The Canary Murder Case (1929)

Genres - Crime, Mystery  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller, Detective Film  |   Run Time - 80 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Bruce Eder

This thriller was still, to some extent, playing off the novelty of sound when it was released, and the elements of the silents are still prevalent -- no surprise as the movie was conceived and originally shot as a silent and converted to a talkie. Some of the editing, especially of the scenes depicting the stage act of the eventual victim, is straight out of the silents, which is a good thing; those sequences flow beautifully and gracefully, and give a larger-than-life veneer to Louise Brooks' character. That effect is helped in no small measure by the fact that many of those shots are beautifully staged as well as assembled and, indeed, are another demonstration of how advanced screencraft -- especially editing -- had gotten in the closing years of the silents. Those sequences were the work of Malcolm St. Clair, who handled the silent sequences in the original cut of the movie; the sound sequences were credited as the work of Frank Tuttle, who would go on to greater things after the transition. He doesn't do badly here, in relation to the standard of the time -- there are some fairly lengthy and somewhat static dialogue sequences which undoubtedly worked better when sound was a novelty, but they don't lie there as flat as many similar scenes in other movies of the period, principally because Tuttle had a great cast to work with, even if technology and technical expertise weren't quite up to the job of making features of this sort work as well as their silent antecedents. There are also aspects of the facial movements and gesticulations that definitely place The Canary Murder Case as an artifact of the pre-talkie era; the scenes are not unwatchable by any means, but they do look "off" compared with the way movies were played just a year or two or three later. And all of this is not to say that The Canary Murder Case is not enjoyable -- filmmaker and filmgoers alike were fortunate to have actors such as William Powell and Eugene Pallette on hand, who had distinctive voices and knew how to use them, and even if we're not hearing Louise Brooks' voice, she is still something to look at and also appreciate as an actress in this movie. All of that, plus the presence of extremely young screen incarnations of Jean Arthur, Charles Lane, and Ned Sparks, among others, make this curio of the late '20s well worth tracking down for at least one really good look.