Add a Review

  • Not bad at all. This is an interesting tale, although the characters are strictly stereotypes and all of them used as red herrings to leave the solution nowhere in sight until you start thinking about how the story started. Then--a glimmer of light--and you've guessed it.

    WARREN WILLIAM makes an affable, bright, know-it-all Philo Vance, who seems to have a background in everything, including exotic fish from the orient. But how he reaches his scientific answer to the crime is a bit implausible--as is the whole plot involving the legend of a deadly dragon living in the dragon pool.

    MARGARET LINDSAY looks lovelier than ever in the film's leading femme role, LYLE TALBOT is well cast as her love interest, and EUGENE Palette gets to do some comedy relief that's a welcome contrast to Vance's superior attitude. GEORGE E. STONE does his usual schtick as one of the wealthy guests at the mansion where all the action takes place and ROBERT BARRAT is interesting as one of the suspects.

    Summing up: Pleasant programmer passes the time in an entertaining way.

    Trivia note: The IMDb processor refuses to let me spell Eugene Palette's name correctly. There should be two "ll"s in his last name.
  • "The Dragon Murder Case" (1934) is not nearly as weak as some of these comments would lead you to believe. It should be cut some slack based on when it was made (it has Code Certificate #109) and viewed from the perspective of its intended audience. At the time its claim to fame was as a murder mystery packaged inside a lot of clever misdirection. For today's viewers, these sorts of twists will seem rather routine. Not so forgivable are several huge plot holes but as long as you are suspending disbelief anyway….

    There is even a (Stanley) Kubrick-style subtext about Native Americans although they don't take it as far as he did in "The Shining".

    This is a Philo Vance story (basically an early version of William Powell's Nick Charles character) with Warren Williams replacing Powell. Williams is nothing exceptional but the supporting cast and the production design are quite good. Eugene Palette (Friar Tuck) steals all his scenes with the funniest lines and the best delivery; his stuff alone makes the film worth viewing. The quotes section has his line about women generally speaking. Helen Lowell has a lot of fun playing the loony grandmother; she was born in 1866-wonder how many pre-1870 actors can claim lines in a talking picture. Margaret Lindsay is extremely beautiful as she was in "Jezabel" (1938); beautiful enough to stand out from all but a handful of her contemporaries.

    Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.
  • Dragon Murder Case, The (1934)

    *** 1/2 (out of 4)

    William Warren takes over the role of Philo Vance in this entry, which plays more like a horror film than just a mystery. A world class swimmer jumps into a pool during a party and never comes up. The next day the pool is drained but there isn't a body so various people are looked at as suspects but certain clues lead to a legend dealing with an Indian dragon monster. The Kennel Murder Case is the best known film in the series but this one here is just as exciting and entertaining. Warren is terrific in the role of Vance bringing his usual charm and brains to the role. The supporting cast including Lyle Talbot, Margaret Lindsay, Robert McWade and George E. Stone are all terrific but it's the overweight and funny talking Eugene Palette that steals the show. The mystery behind the killing remains interesting throughout the entire film and all the horror elements ranging from ghosts to dragons to a crazy old woman play out very well. This is certainly one of the better mysteries I've seen from this period.
  • utgard1430 January 2014
    Philo Vance (Warren William) investigates a cursed swimming pool. It's called the dragon pool because there is supposedly a killer dragon in it! Extremely interesting idea elevates this murder mystery. Nice cast too. Warren William is good. It's amusing to me how there seems to be little consensus on Philo Vance's character in these films. He seems to change personality depending on who is playing him. This is probably why he's one of my least favorites of the classic mystery film detectives. But I do enjoy Warren William so I enjoyed this. Eugene Palette reprises his role as Sgt. Heath and he's always fun. Also returning is Etienne Girardot as the coroner Doremus. I love this actor. He's hilarious! The lovely Margaret Lindsay appears as one of the suspects, as does character actor George E. Stone. Lyle Talbot plays a half-Indian apparently. He doesn't look it but they keep referencing it so I thought I'd throw that in there. Short runtime helps keep the pace tight. Good old school detective flick. Fans of them will enjoy this one.
  • At one of those closed gatherings of suspects so popular in murder mysteries where a whole lot of the guests have good enough reason to do the victim in, George Meeker dives into a swimming pool and does not emerge. The disappearance is enough to call in the District Attorney, Robert McWade who just happens to be out on the town with famous private detective Philo Vance in this film played by Warren William.

