Category: Sherlock Holmes

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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The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part One

Note: I’m taking a few weeks off from new columns, so I’m revisiting a series I did back in 2011 on the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes series which many newer listeners/readers haven’t read. 

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.

Their fourteen films are 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 say 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. They’re almost all good, and some of these rankings were tough calls.

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 be the primary villain lacked the personality of Holmes’ female antagonists in The Spiderwoman and Dressed to Kill. So, the writers brought Professor Moriarty back despite having killed him six movies prior. The problem is the plot they created was too small for Moriarty. 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 burglar 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 Napoleons.” 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 rough 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 the criminals desperate to recover them.  However, I love the use of music in this plot. Also, this film features Watson’s goofiest moments as he’s tricked with a puerile ruse into revealing the location of a music box, but Watson also gives Holmes the final clue that helps him solve the case.

To be Continued Next week….

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EP2132s: Sherlock Holmes: Adventure of the Devil’s Foot

Tom Conway

Also known as the Cornish horror. While recovering from a convalescence, Holmes has to solve a bizarre murder that local legend would seem to blame on the devil.

Original Air Date: January 13, 1947

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Sherlock Series 4 Review


Sherlock Series 4 features three feature-length episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.”

The series was certainly different from the prior three. It would be inaccurate to say there’s no mystery in this season but they’re definitely very different sorts of mysteries.  We’ll go ahead and examine each episode in turn.

Warning, spoilers ahead for the first episode.

“The Six Thatchers” follows the events of Series 3 and the nightmare trip which was, “The Abominable Bride,” with Holmes having been given clemency for committing murder at the end of Series 3 in order to confront the seeming return of Moriarty. Holmes’ reaction is to put that off until something happens with Moriarty or whoever’s impersonating him. He returns to being a detective and texting all the time. While showing texts in Series 1 was interesting, it became incessant at the start of this episode. Characters should text far less than people in real life do.

There are some things I liked about this episode. I thought it was funny when Holmes offered to give Lestrade credit for solving a case, and Lestrade pointed out he’d done that before, and Watson wrote about it on his blog, making Lestrade look foolish. It’s a subtle dig at the original stories which were published by Dr. Watson in-universe, including stories where Holmes agrees to let Lestrade take credit for solving the case while the story exists in-universe and reveals otherwise.

The first half of “The Six Thatchers” is a well-done modern retelling of “The Six Napoleons,” which I really enjoyed. It leads into an ex-spy colleague of Mary Watson hunting her down for betraying him and the rest of her team.

Mary runs away. Sherlock tracks her down and searches for the real traitor. They confront the traitor unarmed and the traitor tries to kill Sherlock and Mary throws herself in the way of the bullet and is killed.

I found the “Mary has another secret” plot to be a bit of a rehash of plot points from Series Three. It was sad to see Mary go, but she died in the books, so it’s hard to complain about that. This episode was okay, not great, but it had some good moments.

“The Lying Detective,” finds Watson having cutting Holmes out of his life for failing to fulfill his vow to protect the Watson family. Holmes’ health is deteriorating, even as he pursues a rich man named Culverton Smith who may or may not be a serial killer.

This story leaves you constantly questioning who you can trust. Holmes has been taking drugs, and we’re given reason to question if what the audience sees is real or drug-induced fantasies. At the same time, Watson is hallucinating about Mary, with Mary even being helpful enough to tell him that she’s a hallucination created by his own mind.

This story does keep you thinking as there’s suspense about what exactly has happened. There’s not a question of who did it since there’s not a specific crime being investigated. That lets the central conflict be a battle of wits between Holmes and Smith.

Not being sure what you’re seeing is true makes for an interesting story, but I wouldn’t want to see another episode like this.

The series wraps up with, “The Final Problem,” in which we finally find out what was behind Moriarty’s re-appearance after dying in Series 2 as well as Sherlock finally learning the truth of his own past. I enjoyed this episode for the most part. It is much more psychological thriller than a typical murder mystery, but it has more use of deductive skills than any other episode this series. The final few minutes are superb as they say a lot about the man Sherlock has become without him saying much of anything.

