Archive for The Canary Murder Case

Louise Brooks Plays with the Shadows

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2009 by dcairns


Louise Brooks pictures seem to be quite popular. Here’s one from

Hope to get my hands on THE CANARY MURDER CASE soon. A Paramount silent Philo Vance murder mystery with William Powell as the Great Detective, it was sonorized while Louise was off in Europe, I think. Anyhow, she refused to have anything to do with the sound version, so they used another actress’s voice. And this may have started the story that her voice was no good — that, and her absence in Europe for a year or two, basically killed her Hollywood career.

You can hear her talk in the B-western OVERLAND RAIDERS, with John Wayne, and in interviews conducted years later. Nothing wrong with her voice.

UPDATE: grabbed THE CANARY MURDER CASE, and a very odd bird it is. William Powell is Philo Vance, of course, the right man in the right role (although a bit too B-movie for Powell’s aspirations, it seems. There’s at least one Basil Rathbone Vance movie, which is going to seem odd: Rathbone playing a different detective

What’s peculiar about TCMC is the way they’ve “sonorized” it, preserving all the expensive wide shots from the silent shoot, even though they move at the wrong frame rate. If you’ve seen Howard Hughes’ HELL’S ANGELS you’ve already seen this kind of thing in action. As in HA, a bit of dubbing has also occurred, but it basically centres on Louise’s character, who speaks mainly with her back to the camera, or over other people’s closeups (a double was used, extremely effective, for many of the rear views). Then we cut to a beautiful closeup of her as soon as she’s finished speaking. It’s all done with the maximum of craftiness, making the best of a bad job, but it’s goofy and demented rather than convincing. The voice they’ve chosen is pretty horrible, but suits the trashy showgirl character, I guess. I haven’t seen this kind of counterintuitive cutting elsewhere save for a couple of the more tortuous moments in Welles’s OTHELLO (moments of weird cutting justified by the synchronisation problems, and rendered strangely more glaring in the restored, fully sunk-up version).

In short: I like it! This kind of B-thriller requires, in no particular order:

1) A charismatic leading player. Check.

2) Plot, and lots of it. Check.

3) Some kind of peculiar quirk, either intentional or accidental. (The PERRY MASON films have all kinds of these, from gaping plot holes to ill-advised tonal shifts to the way they keep shuffling the Warners players around: you get different actors playing the same role, and the same actors playing different roles. Even Perry himself changes, twice. Watch three back to back and it’s literally dreamlike.) And that’s where the panicked last-minute soundtracking really scores.