    One thing about the Philo Vance series that I always found amusing was that the District Attorney and the police in the person of Sergeant Heath, Eugene Palette, never are too proud to accept and be grateful for the help that super sleuth Vance gives them. They were anticipating Adrian Monk by a couple of generations.

    Of course the body is found later on with the appearance that he may have been done in by something terrifying and unknown. The pool is not a pool in the usual sense, it's a dammed up stream and legends have it that a monster lived down there back in the days when the Indians were the only ones around.

    Philo Vance was getting into science fiction it seemed. But of course he does solve the case and the culprit is quite human with some very human motives for the crime.

    S.S. Van Dine for reasons I can't explain sold his various novels piecemeal to different studios. Which is why there are so many Vances on the screen. Warren William is one of the best of them.

    This particular Vance is not one of the best, but it's still a pretty good mystery though fans of mystery films I think will figure out early on who the murderer is.
  • S. S. Van Dine's sophisticated, witty, "gentleman" detective Philo Vance is back once again in this murder mystery about a group of rich people who have hidden/outward dislikes for each other attending a party and then deciding to take a dip in a naturally-made pool called the dragon pool. One man goes in and never comes out, and soon, with a host of suspects, Philo Vance, the district attorney, and the ever affable, blunderbuss of a policeman - Sergant Ernest Heath(Eugene Palette) arrive to take aim at cracking the mysterious disappearance and later death that is discovered. As mysteries go, this one really is not that bad, it has some real red herrings laced throughout and never gives too many obvious indications of just who the guilty party is. Warren William plays Vance and I thought he was adequate, though not in the league of previous Vance William Powell(who is?) or Basil Rathbone even before him. As with most Vance film, the best lines go to Eugene Palette who never seems to tire of making wonderful wisecracks and not thoroughly thought-out observations. The things that caught my attention more than anything else was the fish room in the palatial house with all of its aquariums. It really showed how the fish-keeping hobby had been started(through wealthy men tracking down different species abroad and bringing them back here). The collection was most impressive. A good period mystery all in all.
  • Warren William is Philo Vance in "The Dragon Murder Case," a 1934 film also starring Lyle Talbot, Eugene Palette, and Margaret Lindsey. Vance helps the police investigate the disappearance of a man who jumped into a swimming pool and never came up for air.

    Despite a career of playing heavies, Warren William could bring a light touch to a role and be funny and charming. As Philo Vance, he has smoothness and sophistication here, but he's deadly serious, unlike his approach to Perry Mason and his work in "Satan Met a Lady." With the exception of vibrant Margaret Lindsey and Eugene Palette as an exasperated police detective, the performances lack energy and the film moves slowly.

