Archer Coe (Robert Barrat) is found dead in his study. The doors are locked and everything points to suicide. Philo Vance doesn't think so. Coe wasn't the kind of man to take his own life. He abused his workers, bullied his business partners, and was an all around douche-bag. Not one to put a gun to his own head. Philo goes about snooping around.
Well, there are lots of suspects, lots of side stories, and even a little humor. In fact, think The Thin Man, minus the missus. And much of the humor. Between 1929 and 1947 there were sixteen Philo Vance mysteries made, five of the first six with Powell in the title role. This was his last. Only two other actors made more than one (two each).
Throughout the movie I couldn't help but think this was Thin Man light. He even had a dog. But don't be fooled. No Myrna Loy and a weaker story. Mary Astor is no replacement. Still, not bad. Especially after watching a Charlie Chan movie. Those aren't mysteries as much as "guess the bad guy" games. I liked it and give it an AMRU 3. It's the only one available on Netflix and I'm not going too far out of my way to find more.
So, who is Philo Vance? He's a character in several S. S. Van Dine mystery novels. He is referred on Wikipedia as "stylish, even foppish dandy, a New York bon vivant possessing a highly intellectual bent." Writer Raymond Chandler referred to him as "the most asinine character in detective fiction." High praise indeed. Luckily, William Powell played him a little more, ahem, strait.