out to track down the remaining wives. They find Agatha dead in a bathtub. The bubble bath has been poisoned.
The police haul Philo and Alexis in, but clear them. “These people are free to go about their business.”
Philo and Alexis split up to check out the remaining wives. Maggie McCarthy is now a bubble dancer. Alexis visits her in her dressing room. This is as much skin as shows in the movie.
To gain access, Alexis has posed as a cosmetics salesman giving out free samples. He applies the kiss-proof lipstick to himself and demonstrates it on Maggie. She is charmed. She wants more. Alexis and Maggie are going to be an item.
Philo visits the sanitarium where ex-wife Lorena is being treated. The doctor’s head nurse is ex-wife Helen Varney. Lorena is AWOL.
Lorena has absconded from the sanatorium and taken refuge at the Blendon residence.. Despite what the doctor has told Philo, Lorena had been held there against her will.
Lorena applies her lipstick and collapses to the floor. More poison. But Philo revives her.
Philo and Alexis go to the business of Gregory Simms, Lorena’s current husband. They find Stella there, much disturbed. She says she was there to talk to Mr. Simms. She leaves.
Others arrive. Philo and Alexis hide in an adjacent room. Simms and Helen discuss a plot to get access to some of the Blendon fortune.
As Philo and Alexis listen through the door they perceive Simms has pulled a knife and Helen has pulled a gun. It’s Mexican standoff. The two make their way to the door, presumably to go their separate ways. When Philo opens the door, there is Simms with a knife in his back.
Philo goes back to the sanatorium to talk to the doctor. While they converse, we perceive Helen has come to the door. While she waits, we see her silhouette as she applies her lipstick.
She collapses and falls through the open door. It’s poisoned lipstick again. Again, death is narrowly averted.
Philo and Alexis race to the Blendon home. Philo has obtained a note that tells him Stella is the mass murderer. Lorena is going to be the next victim.
A motorcycle officer gives chase to the speeding pair. Meanwhile Stella is revealed as a bitter end vengeful woman. She destroys the portraits of the women who have made a fool of her grandson.
She carries poisoned milk up to Lorena.
Philo and Alexis and the cop arrive just in time, passing maid Mary leaving with her suitcase as they barge through the door. Philo hands the officer the glass of poisoned milk, warning him to hold it for the detectives and not to drink it.
And there is a lot about this plot that doesn’t make sense.
Philo comes in and examines the body of his friend Larry. He opens the French door and the body of Katherine falls in. She has the pistol in question in her hand. No mention she has been shot until several minutes later when Granny Blendon inquires why she was shot. If she shot herself, why was her body leaning against the outside of the door?
And Philo, speaking on the phone to Larry, hears two shots in rapid succession. How does Katherine, if she shot Larry, get into position behind the door and shoot herself a bare second after shooting Larry? Obviously Granny fired both shots, since it turns out she is the serial killer. Katherine must have been standing right there while Larry was talking on the phone to Philo. Nobody sees this as problematic?
Philo and Alexis listen to Helen and Simms confront each other, Simms with a knife, Helen with a pistol. Seconds after the two depart Philo attempts to re-enter the room, but he finds the door blocked by Simms’ body. In those few seconds somebody took the knife away from Simms and shanked him. And it was not by the front exit where Helen went out. If Granny did it, how did she get back into the room and knife Simms next to the back room in those few seconds?
Philo figures Granny is the murderer, and she’s about to kill Lorena. Does he phone the police and have them rush over? No. He and Alexis drive like mad through winding and darkened lanes, picking up a police pursuit in the meantime.
Maid Mary sees all the goings on as Granny takes the poisoned milk up to Lorena. Her response is to pack her bag and quit her employment at the Blendon madhouse.
Amazon X-Ray has this to say:
Of the 3 PRC Vance features, this was the second to be released (June 14, 1947), but the last to be shot (December 17, 1946-early January 1947). This was also the last Philo Vance feature film, of a total of 14 dating back to 1929.
Shot in seven days [contradicting the above timeline]
While it is still streaming, I will review Philo Vance’s Gamble.