For Reel

The Bishop Murder Case (1930)
August 27, 2012, 6:44 am
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Director(s): David Burton & Nick Grinde

After Paramount had found back-to-back successes in adapting S.S. Van Dine’s Philo Vance mysteries with William Powell in the leading role, MGM responded by bidding on the screen rights to another Van Dine novel and casting Basil Rathbone as the ever-perceptive Vance. The resulting film, The Bishop Murder Case, was shot in 1929 and released early in 1930, and as such it is little surprise to see how stagebound the picture feels – characters convene in rooms and have conversations with little in the way of camera movement or sophisticated mise en scene. It is the scenes without dialogue that become the real treasures, with each of the murders properly building suspense and evoking a tremendous sense of dread. The best of which occurs near the end of the picture – the killer has already claimed his victim, and director Nick Grinde shoots his shadow building a house of cards near the body as upbeat classical music plays on the radio. A nursery rhyme motif used by the murderer is an involving spin, but otherwise The Bishop Murder Case is largely ordinary – it slowly maneuvers through a series of red herrings before the last minute reveal, and along the way Rathbone impresses all of those around him with his masterful talent for deduction. Rathbone and James Donlan, playing Sgt. Heath, a bumbling ally, have nowhere near the charm of Powell and Eugene Palette in the Paramount pictures, and their dynamic is, consistent with the rest of the film, forgettable. Those seeking a more pleasurable Vance mystery should seek out Michael Curtiz’s The Kennel Murder Case.