    It is, however, an intriguing mystery.
  • This is the seventh Philo Vance film, the first after the retirement of William Powell from the lead role, and the first and only one starring Warren William as Vance. William is very insouciant and droll, more so than Powell was. (Powell had not yet fully found himself, as he had not become the future Powell of the Thin Man films. But then, he had not found his Loy yet either, with whom he was later to create his ALL-LOY of magic, fusing his silver with her gold.) William also has greater warmth and manages a far better rapport with Eugene Palette as the idiotic Sergeant Heath. When Palette keeps boasting of 'my knowledge of criminality', William genuinely grins sympathetically and teases him very gently like a friend. This works very well, since in previous films, Palette had been floundering around like a stranded fish and over-acting to an embarrassing extent, and Powell never engaged with him. On the other hand, this film lacks the effectiveness of the coroner's grumbling except with exasperation. In the previous film (THE KENNEL MURDER CASE, 1933, see my review) we saw him (played by Etienne Girardot, who despite his French name was born in London and in his films is 'as American as apple pie') being interrupted at his meals and rushing off to examine bodies, but this time that standing joke is taken for granted, no screen time is given actually to showing his frustrations, which are merely referred to in occasional lines of dialogue, and hence that comic sub-plot does not work nearly as well. The story line of this film is however a superior and unusually mysterious one. It concerns a sinister and mysterious pool behind a large house which they call 'the Dragon Pool'. People swim in it all the time, treating it as a swimming pool, but it is a natural feature, not an excavated pool, and it has bizarre features. It links to extended sink holes beyond, and is said to contain a mysterious aquatic dragon who comes out at night and occasionally eats people who dare to swim after dark. This is said to be an ancient Indian legend, and the pool was reputed to have been regarded by the Indians with awe and fear. The film concerns the disappearance and presumed murder of one of the characters who dove into the pool one evening and never reappeared. The pool is drained but nothing is found. An eccentric rich man lives in the house, whose sitting room is full of identical fish tanks (a low budget prevented these from being properly effective, and they look cheap and unconvincing) which contain rare and exotic fish. There are several scenes where the man and his visitors watch 'Japanese fighting fish' killing one another in tanks. That certainly sets a sinister tone at the very beginning of the film. This is definitely a superior Vance film, and the story is so unusual that it could be remade as a very effective modern film if the right people realized its possibilities.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Copyright 22 September 1934 by First National Pictures, Inc. Presented by First National Pictures and The Vitaphone Corp. Released through Warner Bros Pictures. New York opening at the Rialto: 22 August 1934. U.S. release: 25 August 1934. U.K. release: 26 January 1935. Australian release: 26 December 1934. Sydney opening at the Regent — Hoyts flagship cinema — as the main feature Christmas attraction. 7 reels. 68 minutes.

    SYNOPSIS: During a night swim in the so-called "dragon pool" at the Stamm estate, the Stamm girl's fiancé disappears.

    NOTES: Number 6 of the 15-picture "Philo Vance" series.

    COMMENT: Both "The Kennel Murder Case" and "The Dragon Murder Case" were mighty popular movies in their day, in America, England and Australia. This is understandable. The first starred crowd-crowned king, William Powell, the second coasted to glory on the success of the first. Although Kennel has the reputation, I found Dragon a much more pleasing film. Firstly, because the mystery proved not only more intriguing and bizarrely exotic, but the solution as to the killer was resolved in such an ingeniously simple yet brilliantly concealed manner.

    Secondly, heretic as I am, I preferred Humberstone's direction to the more critically praised Curtiz's. This is not a general statement. I believe Curtiz had an off month on Kennel, whereas Lucky was at the top of his form with Dragon. Ditto Tony Gaudio's wonderfully moody photography versus the rather over-bright (at least in the print under review) work of William Reese.

    Thirdly, the acting: William Powell, as usual, makes his Nick Charles — pardon me, Philo Vance — a debonair study of affable, if somewhat patronizing charm; whilst Warren William, as usual, makes his Perry Mason — pardon me, Philo Vance — a debonair study of sarcastic, gruffly affable and considerably condescending charm. Frankly, I prefer Mr. William, but I will admit it's entirely a matter of personal taste. As for the girls, I'll take Margaret Lindsay any day, whilst Helen Lowell does more than justice to the colorful role of the mad Mrs. Stamm. And speaking of the Stamms, Robert Barrat's impersonation of the outrageously drunken head of the clan is far more convincing than Kennel's outraged lover.

    Both Kennel and Dragon feature an ingratiating line-up of favorite cameo players. Dragon boasts William B. Davidson (in a decent-sized role, for once), good old George E. "42nd Street" Stone, plus that wonderfully suave cad, George Meeker. Of course, heartily bluff, wheezily argumentative Eugene Palette makes his bulky presence felt in both movies.
  • tedg1 November 2004
    Warning: Spoilers
    Spoilers herein.

    'I'm a coroner, not a philosopher!'