On the other hand, to enjoy this, you have to accept Sherlock’s opponent in this story is a supervillain with the power to control any person if they get within three feet of her and speak to her alone. It can be disconcerting when a Sherlock Holmes story takes a giant step outside the realms of reasoning that’s such a hallmark of the character. To be fair, Steven Moffat is far from the first to do this. Sherlock Holmes has appeared in numerous pastiches that have put him up against supernatural creatures, aliens from outer space, and all other sorts of weirdness. This sort of thing certainly has been done worse.

The decisions this series have certainly been controversial, but I understand why they were made. When this series started in 2010, Moffat set Sherlock on a journey. In Series 1, Sherlock could be far more cold and oblivious to how others feel, and in many ways he couldn’t care less. In the first episode, Inspector Lestrade expressed his hope for Holmes, “Sherlock Holmes is a great man, and I think one day, if we’re very, very lucky, he might even be a good one.”

And that’s been the journey Sherlock’s been on. It’s not unheard of to do this in modern detective programs. In Monk, Adrian Monk was on a journey to become whole and find peace. The big difference between Sherlock and Monk is Monk aired sixteen hours of new episodes per year for eight seasons and worked Monk’s emotional journey into that series.

The challenge with Sherlock is they’ve gotten three feature-length episodes every two to three years due to the rising popularity of the series stars. Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman have both become major stars in Hollywood and scheduling has become more difficult. Who knows when they will be able to do a Series 5 or if they will be able to. Moffat seems to have wanted to ensure that character arc was completed, so a lot of character-related stuff was shoved into Series 4 in order to give the series a good stopping place.

The challenge is Moffat squeezed so much character work into this series, the mystery elements suffer. And to further along Sherlock’s character story, the show does some things that compromise Watson’s character.

Whether you enjoy it will depend on what you’re looking for. If all you want is a simple, well-written detective story, you’re going to be disappointed. The more invested your are in these characters, the more you’ll get out of it and the more forgiving you’ll be about the series’ flaws as you get to see Sherlock’s personal growth.

I was invested enough that I enjoyed the series,  but I’ll be okay if there’s not an additional series or future one-shot movies. Unlike the previous three finales, “The Final Problem” doesn’t end with a cliffhanger that demands another series. Unless Moffat plans on bringing viewers the type of mysteries that got people into Sherlock in the first place, it’s probably best just to leave it there.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes


Continuing where the previous box set left off, this box set finds Holmes overseeing the funeral of his brother Mycroft. Holmes is the only one who believes Mycroft’s death is anything other than an accident. More than a quarter of a century after he and Watson faced off against the Society in the prior box set, the anarchist evil organization returns with a vengeance with the goal of bringing down the war-weary British government and the world.

This is a  rich set. The four episodes tell one story over the course of a single day. Several themes run through them: Holmes’ retains much of his deductive powers but finds himself out of place in the 1920s. At many times, Holmes feels like John Wayne’s character in the Shootist past his prime but with one last fight in him. The Society’s strike comes right after World War I, and shows a younger generation wants to escape from war and is willing to pay any price to appease them, compared to Holmes and Watson who view them as intolerable evils.

Watson’s marriage is an interesting focus as Eleanor is cool to his adventuring ways and he feels she loves him less than his first two wives. Plus Holmes is menaced by a figure from his past.

Some elements in this story don’t quite work for me. The Extras portion of each CD references this as being, “Victorian Melodrama,” which neither of the previous box sets were. This seems to paper over a few elements that are over the top and out of place in the tone set by the previous sets. This isn’t enough to ruin the stories by any means but without them this would be a perfect four-hour, suspense-filled, action thriller with many great character moments.

As usual, Briggs and Earl are on top form as Holmes and Watson. Natalie Burt and Elizabeth Rider are superb additions as ex-spies. (Vivienne Scott and Eleanor Watson respectively.) The soundscape conveys the epic power of the script quite nicely, and despite a few minor issues, the story is compelling listening from start to finish.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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Telefilm Review: Sherlock: The Abominable Bride

***Spoilers Ahead***

Sometimes, the simplest story is the best story. This is something that Stephen Moffat will never quite get. He’s a clever writer and loves clever twists and tricking the audience. Sometimes, the tricks are genuinely clever and delight the viewer, and sometimes they undermine everything viewers have been through and make them feel cheated.. This was true in Doctor Who Series 6, and it’s certainly true of The Abominable Bride. 

