Before playing Nick Charles in the beloved Thin Man series, William Powell played another detective...
His name was Philo Vance, a detective from S. S. Van Dine's stories. Powell first played him in The Canary Murder Case in 1929.
Interestingly, the film was shot to be a silent movie, but later, revised to accomodate sound. Powell's co-star Louise Brooks refused to return for the additional shots, and as a result, her part was budded by Margaret Livingston. The change to sound allowed for the detective to vocalize the mystery (sometimes perhaps too much), rather than relying on quiet reflections.
As the lead, Powell was the highest paid actor, making $1,200 per week. While Brooks received only $750 per week, Jean Arthur received $115 per week, and Charles Land and Gustav von Seyffertiz received $1000.
Powell reprised the detective in The Greene Murder Case, The Benson Murder Case, and The Kennel Murder Case.
Interestingly, Basil Rathbone took a crack at the detective between Greene and Benson in The Bishop Murder Case and after Powell’s departure from the series, others such as Warren William, Paul Lukas, Edmund Lowe, and more, kept the private eye going until 1947.
While Powell never reprised his first detective in another film, he did get a chance to in a trailer for The Thin Man, where Vance passed the sleuthing torch to Nick Charles.
“Well, if it isn’t Philo Vance,” Powell says to himself in a split screen. “I haven’t seen you since you solved The Kennel Murder Case. How are you?”
The two exchange some quips before teasing the plot of The Thin Man.