The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

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*. There are many critics (Richard Valley, who does the DVD commentary track here being one) who think this is Basil Rathbone’s best Sherlock Holmes movie, and perhaps the best Holmes ever on screen. It’s not a bad movie, but I don’t rate it as highly as that. Rathbone’s first outing as Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is a better movie.
*. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is based on a play, which usually indicates some good writing and a tight plot. Sadly, about the only thing it has in common with its source is the title, and the plot here is ramshackle to the point of falling apart.
*. Some of this is due to the amount of material that was cut, leaving a few scenes hard to explain. But my bigger problem was that Holmes and Watson just aren’t very bright. Many Holmes aficionadoes don’t care for Nigel Bruce’s Watson because he was turned into a buffoon. Personally, I don’t mind, and I think the scene where he plays dead in the street is very funny. What I do mind is the way Moriarty completely outmanouvers Holmes, who is so thick he can’t even recognize an albatross from Moriarty’s drawing of one hanging around a man’s neck.
*. What should have been a great intellectual duel fizzles. Which is sad because I think George Zucco’s Moriarty is excellent and I would have liked more of the battle of wits between them.

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*. Instead, all we have is that delightful cab ride at the beginning. How British. The two arch-enemies sharing a cab. Sure they want to destroy each other, but that’s no reason not to be polite and observe all the proper formalities.
*. I also like the battling music in the opening scenes. The ancient Inca funeral dirge vs. Holmes’s fly-chasing fiddle. If only the rest of the movie had lived up to such a promising start.
*. Holmes’s disguise as the cockney music-hall singer is great. I wasn’t expecting it and was genuinely surprised when he revealed himself to Ida Lupino.
*. It’s odd that this film was restored and given a commentary track but the subtitles are so poor. The Star of Delhi turns into the Star of Deli part way through, “music-hall” becomes “musical” and “eminent” is twice rendered as “iminent [sic].” That’s pretty bad.
*. This was the last Holmes film of the series done by Fox. It was released on the day war broke out in Europe: September 9, 1939. When Rathbone would next appear as Holmes he would be at a new studio (Universal) and fighting Nazis in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

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