The Scarlet Claw (1943)

*. Sherlock Holmes in Canada! And that was actually what they were going to call it — Sherlock Holmes in Canada — up until the day they started filming, when cooler heads prevailed. Imagine trying to fill theatres with a title like that, even if Canada is “the linchpin of the English-speaking world.”
*. I’m not sure why they wanted to set it in Canada, and specifically Quebec. As David Stuart Davies notes on his DVD commentary, the location is really just another example of Universal’s Neverland, a generic European village surrounded by foggy moors. And there aren’t even any French-Canadians except, presumably, for the Journets. So why bother?
*. Well, whatever the thinking was, here we are. Davies calls this “perhaps the most popular of the Universal series of Holmes movies” and picks it as his own “desert island” disc. I’d certainly consider it one of the most successful, up with The Hound of the Baskervilles (you get credit for being first), Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (the film immediately preceding this one) and The Pearl of Death (which was up next).
*. Davies also says that the reviews were not that positive. Mainly, he supposes, because franchise fatigue had set in. There may be a lesson there in our own age of franchise overstretch. It’s always possible that the next in a long run of diminishing sequels might be something good, but our expectations tend to lower as time goes by.
*. There was no direct link to any one Holmes story, but the proceedings are very similar to The Hound of the Baskervilles, most obviously with the “monster” haunting the moors being a figure covered in phosphorescent paint.
*. Despite such blatant borrowing, however, the elaborate story itself constitutes what is probably the best pure mystery of the series. There are clues, misdirections and red herrings, and I’ll confess I had the killer wrong several times before the final reveal. I shouldn’t feel bad though, as Ramson is the equal to Holmes in the art of concealment and dramatic flair.
*. The villain is in fact so clever here, and so consistently a step ahead of Holmes, that some critics found Holmes to be off his game. I don’t think that’s fair. He’s not a superhero, after all, and he’s at least on the right track most of the time.

*. The murder weapon is in fact a garden weeder. Really! That seemed rather weak to me, but it did remind me of the claw in Blood and Black Lace. I don’t think Bava was thinking of this film (if he had even seen it), but anything is possible.
*. I’ve remarked before on how hilariously bad the subtitling is for the restored version of these films issued as part of the DVD Complete Collection. In this one, however, they really take the cake. “Superstitious peasants,” for example, become “superstitious pheasants” and “monsieur” becomes “masseur.” This is crazy, especially as we’re talking about subtitles that somebody actually wrote, not just closed-captioning.
*. The murder of poor Marie (already a victim of domestic abuse) really does seem gratuitous and out of place. I wonder why they felt the need for that.
*. If I don’t rank this as my favourite Holmes film from this series I think it’s because there’s too much that’s too familiar. It’s almost like they’re checking boxes on a list of formula elements that, however individually well done, don’t always cohere.
*. But, if it’s novelty you’re after this wouldn’t be the first place I’d look. What The Scarlet Claw does it does very well though, and if it’s not quite as memorable as some of the other entries in the series it still stands as one of the best.

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