Friday, July 8, 2011
Forgotten Books: The Gracie Allen Murder Case by S.S. Van Dine
But a couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Rose City Book Fair, which is sort of throwback to those by-gone days, where I ran into several old friends - and one old book I could no longer resist - The Gracie Allen Murder Case.
Prior to this, my only acquaintance with Philo Vance was seeing William Powell in The Kennel Murder Case, and that was so long ago I don’t remember anything about it, except that he was not playing Nick Charles.
But I was only mildly curious about old Philo. The real attraction was Gracie, one of my favorite comediennes of all time.
Apparently this book came about when, near the end of S.S. Van Dine’s writing career, Paramount asked him for a screen treatment pairing Philo Vance with Gracie Allen. Van Dine delivered a story involving Gracie, her mother, her brother and George Burns and collected his dough. Then everything went sideways. Burns opted out of the movie project and Paramount decided to do their own thing with Vance and Gracie.
Meanwhile, Van Dine wrote the novel based on his screen story, resulting in a strangely amusing book. As a character, Philo Vance is okay, though he talks funny and goes to the well for too many foreign words and literary allusions. The big surprise was that Van Dine simply did not get Gracie Allen. Her distinct brand of humor should have translated easily onto the page, but Van Dine failed miserably. This could have been a great book if the studio had approached Raymond Chandler or Rex Stout instead.
As presented here, Gracie is ditzy, scatterbrained and lovable, but never funny. I was on the lookout for a couple of good lines I could quote, and failed to find a single one. The best that can be said is that she wanders on and off stage (mostly off) like some sort of magical creature and unwittingly provides Vance will all the clues he needs to solve the case. And Van Dine's handling of George Burns is even more inept. He’s a typical jealous boyfriend who could have been played by anyone out of central casting. It’s no wonder George had no interest in the film.
Want to see for yourself? Download the book for free HERE.
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