    These things drive me crazy because they don't play fair. They set up the situation, display a few bodies then surprise us with a completely implausible solution that hasn't been hinted at all. Does it seem plausible that a murderer would try to frame a dragon?

    The story within the story is the fiction of the dragon.

    The only charm that these can give us is in a few interesting characters and an exotic setup. I did think this setup was among the strangest of the Vancers. But the characters are among the least successful.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    **SPOILERS** When young Monty Montague, George Meeker, disappeared in the Stamm Estate pond while taking a moonlight dip it was at first assumed that he drowned and was stuck, in the thick mud, underneath.

    It was when the pond was drained out that to the surprise of everyone present there was absolutely no Monty there! This is when ace sleuth Philo Vance, Warren William, who accompanied the police to the Stamm Estate went into action. With rumors of a dragon, or Locke Ness-like monster, living in the pond it at first is believed that Monty ended up being killed and eaten by it. As Philo started to uncover the evidence of Monty's strange disappearance, as well as Monty's badly torn up body,it became evident that he was the victim of foul play. Not by any sea monster or mythical dragon but someone who really had it in for poor old Monty. Someone who Monty was blackmailing and who just got sick and tired of being under his thumb!

    ***SPOILERS***The key to Monty's demise had to do with his engagement to Bernice Stamm, Margarte Lindsey. It was handsome and debonair, as well as expert swimmer, Dale Leland, Lyle Talbot, who was in loved with Bernice and the fact that she had dropped him for Monty made him a prime suspect in Monty's murder. It took a while for Philo to get a hang on things but it was a secret key, to the Stamm Family Mausoleum, that open the door to who really killed Monty. The key not only revealed Monty's murdered but also the reason he was murdered. It also reviled the way he was murdered and who, beside the actual murderer, secretly set him up to be murdered!

    A bit dry, despite all the water in it, Philo Vance mystery with Warren William as Philo sleepwalking through his role as the famous fictional detective. The nonchalant and effortless way that Warren solved this very difficult murder of Monty Montague took all the tension and suspense out of the film. What really did save the movie and made it interesting was the "Old Lady" of the house or estate the daffy and fuddled brain Mrs. Stamm, Helen Lowell. It was Mrs. Stamm who unknowingly solved this very baffling murder case by her getting Philo on the right track without her not even knowing, in her thinking it was the underwater dragon, who the killer really was!
  • Not a particularly auspicious entry in the Philo Vance series. Warren Williams simply does not match the acting of William Powell who had the lead in four of these films, including the excellent Kennel Murder Case. The storyline revolves around guests at a mansion and the deaths of the fiancée Montague and perhaps others in the vicinity of the "dragon pool." Mrs. Stamm, the matron of the house warns that a water dragon that has guarded the lives and fortunes of the Stamm family inhabits the pool. Montague was not worthy of joining the family. How a dragon would have ever been in the pool is simply ignored. Shots of swimming in the pool remind one of the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Eugene Pallette is excellent as the detective who is always remarking how his knowledge of criminology leads him to suspect... Etienne Girardot is excellent as the coroner as is Helen Lowell as grandmother Stamm. Love triangle does not lend much to the plot. Much discussion of fish in tanks that does not appear to serve any purpose - although they are interesting to view, especially through the tanks suspended from the ceiling. Perhaps one of them was supposed to evolve into the dragon. Orry-Kelly costumes on Margaret Lindsay. Not recommended.
  • In the 1930s and 40s, there were a long series of detective films such as THE SAINT, CHARLIE CHAN, BOSTON BLACKIE and many others. One of the lesser series that never really seemed to hit its stride was the Philo Vance series. Much of the reason the series never really caught on was perhaps because several different actors played Vance (such as William Powell, Paul Lukas, Basil Rathbone and several no-name actors). In this early Philo Vance film, Warren William plays the sleuth. As a result, it seems very much like one of the Lone Wolf films--another detective series that starred William just a few years later. As a B-movie, its budget was relatively small and the film has very modest pretensions. Unlike some of these style films, Vance had no sidekick but there was, of course, a stupid detective--this time in the form of the wonderful character actor Eugene Palette--who was wonderful as the befuddled and slightly daffy cop. In addition, Robert Warwick played a cute small part as a coroner with some of the best lines in the movie!

