Four more Sherlock Holmes! And in keeping with the occasion, the first one is rather a turkey–certainly the worst Holmes I’ve seen to date.
A Study in Scarlet, 1933, b&w. Edwin L. Marin (dir.), Reginald Owen, Anna May Wong, June Clyde, Alan Dinehart, John Warburton, Alan Mowbray, Warburton Gamble. 1:12.
This one has plenty of plot (pretty much unrelated to the story), including coded newspaper ads, mysterious rhyming messages with corpses and an odd group that turns into a tontine, with the survivor(s) collecting what’s left. There’s also a foreclosed mansion with secret passages and a plucky heroine.
Unfortunately, Reginald Owens is by far the least interesting and plausible Sherlock Holmes I’ve ever seen—if anything, he’s blander than Lestrade (or Lastrade in this movie’s credits). Additonally, the print has awful sound quality and a mediocre-to-worse picture. All in all, I can’t give this more than $0.50.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, 1943, b&w. Roy William Neill (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill, Dennis Hoey, William Post Jr., Kaaren Verne. 1:20 [1:08].
This one’s wildly anachronistic, since it begins with a disguised Holmes off in Europe bringing a scientist back to England with his newfangled bombsight, to protect the sight from falling into the hands of Nazis and so that British bombers will have it.
Anachronistic, yes. A WWII propaganda film of sorts, absolutely (Holmes’ final speech is classic war propaganda). But also a good Holmes flick, with a fair amount of plot, Lestrade, Holmes and Watson in the thick of things, two showdowns between Holmes and Moriarty (with Moriarty apparently plunging to his death this time around), a coded message (the only link to the Doyle source) and more. Nigel Bruce is still a somewhat fatuous Watson, but it works better this time around—and Rathbone is just fine as Holmes. It’s also an excellent print (one of the best b&w prints I’ve seen in a public domain collection) with fine sound quality as well.
As it happens, I’d seen this movie five years ago, in the set of free DVDs I got from a long-since-departed DVD magazine. The difference: That version was a very poor print, difficult to watch. Sometimes, a good print makes a difference. I’ll give this one $1.25.
Terror by Night, 1946, b&w. Roy William Neill (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Dennis Hoey, Renee Godfrey, Frederick Worlock. 1:00.
Mysteries on trains: A stock setting that always adds several elements. This time, we begin with the fabulous Star of Rhodesia, a 400+-carat diamond that’s brought doom to its owners. Currently, the owner is a dowager who bought it to London and is going back to Edinburgh; her son hires Holmes to make sure the gem gets there safely.
We know it’s going to be fun even before the train moves. Another familiar face also gets on the added day compartment that the dowager and Holmes are both on—Inspector Lestrade, supposedly off on a fishing vacation (a month before the season). Watson almost misses the train, and jumps on with a long-time acquaintance who…well, that would be telling. Moriarty’s still dead at this point—but there’s his sidekick Moran to deal with.
We get swapped jewels, several guilty parties (guilty of various things, including swiping a hotel coffeepot), death on the train, discussions of curry, and a remarkable (if contrived) set of scenes in the long climax. There are enough red herrings to stock a Communist fishmarket and an irascible mathematics professor who really should be the villain. It’s all high Holmesian drama…although this time Watson is, if anything, even more of a bumbling idiot than in other movies. The sound’s not perfect, but it’s still a great romp and a fun watch. Noting that, as with the others, this is a one-hour flick, I’ll give it $1.25.
Dressed to Kill, 1946, b&w. Roy William Neill (dir.), Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison, Frederick Worlock. 1:16 [1:08].
We begin in a prison where one convict, working on music boxes, is approached by another who suggests that the first can get a shorter sentence if he’ll just talk—which he won’t. Then to an auction house where three identical (and dull) music boxes are auctioned off to three different people—and, later in the day, a man frantically calls at the now-closed auctioneer to buy the music boxes (and pays to see who did buy them).
And we’re off. We have murder, mayhem and music boxes—and Holmes proves to be an expert whistler with an eidetic memory for tunes, along with his violin playing (on display in this flick). The music boxes turn out to be clues toward finding a set of engraving plates for five-pound notes—that is, real engraving plates. There’s a female villain. Watson is even more stupefyingly incompetent than usual even for Nigel Bruce’s version.
Not as satisfying as some of the others; the print’s not as good, there are slight sound problems and somehow this one just didn’t come off as well. Still, not bad. (Note that the 1:08 running time on the actual disc somehow shows up as 108 minutes—that is, full feature length—on the sleeve!) $1.00.