Tag Archives: Sherlock Holmes

The Set of 400: #176 – My Favorite Phosphorus Disguise

Today! Because there’s no such thing as ghosts and monsters. Haven’t I made that clear to you?

The Scarlet Claw (1944)

Directed by Roy William Neill

Starring Basil Rathbone (x3), Nigel Bruce (x3), Gerald Hamer, Paul Cavanagh, Arthur Hohl, Kay Harding, Miles Mander

Happy New Year, folks! The best of the Universal Sherlock Holmes films, The Scarlet Claw was the eighth Rathbone/Bruce pairing, and the rare adventure set in Canada (!), concerning a series of murders in the town of La Mort Rouge (talk about being right on the nose). In a lot of ways, the plot parallels The Hound of the Baskervilles, even if the story is technically one of the originals produced for the movies. The Doyle estate’s deal with Universal was for two adaptations per every three films, which was honored only basically.

This was also the first original they made which wasn’t updated to the present day – as discussed some in #291 The Voice of Terror (which itself technically is based on the story “His Last Bow”) – and they make good use of the freedom, concocting a more wide-ranging mystery than normal. It’s still a pretty tight film, and it’s not overflowing with suspects, but it doesn’t have the locked-in quality of a number of the movies around it – Sherlock Holmes Faces Death entirely set in a mansion, The House of Fear also set in a mansion, Pursuit to Algiers on a boat, etc. It also features the best non-Moriarty villain in the series, even if it is a surprise adversary, in the form of the constantly-disguised Alistair Ramson, first masquerading as a legendary monster haunting the village, and then as a number of townsfolk.

This movie has a ton of gorgeous posters, too

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The Set of 400: #220 – My Favorite Business Card

Today! Because if it hadn’t been for my flawless footwork, I’d be standing here a dead man today –

Without a Clue (1988)

Directed by Thom Eberhardt

Starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley (x3), Jeffrey Jones (x2), Paul Freeman, Lysette Anthony (x2), Nigel Davenport, Peter Cook (x2), Pat Keen, Matthew Sim, George Sweeney, Harold Innocent

The best Sherlock Holmes comedy ever made, Without a Clue operates under the idea that Ben Kingsley’s Watson is the true mastermind detective, having hired an actor to portray his literary creation, worried that his criminal hunting pastime might be frowned upon by his medical superiors. Michael Caine’s Reginald Kincaid is a womanizing drunk who only barely manages to keep it together enough to don the deerstalker and parrot Watson’s information back to Scotland Yard and the adoring public. The story begins with them years into this deception, their relationship fraying badly from Kincaid’s lackadaisical character upkeep and Watson’s frustration with hiding his genius.

Kingsley is better known and regarded for his dramas, but his comedy work is routinely excellent, including another role on this list, as the supposed Mandarin in #265 Iron Man 3. Opposite Caine doing his best egomaniac boob actor, they sell this premise, even as it leaps into high-stakes Holmesian mystery, battling their legendary adversary Moriarty (a very effective Paul Freeman). Terrifically funny supporting turns come from Jeffrey Jones’ clueless Lestrade, Nigel Davenport’s Lord Smithwick, and the always great Beyond the Fringe alum Peter Cook.

“A-maaaaaa-zing!”

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The Set of 400: #291 – My Favorite Nazi Heckler

Today! Because it’s help me or help the Nazis –

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

Directed by John Rawlins

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, Reginald Denny, Henry Daniell, Leyland Hodgson, Mary Gordon, Hillary Brooke, Thomas Gomez, Montagu Love, Harry Cording

The best of the Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes series with the updated World War II setting, and the only one on this list, The Voice of Terror has a standard mystery film of the era title – The Voice of Terror? What? And like many of the later films in the series (and by later, I mean everything after the first two), this one appears to have been cranked out on the cheap, skimping on sets and run time to maximize the efficiency necessary to churn out multiple movies a year.

However, they stumbled into a pretty effective yarn with Voice of Terror. Based loosely on the original Doyle story “His Last Bow” and the real-life adventures of the Nazi villain Lord Haw-haw (!), this third movie in the group (and the first at Universal, after leaving the big budgets of 20th Century Fox) concerns the government bringing Holmes in to help identify the source of the terrorist radio broadcasts of the Voice, announcing major British setbacks at the hands of the Nazis seemingly as they happen. There are a load of suspects – Holmes quickly figures a member of the illustrious war council may be behind this plot – and plenty of stock footage utilized to depict catastrophes far and wide in Great Britain.

This dude’s wrist is a key plot point

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The Set of 400: #333 – My Favorite Missing Boot

Today! Because here’s something an old squire like you could use, sir – a whistle for calling your sheepdog –

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Directed by Sidney Lanfield

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Richard Greene, Wendy Barrie, Lionel Atwill, John Carradine, E.E. Clive, Barlowe Borland, Beryl Mercer, Morton Lowry, Ralph Forbes, Mary Gordon

The Hound of the Baskervilles was the first and one of the best films in the long-running 20th Century Fox/Universal Sherlock Holmes series of the ’30s/’40s starring Rathbone and Bruce, and kicks off our little mini-marathon of these movies over the next year. A lot of these movies don’t really hold up – they were cranking them out two or three a year for the better part of the next decade, so naturally some weren’t going to be stellar – but they’re all at least pretty watchable due to the excellent work of the leads and their specific takes on the iconic roles.

Baskervilles is particularly interesting for a few reasons. While many of the movies are based on Doyle stories, most needed massive alterations and changes to make the screen – not so much here, as Baskervilles is also one of the rare book-length Doyle tales. Also, Sherlock is off-screen for a large portion of the middle of the film – leaving the heavy lifting to Watson, and the lead-billed, nominal star of the movie, Richard Greene as Henry Baskerville (Greene is probably best known for his work as TV’s Robin Hood in the 1950’s for ITV/CBS). And as a fun fact, this is the only Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock film to reference in any way Holmes’ cocaine use, a topic so eagerly covered in the very solid Seven-Per-Cent Solution with Nicol Williamson some years later.

It’s also got Robert Duvall as Watson and Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud! Not pictured – Olivier himself as Moriarty!

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The Set of 400: #383 – My Favorite Old Timey Boat Construction

Today! Because she mis-interpreted my intention entirely –

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Directed by Guy Ritchie

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Rachel McAdams, Mark Strong, Eddie Marsan, Geraldine James, Robert Maillet

I’ve also got a thing for Sherlock Holmes movies, which I recognize is a little specific, given that I’m not a huge Holmesaphile (Sherlockaphile? Moriaritypants? What would you call them?), but as you’ll see in the days to come, there are more movies featuring some version of the Holmes character than you might expect. The hyper-stylized 2009 Guy Ritchie version and its sequel get a bit maligned, I feel, maybe because this performance of Downey’s appears to be all he’s interested in doing over the last decade. That’s a shame, as this totally works for this character (and for Tony Stark, too) and makes for a pretty great interplay with Law’s atypical take on Watson. Bring in fun action sequences, Mark Strong’s totally solid villain, McAdams great trip as Irene Adler, and I frankly don’t get the backlash to this movie. Why the hell is the third film taking so long to come, for Conan Doyle’s sake??

Also, the movie MVP, obviously – Gladstone

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