The premise of the Abominable Bride as advertised is that it’s Sherlock Holmes done properly. Sherlock set in the Victorian era. And for the first hour, that’s what we got as Sherlock Holmes investigated the case of a woman dressed as a bride who shoots herself in the head is taken to the morgue. Then she shoots her husband and goes on a killing spree across London.

It’s a bizarre story but certainly intriguing fodder for Sherlock Holmes and it goes along along nicely for an hour. We have some good moments, some great humor, and an intriguing mystery. You had all the cast dressed in fine Victorian fashion and Mark Gatiss (playing Mycroft) dressed in a fat suit to match the enormous character described in the book.

However, I saw a problem.  There were so many moments that didn’t ring true to the Victorian era. Why bother doing this story if it wasn’t go to be of the era? But there was an explanation.

***Spoilers Ahead***

And that explanation was?

***Last warning before Spoilers***

It was all a dream. A narcotics-induced dream by the modern Sherlock. We learn that an hour in. We’re told he was extremely hooked on multiple drugs at the end of, “His Last Vow,” in Series 3 however he showed no signs of being high because he’s Sherlock and he’s an addict and you can never tell when a drug addict is so high that they’re going to induce a Victorian dream world. Or the writers just needed him to be high in order to make their vision of the story work.

But it’s not just a dream world, it’s dream worlds within dream worlds.In the first dream world, Sherlock tells us that the crime he’s solving is real and he’s hoping by solving it with an imaginary 19th century investigation to get clues into how Moriarity came back even though he had no way of knowing when he got on the plane that Moriarty was back. However, by the end we’re not even sure of that. Though, we do get back to the investigation eventually and we learn who was behind it.

Militant suffragettes. We’re treated to a speech in which Sherlock explains how a group of militant suffragettes committed the murders and were justified in doing so because men were awful and in the end (for what it’s worth as we don’t know if what’s going on is real), Sherlock lets them go and agrees to have them marked as a failure.

It’s ironic the great big speech about how men are evil oppressors keeping women down was delivered by a man in a room full of silent women serving as a backdrop. While militant suffragettes were a thing in Great Britain, they didn’t really go in for mass murder, more for arson and bombings, though this was mostly during the First World War. Given the state of the world, it’s incredibly socially irresponsible about having Sherlock (and Doctor Watson) giving a tacit wink and a nod to terrorism as a legitimate way of achieving social change.

Certainly, the status of women and their plight in Victorian times could serve a legitimate purpose or point in a Sherlock Holmes story if handled right, but here it’s overbearing and stifles the rest of the Victorian plot.

Of course, the biggest problem is that nothing we see is even real within the context of the story. I guess that makes it a triumph of post-modern storytelling where nothing really has to make sense or have any cohesion as long as you’re deconstructing stuff. The only thing we’re sure is  real is the final scene where modern Sherlock lands, gets off the plane, and has a conversation with his brother. The rest of it is dreams within dreams for a contrived character journey ending with a psychological meeting with Moriarty (Andrew Scott) who was killed off in Series 2. The only good news is that people can skip this episode and miss nothing in terms of future series.

What’s disappointing about this is, unlike most other television series, is this is Sherlock and this is the first episode in nearly two years and it will be more than a year until the next series of episodes.

The main actors are still good, or at least as good as their material will allow them to be, but the material was pretty awful.

At the end of the day, Stephen Moffat should have hired George Mann or Jonathan Barnes (who have both shown they can write proper Sherlock Holmes for Big Finish), or someone of their talent to write a straightforward Sherlock Holmes story set in the Victorian era and had the cast do it in that style. Instead, we get a confused story that borrows from the plot of Moffat’s 2014 Doctor Who Christmas Special “Last Christmas” to produce something far less compelling.

Rating: 1.5 out of 5.0

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