    As for the mystery, it's not one of the better ones in the genre because I figured out who the murderer was before it even occurred. This is NOT a good sign for a detective film! By the way, I didn't figure it out because I am some genius (my kids remind me all the time that I am not), but because it just was too easy to figure out at the onset.

    Still, despite there not being a lot of mystery, the film moves at a brisk pace and is a decent and watchable film of the genre. If you're a fan of this style of film, then this is a must-see--otherwise, there is better entertainment out there if you look!
  • I've seen two of the Philo Vance movies and I've been disappointed with both. It isn't the actors involved. Warren William will always be the best Perry Mason, in my opinion; and, William Powell is one of my favorite leading men. The acting in this movie was great; it was the writing that failed, however.

    Movies were still in their infancy, so I can understand a whodunnit set up like a stage play. But, Philo Vance had literally no personality. It was as if George Lucas had directed it. "Whatever you do, DON'T draw attention to yourself".

    On the plus side, the underwater parts were excellent and the insane aunt set a higher bar for movie lunatics, I can tell you.
  • Despite the many unfavorable reviews, the first 15 minutes of this programmer are exotic and memorable. Take a look at the impressive outdoor set that places the nightmarish swimming pool in front of the majestic stairway leading up to the mansion's front door. All are full-size components of a single sound stage creation (listen for the echo), unusual for a movie of this type. Now, it's hard for me to believe that First National (Warner Bros.) would go to the trouble and expense for a series B- picture like this. But however that may be, the result is unusually atmospheric, particularly the eerie pool where any kind of mutant creature might be growing amid the ugly murk.

    Then there are the stylishly dressed party guests, a good look at high fashion, circa 1934. How the guest-suspects react to the fighting fish battling to the death in the mansion's many aquariums is how we get to know them. It's an offbeat idea that also shows how the mansion's inside is as strange as its outside. And when one of the guests mysteriously vanishes in the haunted pool, thanks to the weird build-up, I was ready to believe that the legendary dragon had gotten him.

    At that point, however, the screenplay collapses into a routine who-dun-it, and a not very coherent one, at that. Note how little interaction there is among the suspects after the murder. In fact, the comely Margaret Lindsey almost disappears until the end. Most of the dialogue goes to humorous throw-away lines from the froggish Sergeant Heath (Palette) and the raspy Dr. Doremus (Girardot). Nor, for that matter, does director Humberstone show any imagination in developing the characters or the initial atmosphere. Even the usually forceful Warren William seems uninterestingly subdued. Too bad a more stylish director and less pedestrian screenwriter didn't get hold of the material first. That way maybe we would have gotten more than just a promising start.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This is a rather aimless mystery, with an implausible murder and an utterly impossible solution, requiring the witnesses to the murder to be death dumb and blind, and the corpse of the murdered to be light as a feather. But that's not especially unusual in mysteries of the era.

    The problem is that this one is, by its story, stuck on a limited number of sets, and the dialog is not enough to sustain interest over the rather brief run time. Performances are fine -- no better than one would expect -- on par with an average episode of Murder She Wrote.

    It's really not worth sitting through this one to get to the solution. (Nor is it worth searching out the book -- which is just as implausible and dull) If you really like SS Van Dine, and are determined to stick it out, there is one virtue -- the components of the murder plot that don't relate to the dragon and the swimming pool are neatly done.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    With William Powell moving on to MGM and "The Thin Man", Warren William takes over the role of detective Philo Vance in this entry.

    A party is being held at the Stamm residence where it seems, everybody hates every body else. The "party" is being held in honor of the forthcoming wedding of playboy Monty Montegue (George Meeker) and Bernice Stramm (Margaret Lindsey). Bernice is less than enthusiastic over the wedding being in love with childhood sweetheart Dale Leland (Lyle Talbot) Host Rudolph Stamm (Robert Barrat) seemingly is getting himself falling down drunk. Others in attendance are Ruby Steele (Dorothy Tree) who has a past with Monty, Greef (William Davidson), the oily Tatum (George E. Stone) and of course, the butler Trainor (Arthur Aylsworth).

