Category: DVD Review

The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Four

After four weeks, we get to the cream of this crop of these fantastic films. (For previous films, (see Part One , Part Two, and Part Three.

3) Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943):

The third of a mini-series within the films focusing on World War II sees Holmes and Watson off for Washington, seeking to recover microfilm vital to the war effort. The film is more a spy thriller than a traditional detective story, but Rathbone makes it work.

The film features another solid performance from Rathbone. In this one, Holmes is matched up against sophisticated and ruthless Nazi spies who will do anything to capture the microfilm. This is one of the best types of Holmes films, with the villains and Holmes racing against time towards a solution.

The tension is heightened by clever camera work surrounding the object of the quest, which is a matchbook containing the missing microfilm. The producers rarely let the matchbook out of our sight. We see it passed from hand to hand, even follow it on a tray at a party. It was a very clever and fun device.

2) Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Terror (1942)

The Voice of Terror brought Holmes and Watson off the radio and back on to motion picture screens and relaunched the series at Universal, and set the series back into the modern times of World War II Great Britain, placing our heroes in the mix of one of the greatest fights in history. This movie has a ripped from the headlines feel as Holmes seeks out a man whose diabolical broadcast were designed to destroy the morale of the beleaguered British public by disclosing classified war information over the radio.

The cinematography was inexpensive but well-done. If you get the restored version from UCLA, the barroom scene where Holmes seeks help in weeding out the Voice of Terror is extremely well-shot. The solution to the case is unexpected and the film packs an emotional wallop. The spirit of World War II comes through in the film. The Voice of Terror is a film about sacrifice, courage, and the indomitable spirit that refused to blink in the face of Nazi Germany.

Of course, there are many people who question the decision to have movies where Sherlock Holmes fights in World War II. However, we must remember that at the time the movie was released, survival of Great Britain was an open question, and the movie has the sense of that. What this means is that the stakes of the film are high and the film had a sense of this larger story going on in the real world. It would be odd for Holmes not to be involved in these sort of cases.

World War II brought many changes to the lives of fictional detectives. Not only Sherlock Holmes, but other detectives such as Nero Wolfe and Charlie Chan lent their skills to the war effort. World War II was when people from all walks of life were having their lives shaken up. Holmes was no different..

And what would Arthur Conan Doyle think of his hero becoming a Nazi buster? The last line of the film provides a clue. Holmes tells Watson, “But there’s an East wind coming all the same. Such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less. And a greener, better, stronger land will be in the sunshine when the wind is clearer.” The quote was actually a line Doyle wrote for Holmes in “His Last Bow,” which was set during World War I. I have no doubt that this film is one Doyle would approve of.

1) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is not just the very best of the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, but the best Holmes film I’ve yet seen. The movie begins with Professor Moriarty (played superbly by George Zucco) being acquitted of a crime and Holmes pledging to bring him to the gallows. Moriarty responds by planning an ostentatious crime and plans to keep Holmes distracted by giving him a puzzle so fascinating that it’ll keep Holmes occupied while Moriarty pulls off the crime of the century.

While Hound of the Baskervilles introduced us to Rathbone as Holmes, he really begins to own the role in this performance. The dynamic between Holmes and Moriarty has never been better. The crimes are clever and well-executed. The film represents the ultimate in the Holmes-Moriarty battle of wits and the battle is not limited to wits only. The confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at the end of the movie is well-shot and well-scored, making for an exciting and well-paced end to the adventure.

The movie also has the some nice little touches including a fun musical interlude. In addition, unlike later Holmes films which were shot on a limited budget due to wartime restrictions, this film is a beautifully shot period piece.

Thus, while many great and good Holmes would follow, if I had to pick only one Sherlock Holmes film to take on a desert island, this would be the one.

The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Three

Continuing on our list of Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies from best to worst (see Part One and Part Two):

6) The House of Fear (1945)

Each of these films is a little different from each other, and this one is a classic old house mystery. The plot centers around seven retired gentlemen who buy an old house and live together as the Good Comrades. Members of the group start dying under mysterious circumstances, leaving no identifiable bodies.

This one is a puzzler. The solution to the mystery was incredibly clever and took me totally by surprise. This one doesn’t have as much action or tension as some of the other films, but the mystery more than makes up for it.

5) Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

This was the second of three Sherlock Holmes counterespionage movies. It places Holmes squarely against the Nazis and Professor Moriarty who is serving as a Nazi agent. The plot centers around Swiss scientists who come to the UK to supply the British with a powerful new weapon the Nazis would love to get their hands on.

These films liked to borrow an element from a Doyle story as a homage. Here, the Dancing Men makes for a fascinating puzzle as both Holmes and Moriarty try to beat each other to the punch. There’s a good battle of wits that’s worthy of the two geniuses with a prize that’s definitely worthy of their efforts: a weapon that could change the course of the war. This one had a nice mix of comedy in the midst.

