Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson. It doesn’t get much better than that. From the late 1930s through the mid-1940s, they were Holmes and Watson.
I’ve seen all 14 films and they’re a remarkable mix of detective stories, crime stories, spy thrillers, suspense, and a few touches of comedy. The films gave us the definitive Holmes for an entire generation of viewers. They were exciting, thrilling, and well-played. I should stay that because a film is listed low on my list (with the exception of the #14 film), it’s not because it was a bad film. The series has so many good films in it, it was actually hard to make up my mind on the films between 2 and 14.
14) The Woman in Green (1945)
The weakest of the series. The Woman in Green was a film that struggled with its plot and villains. The character who ought to the primary villain lacked the personality of Holmes’ female antogonists in The Spiderwoman and Dressed to Kill. So, the writers brought Professor Moriarity back despite having killed him six movies prior. The problem is that the plot they created was too small for Moriarity. In previous movies, he’d tried to steal the crown jewels and then been working for the Nazis. In this film, Moriarty’s plot amounts to is a fairly gruesome blackmail scheme. Hardly stuff for the Napoleon of Crime.
13) The Pearl of Death (1944)
Holmes, while trying to illustrate the ineffectiveness of relying on an electronic burgular alarm to protect a valuable pearl, disconnects the alarm, allowing a thief to steal the pearl. From there, the story follows the premise of the Doyle story, “The Six Napoloeans.” However, it adds in a gruesome monster of a killer and makes for a suspenseful chapter in the series.
12) Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
Not as exciting as the title might indicate, with a few rought spots. However, Holmes’ investigation into a series of murders at a convalescent home has a fantastic final confrontation requiring a lot of guts from our hero to pull it off.
11) Dressed to Kill (1946)
This is a film that gets trashed by some fans for everything from the title to similarities in plot to Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. The plot centers around three music boxes that were made in prison and purchased at an auction house and criminals desperate to receover them. However, I love the use of music in this plot. Also, while this film features from Watson’s goofiest moments as he’s tricked by the villain into revealing the location of a music box with the help of a puerile ruse, Watson also gives Holmes the final clue that helps him solve the case.