The Sherlock Holmes Collection: Volume III

| March 1, 2004

Beautifully restored by the UCLA Film and Television archive to their former theatrical 35mm glory, these films are a far cry from the faded 16mm copies that are endlessly recycled on local television and marketed in various knockoff VHS formats.
Starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes with Nigel Bruce as a relentlessly bumbling, heart-of-gold Dr. Watson, this trifecta of mysteries were the final three films in the Sherlock Holmes series that were produced and directed by Roy William Neill for Universal during the 1940’s.
All of the Universal Holmes films are characterized by brisk pacing, intriguing scripts and effective ensemble acting that hold up extremely well. While the late Jeremy Brett has largely eclipsed Basil Rathbone’s cinematic version of Holmes for modern audiences, the preciseness of Rathbone’s portrayal of the legendary sleuth remains definitive.
“The Woman in Green” (1945) pits Holmes against an insidious murder-for-blackmail ring led by that legendary criminal protagonist, Professor Moriarty. Moriarty is played with icy reserve by underrated character actor Henry Daniell- a superior performance. An added plus are the sinister charms of femme fatale hypnotist Hillary Brooke who proves more than a match for Holmes’ vaunted intellect in this superior series entry.
“Pursuit to Algiers” (1945) has the legendary detective playing bodyguard to a European prince who is being stalked by an international assassination ring. Most of the action that takes place on an ocean liner is strictly standard ‘B’ movie fodder. Rathbone appeared to be uncharacteristically weary as he plods through his role in pedestrian fashion. Despite Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) warbling ‘Loch Lomon’ and the fascinatingly sinister Martin Kosleck showing up in mid-voyage as a knife-throwing assassin, this film is an interesting, but uninspired series entry.
Basil Rathbone returns to top form while chasing a gang of jewel robbers on a speeding train in “Terror by Night” (1945). Holmes and Watson are on board to protect “The Star of Rhodesia” diamond and are quickly coping with multiple murder, varied subplots and assorted red herrings on a “one-way ticket to death”. Series regular Dennis Hoey reappears as Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, a police official so thickly obtuse that he makes Dr. Watson look like a nuclear physicist. British character actor Alan Mowbray adds heft to this superior entry that neatly captures the claustrophobic atmosphere of a moving train.
The Universal Holmes series concluded with “Dressed to Kill” (1946). Basil Rathbone was burnt out after 13 Sherlock Holmes films dating back to 1939 and convinced that typecasting damaged his career, opted out after this final entry. (Rathbone was correct. The distinguished actor descended into cheap horror films and never recovered his former cinematic elan.) The final entry pitted Rathbone against yet another female master criminal played by Patricia Morison. The plot revolves around series of musical boxes smuggled out of Dartmoor Prison with a code revealing the location of missing five pound plates from the Bank of England. The talented Morison (still hale at age 87) was more than a worthy adversary for Holmes in the series finale.
The beautiful clarity of these restorations includes all of the theatrical details down to the War Bond pitches of 1945. The austere Universal production values and updating of Holmes adventures to the mid 20th century do not detract from the entertainment value of these films nearly six decades after their initial release.
This set is a must for vintage film buffs and Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts.

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