It should be noted the final few minutes of the movie had almost a campy feel, with Holmes playing off of Moriarty’s intellectual vanity. Still, it was a very fun movie.

4) The Scarlet Claw (1944):

This film incorporated a greater horror element as Holmes receives a letter asking for help–written by a woman just before she’d been murdered. When Holmes comes to town, everyone is a suspect, including the woman’s husband, with whom Holmes had been having a spirited debate over the existence of the supernatural when they both learned of her death.

This film is perhaps the most frightening and tense of the series, as many of the locals suspect supernatural involvement. Similar to the Hound of the Baskervilles, the locals believe  a supernatural beast of some sort made the odd marks on the body, while Holmes believes an implement was used.

The denouement of the mystery doesn’t disappoint. Just like with House of Fear,  I was surprised by who the murderer was. (Although, the astute viewer may catch a clue when Watson references a Father Brown story in the middle of the film.)

 

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The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Two

The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Two

We continue to revisit this series of posts from 2011. (See Part One)

10) Pursuit to Algiers (1945):

This post-war picture takes Holmes and Watson on a ship-board adventure as they are tasked with guarding the heir to the throne of a fictional nation. The film featured nice red herrings as well as Nigel Bruce singing. If the film had any weakness, it was its villains. The Three Stooges would have been a greater challenge.

9) Terror by Night (1946)

Immediately following “Pursuit to Algiers,” the producers decided to put Holmes and Watson on a train. Other than the first two scenes, the action is all on the train. It’s a taut thriller without a lot of fluff, but manages to get in a decent mystery, plenty of excitement, and a few nice twists at the end.

8 )The Spiderwoman (1944)

Holmes suspects a series of suicides by men in their pajamas is really a fiendish murder plot. This film features one of the best villains of the series in Gale Sondergaard who is the ultimate femme fatale and the mastermind of the plot. This film features deadly peril for both Holmes and Watson and a suspenseful ending. Also, you get to see what targets you’d find in a shooting gallery during World War II.

7) The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

This was the first appearance by Rathbone and Bruce as Holmes and Watson and follows the classic mystery novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in a baffling whodunit as Holmes has to find out who is trying to use the myth of the Hound of the Baskervilles to do in the young lord of the manor. Hound of the Baskervilles is also noted for its haunting scenes of the Scottish Moors. They’re realistic and help to set the film’s mood. These scenes alone make Hound of the Baskervilles a must-see.

Will continue with Part 3 next week.

 

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DVD Review: The Lone Wolf Meets a Lady


Joan Bradley (Jean Muir), a secretary about to meet her boss’ son is confronted by a husband she’d believed dead who shows up at her apartment to blackmail her. He is murdered while she’s in the other room. She runs into the Lone Wolf (Warren William) and his butler sidekick Jamison (Eric Blore). The two try to help the secretary by chivalrously altering the crime scene in a way that makes her look innocent. However, the police catch a mistake and it’s up to the Lone Wolf to find the real murderer or else he and the secretary could go to jail.

Overall, the film is decently executed. The mystery and the supporting characters are adequate. Warren William has a decent turn as the detective, but was not a standout for the era. He lacked the energy he had in some of his earlier films and was not up to the standard of Chester Morris and George Sanders who played similar roles in the Saint and Boston Blackie films. The saving grace of the film was Eric Blore, who made a great comic sidekick. Blore steals every scene he’s in and provides just the right amount of comic relief to the film without becoming annoying as so many comic sidekicks of the era did.

The DVD is the definition of no frills: no DVD menu, let alone any extras. As a result, when you put the DVD in, it starts playing automatically. For me, this was a minor annoyance.

Overall, this isn’t a bad mystery, but I only recommend it if you want to see an example of the Lone Wolf in action.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Movie Review: My Gun is Quick (1956)


My Gun is Quick stars Robert Bray as Mike Hammer, Mickey Spillane’s hardest of hard boiled private eyes. Hammer comes to the defense of a prostitute being beaten and gives her money to get home on. When he finds out later that she was murdered, Hammer sets out to find the killer.

The film is obviously low budget but competently made, with solid direction and editing. The less expensive production actually helps creates a gritty Noir feel.

Robert Bray was strangely given an “introducing” credit when he’d been appearing in films for fourteen years. However, he is a solid Mike Hammer. I’m not a huge fan of Mike Hammer, but I was pleased with Bray’s portrayal. He portrays Hammer as a rough character, but still makes him feel sympathetic and human as he goes about his journey as he cuts through the underworld to unravel this mystery which he takes on as a personal crusade.

The rest of the cast is mostly unknowns. The biggest name I recognized in this was Patricia Donahue, who played a bar girl in this and would later play Lucy Hamiltion in the Michael Shayne TV series. Despite the lack of star power, the cast turns in mostly solid performances.

Overall, the film is worth watching for fans of Mike Hammer, or those looking for a solid Noir film. It is available either as a DVD or for instant viewing through Amazon.com and can be watched by Amazon prime members for free.

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