The Sign of Four, 1932, b&w. Graham Cutts (dir.), Arthur Wontner, Isla Bevan, Ian Hunter, Graham Soutten, Miles Malleson, Herbert Lomas, Roy Emerton. 1:15 [1:13].
I came to this one positively predisposed. I enjoyed a couple of early Sherlock Holmes flicks in another set, I like the published stories. Unfortunately, the movie let me down—partly because of print sound problems (heavy noise overlay through much of the picture) that made it difficult to enjoy. I’m not sure that was all of it; it felt like very little “legitimate Holmes” and lots of cliché Holmes, with some odd action thrown in. (Two people rolling around on the floor with thumping noises may be how a fight actually happens, but it’s lousy cinema.)
Actually, the movie’s roughly half over before Holmes enters at all. Two top men at a prison make a deal with a one-legged lifer to find a treasure, let him and another escape and split the treasure four ways—and, naturally, one of the two kills the other and completely ignores the deal. Many years later, the prisoners escape and the action starts—part of it involving the peculiar choice to make the less-evil prisoner (who was a couple of months away from release anyway) a Tattooed Man, thus making him instantly identifiable. There’s a little remorse added, by the old man who got all the treasure, has used enough of it to establish a comfortable lifestyle for his family, and now wants to give part of it to the daughter of the partner he betrayed—who, when she gets part of it and senses she’s in danger, goes to Holmes.
That’s enough of the plot…except that, in this case, it appears that Dr. Watson and the daughter become engaged at the end of the flick. We get a little of the brilliant (or absurd) Holmes “deductions” and a lot of the tired sayings. We get over-the-top disguises. We get Scotland Yard treating Holmes as irrelevant but simultaneously giving him all the help he requests. I dunno, maybe I’m being too harsh, but I can’t give this more than $0.75.
The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, 1935, b&w. Leslie S. Hiscott (dir.), Arthur Wontner, Lyn Harding, Ian Fleming, Leslie Perrins, Jane Carr, Charles Mortimer, Michael Shepley, Ben Weldon. 1:24 [1:19].
Same Holmes, different Watson (same first name!), and to my mind a considerably better movie—partly because, while there’s still sound distortion, it’s now a low warbling that doesn’t entirely disrupt the movie. We don’t get Holmes in disguise; we do get the death (apparently) of Moriarty.
Holmes is retiring and moving to the country…at which point Inspector Lestrade calls him in to help with the murder of a local, who was apparently a member of the Scowlers, an infamous American society of coal miners somehow affiliated with the Freemasons (or Freemen?). We get a long, long backstory, quite well done—and then we return to a present with coded messages, secret passages, mistaken identities (or, rather, deliberate identity fraud), a murder that isn’t and more. All in all, a ripping adventure—but with the sound quality, the best I can do is $1.25.
Murder at the Baskervilles (aka Silver Blaze), 1937, b&w. Thomas Bentley (dir.), Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Lyn Harding, John Turnbull, Lawrence Grossmith. 1:11 [1:05].
The incident of the dog in the night—one of the classic Holmesian bits (used here, if perhaps not uniquely). Holmes and Watson take vacation at Baskerville Manor and immediately get dragged into an investigation by Inspector Lestrade. A prize horse has been kidnapped, the stable boy/guard poisoned—and when Holmes and Watson go out to the moors to investigate, they find the horse’s trainer, dead.
Lots of detecting, some interesting twists, Professor Moriarty in rare (and scenery-chewing) form, Holmes alternating between treating Lestrade as an idiot and as a respected colleague. Wontner comes off well as Holmes, as do Ian Fleming as Watson and Lyn Harding as Moriarty. (This appears to be the tale in which Lestrade—John Turnbull—first accepts that Moriarty is a villain. On the other hand, it appears that Moriarty and the Baskervilles are both elements that weren’t in the original story.) Quite well done, and most of the time the sound is OK. $1.50.
The Woman in Green, 1945, b&w. Roy William Neill (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell. 1:08.
Different Sherlock (the much better known Basil Rathbone, who I find no better or worse than Wontner), different Watson (Nigel Bruce, who comes off as somewhat of a useless fathead), different Moriarty (well, he’s already died once…), and no Lestrade—oh, and clearly done on a considerably larger budget than the shoestring Wontner flicks.
Plot? Young women are being murdered in London, with no common theme of location, class, employment or anything else—except that in every case the right forefinger is cleanly removed. Turns out to have a lot to do with blackmail and even more to do with hypnotism—and did I mention that Professor Moriarty is involved?
Really quite good, and both the print and sound quality were fine. In some ways, I like Wontner’s Holmes better—and in almost every way I like Fleming’s Watson better. That said, this is a good film; I’ll give it $1.50.