It’s a shame, I know, but as we say in Italy, not every ring doughnut comes out with a hole in the middle. And the tenth entry in Universal Studios’ Holmes and Watson series, is by common consent considered the very least of them. It involves the protection of a member of a foreign royal family, stolen emeralds and is largely set aboard a ship and has a trio of memorable villains too. So far, so good. But we begin in a foggy old London fish and chip shop for an elaborate meet and greet that gets pretty silly …
The following review is offered for Todd Mason’s Tuesday’s Overlooked Film meme over at his fab Sweet Freedom blog.
Universal Sherlock Holmes # 10
Conan Doyle Source: not canonical
Sample dialogue: “My dear fellow, musical talent is hardly evidence of innocence. Moriarity was a virtuoso on the bassoon.”
Original filming dates: August 1945
Sherlock in disguise: no
Universal’s Baker Street Regulars: One of the joys of this series is spotting the appearances of the various members of the stock company of supporting actors who appeared throughout the series in a variety of roles, sometimes as villains and sometimes as victims. In this one we have: Olaf Hytten (the fifth of his six appearances), Frederick Warlock (fourth of his six appearances in the series); and Gerald Hamer (the fourth of his five appearances).
Holmes and Watson are tracked down in foggy London and set through a fairly ridiculous and implausible set of tests before they are able to speak to the representatives of the royal family of Rovenia. The king has been assassinated and Holmes and Watson are tasked with protecting the heir, Prince Nikolas. Through various convolutions, the three end up on board the SS Friesland (from Doyle’s ‘The Norwood Builder’), where the film turns into a bit of a musical, with four performances in total including Watson’s rendition of ‘Loch Lomond’! The villains of the piece, a trio of baddies, are immediately identified so there is no mystery at all, while a subplot about stolen emeralds proves to be entirely unconnected to the main story.
Gregor: It seems such a pity to eliminate Sherlock Holmes.
The movie is otherwise pretty relentlessly padded with a few red herrings but otherwise very little plot to speak of. However, things do improve thanks to the arrival midway of a the trio of killers – the corpulent Gregor (Rex Evans), the campy Mirko (Martin Kosleck) and strongman Gubec (Wee Willie Davis) – really help pep up the movie. It must be admitted though that their various attempts to bump off our heroes are pretty uninspired.
Sherlock Holmes: … it’s tea that has made the British Empire and Dr. Watson what they are today.
Produced under the working title of ‘The Fugitive’ this is a film of small pleasures, though there are some to be found, especially for (a rather gaunt looking) Nigel Bruce, who as Watson has a much expanded role and spends most of the first 10 minutes on board pretty much on his own. The scene in which he learns that Holmes’ plane has crashed is truly heartfelt and moving (albeit very brief) and there is a great scene at a party in which he not only gets to sing but also retells the story of the giant rat of Sumatra (from Doyle’s ‘The Sussex Vampire’).
DVD Availability: Available in terrific editions on DVD and Blu-ray the world over, derived from the restorations made by UCLA. All look decent – some, such as Pursuit to Algiers, have some scratches and, in keeping with its lowly status in the series, this is also one of the lesser transfers too, though perfectly acceptable.
Director: Roy William Neill
Producer: Roy William Neill
Screenplay: Leonard Lee
Cinematography: Paul Ivano
Art Direction: John B. Goodman, Martin Obzina
Music: Edgar Fairchild, Frank Skinner (theme music)
Cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr Watson), Marjorie Riordan, Rosalind Ivan, Morton Lowry, Rex Evans, Martin Kosleck, Wee Willie Davis, John Abbott