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Calling Philo Vance (1940)

Approved | | Crime, Mystery, Thriller | 3 February 1940 (USA)
Despite an exclusive contract with the U.S. government, designer Archer Coe's design is being bid on by German, Japanese, and Italian agents - until he's murdered.


William Clemens


Tom Reed (screenplay), S.S. Van Dine (novel)


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Philo goes after a gang of murderous jewel thieves.

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Complete credited cast:
James Stephenson ... Philo Vance
Margot Stevenson ... Hilda Lake
Henry O'Neill ... Markham
Edward Brophy ... Ryan
Sheila Bromley ... Doris
Ralph Forbes ... Tom McDonald
Donald Douglas ... Philip Wrede
Martin Kosleck ... Gamble
Jimmy Conlin ... Dr. Doremus - Coroner (as Jimmy Conlon)
Edward Raquello ... Eduardo Grassi
Creighton Hale ... Du Bois - Fingerprint Man
Harry Strang ... Hennessey - Markham's Assistant
Richard Kipling Richard Kipling ... Archer Coe
Wedgwood Nowell ... Brisbane Coe
Bo Ling Bo Ling ... Ling Toy


Philo is in Vienna working for the US Government to see if Archer Coe is selling aircraft designs to foreign powers. He grabs the plans with Archer's signature, but is captured by police before he can escape. Deported he comes back to America and plans to confront Archer, but Archer is found dead in his locked bedroom with a gun in his hand. While it looks like a suicide, Vance knows better and the coroner finds that Archer has been shot, hit with a blunt instrument and stabbed - making suicide unlikely. But Vance is on the case and is looking to see if government secrets have been sold and who has murdered Coe. Written by Tony Fontana <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Approved | See all certifications »





English | German

Release Date:

3 February 1940 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Philo Vance Comes Back See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


This film's earliest documented telecasts took place in Tucson Friday 5 October 1956 on KDWI (Channel 9) and in Albuquerque Friday 12 October 1956 on KOAT (Channel 7); it first aired in Bloomington IN Monday 5 November 1956 on WTTV (Channel 4), in Salt Lake City Saturday 17 November 1956 on KUTV (Channel 2), in San Francisco Friday 7 December 1956 on KPIX (Channel 5), and in Honolulu Friday 10 May 1957 on KHVH (Channel 13). See more »


Ralph Forbes is credited onscreen as "Tom MacDonald," but throughout the film, he is called Taylor MacDonald. See more »


Philo Vance: [Approaching Grassi's table as he is eating] Signor Grassi?
Eduardo Grassi: [Looking up] Yes.
Philo Vance: The same Signor Grassi who distinguished himself in the Ethiopian campaign?
Eduardo Grassi: The same.
Philo Vance: I hope you'll pardon the intrusion. My name is Philo Vance.
Eduardo Grassi: Oh, uh, won't you join me? I've heard of you too.
Philo Vance: Have you also heard that Mr. Archer Coe, whose airplane designs you've tried to buy for your government has been murdered?
Eduardo Grassi: [Shocked] Murdered?
Ryan: Yes, stabbed in the back! And the dagger's been a favorite Latin weapon since Nero ...
See more »


Follows The Greene Murder Case (1929) See more »


An der schönen, blauen Donau (On the Beautiful Blue Danube), Op.314
(1867) (uncredited)
Music by Johann Strauss
Whistled by Edward Brophy
See more »

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User Reviews

It's just a re-tread! See it ONLY if you never say THE KENNEL MURDER CASE or PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62!
11 November 2007 | by MartinHaferSee all my reviews

This is a very cheaply made and predictable programmer--predictable since its plot is taken, almost verbatim, from two earlier films. It was literally like splicing two old movie together to make a new film!

The first 15 minutes of the film is lifted right out of PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 (1933--starring William Powell), though the hero was stealing information from a French safe in the original film and in CALLING PHILO VANCE it involved stealing from an Austrian one. In both, he was working for the state department (though they denied this) and in both cases he was deported back to the US--only to have the boat's captain be told to return the man just as they are pulling into New York harbor--at which point the man jumps overboard and the rest of the film begins. It's so exact that they are practically the same film in the first reel.

Following this narrow escape, the plot is THE KENNEL MURDER CASE (also starring Powell). I am sure of this because I just saw both 1930s films in the last month. In fact, in many places it was word-for-word the same--so much so that I couldn't stand watching the film again--especially because James Stevenson on his best day doesn't even come close to the charm and style of William Powell's version of Philo Vance. It's like having Lee Majors play the lead in High Noon instead of Gary Cooper (this DID happen) or Timothy Dalton play "Rhett Butler" instead of Clark Gable (this, sadly, also DID happen)!! So, unless you've never seen the near-perfect KENNEL MURDER CASE (which earned a well-deserved 9 from me), don't even bother with this by-the-numbers re-make. It just isn't worth your time. And, for that matter, PRIVATE DETECTIVE 62 is also quite superior to CALLING PHILO VANCE. In fact, just WHO is this James Stevenson and why is he stealing from William Powell?!

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