Monday, April 14, 2014

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

This immediate follow-up to THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (released by Fox earlier the same year) is adapted from William Gillette's stage play from 1899 and directed by Alfred Werker, a competent studio craftsman but not a director known for any particularly distinctive visual style. As a result, it feels more theatrical in its staging than the previous film, but compensates by being bathed in atmospheric, high-contrast lighting by Leon Shamroy.

This second film in the Basil Rathbone-Nigel Bruce Holmes series finds the master sleuth being called on to protect a woman in trouble (Ida Lupino) whose father and brother have both met mysterious ends, and fears she might be next. This turns out to be an elaborate diversion from the real crime being plotted by Holmes' arch nemesis, Prof. Moriarty (George Zucco), leading to a face-off between the two in a suspenseful climax at the Tower of London.

The effective art direction (especially the foggy, nocturnal London settings), intelligent script, and top-notch supporting cast make it a first-rate production all around. It also includes the fun bonus of seeing Rathbone in a musical turn, performing the music hall ditty "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside", a nice reminder of what a versatile talent he was.

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