    The group decides to go for a swim in "The Dragon Pond". Monte, Greff and Leland all dive in. Montegue who is an expert swimmer fails to re-surface. All efforts to find him fail. Greef calls the police. D.A. Markham (Robert McWade), Philo Vance (Williams) and Sgt. Heath (Eugene Palette) rush to the scene.

    Vance orders the pool drained but they find only what appears to be dragon footprints in the mud. Weird old Mrs. Stamm (Helen Lowell) spins a tale about the ancient curse of the dragon. They finally locate Montegue's body in a pot hole away from the pool. Coroner Dr. Doremus (Etienne Giradot) examines the body and finds claw like marks on Montegue's neck.

    Vance's investigation leads him to the family crypt wherein he finds a scuba diving outfit with gloves and flippers that resemble dragon claws and footprints. Hmmmmmm. He also discovers the body of Greef who apparently was getting too close to the killer. To reveal more at this point would give away the ending. Rest assured, Vance identifies the killer and all live happily ever after.

    Warren William's performance as Vance reminded me of Basil Rathbone's interpretation of Vance in "The Bishop Murder Case" (1929). Both gave wooden performances not even coming close to that of William Powell in five Vance films. Eugene Palette steals this film as the gravel voiced detective.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The setup is intriguing (a man dives into a pool and never comes up again; when they drain the pool he's nowhere to be found! I've seen a lot of mysteries and I don't remember ever seeing anything like this before), the mystery is challenging (of course you know that the killer is not really a dragon, but that does not help you much), the spacious sets are great, and the underwater camera shots are impressive for a 1934 film. However, Warren William is a little too dry in the role of Philo Vance (he is more relaxed in his second Vance appearance, in the semi-spoof "The Gracie Allen Murder Case"), and the film is not quite as much fun as it could have been. I would still recommend it to fans of early whodunits. **1/2 out of 4.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Hollywood never found a real Philo Vance. In the books he was an effete, superior pedantic individual and really not very likable. Maybe no one wanted to play him that way. Warren William made a barely passable Vance. I've always been a big William Powell fan, and whether he was Vance, Charles or Dal, he was always the pleasant urbane same William Powell. That being said, I'll move on to The Dragon Murder Case. There is a plot I call the Scooby-Doo plot. All Scooby-Doo episodes share one plot: There appear to be frightening mysterious and perhaps supernatural events going on, when in the end it turns out to be just another baddie with a baddie agenda. The Dragon Murder Case is one of these. A group of guests go for a nocturnal swim. A man disappears after diving into a naturally formed swimming pool. After draining the pool, there is no sign of the missing man. Eventually his broken body is found some distance away in what they call a "pothole". Word on the street is that the dragon that supposedly inhabits the pool, killed the man and dragged his body away to the pothole for future nutrition. When the film came out, audiences weren't as blasé as they are today, and many were probably amazed at what happened and at Mr. Vance's acumen. Today however, most viewers will spot the murderer the moment he appears on the screen. For its time, the film is pretty good with spooky lighting, aquariums with lizards and fighting fish; sea monster lore. The dammed up pool looks pretty good with its rugged edges. But the denouement is downright lame. It worked better in the book because of the description of the pool and the reader's imagination. In the film it seems impossible for the murder to have been carried out without one or more of the four people present having seen something. The biggest "plothole" in the story is however, that the entire operation (which began sometime before we entered the movie), depended completely upon the victim (both in the book and on the screen), suggesting that everyone go for a swim. Okay, maybe he liked to swim, but what if he hadn't made the suggestion? The killer would have wasted a great deal of effort and bad acting for nothing. How many times would he have to go through this to get his victim where he wanted him? And really, why bother to hide the body? Just to add to the mystery? If I plotted to murder someone, my concern would be not to get caught, to hell with offering up a great mystery for the world to ponder. I liked The Kennel Murder Case a lot better.