Dressed to Kill (1946)

*. This is nice. The Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce series of Sherlock Holmes movies had been going downhill, but in this last entry they managed to pull it together and go out on a high note. It’s not one of their best efforts, but it’s a solid entertainment.
*. It’s also a darker film. There’s no Lestrade, and the comic parts for Watson are kept to a minimum. His bumbling comes in handy on a couple of occasions but in general there’s less broad humour and more nastiness. Like the bad guys who try to do away with Holmes by using the same gas that the Germans are said to have used to remove undesirables.
*. The original title was Prelude to Murder, which would have been good. Dressed to Kill is snazzy but apparently critics found it meaningless. On the commentary track, however, Richard Valley sees it as clearly referring to the well-dressed villainess Hilda Courtney (Patricia Morison). That’s good enough for me. A lot of noir film titles at the time were this generic and non-descriptive.
*. The costumes are certainly exotic, if not always deadly. I love the prison uniforms with their pointing arrows, which were actually used to mark the king’s property (the design was known as the King’s Broad Arrow). They seem like something out of Dr. Seuss. Also Seuss-like is the hat Hilda Courtney is wearing when she goes to the toy store. It’s quite inspired. There’s definitely a surreal note to these get-ups.

*. Sticking with wardrobe for just a second, I really like the way that Hilda’s fur stole is used in Stinky’s death. As he sinks to the floor he slowly pulls it from her shoulders. That’s a nice touch.
*. Another moment I enjoyed was watching Watson use the old-style fire extinguisher. It operates by way of a kind of pump action. I’d never seen a fire extinguisher like that before.
*. The plot is quite clever, even if it’s probably a lot more clever than it needed to be. This is the trap criminal masterminds are always falling into. They make things too difficult. I mean, the plan for getting rid of Holmes struck me as particularly weak, and the ease with which he escaped made it seem even weaker.
*. And so I bid adieu to a great detective and a great series of admittedly minor films. These were popular, generic movies shot quickly and on the cheap, but most of them succeed in passing the time with a minimum of mental friction.

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