Sherlock Holmes has appeared in hundreds of movies, but (to my knowledge) Sherlock Holmes has only ever DIED onscreen just once. "Paramount on Parade" (1930) features a comedy sketch in which Sherlock Holmes and Philo Vance are murdered by Fu Manchu. The actor who got to die as Sherlock Holmes was Clive Brook, who also played the title role in "Sherlock Holmes" (1932) ... which sounds like the first film in a series, but which is actually a sequel to "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" (1929) ... which sounds like a sequel but isn't. Sherlock Holmes should have died in THIS movie instead.
Clive Brook's version of Sherlock Holmes is certainly non-traditional. He sports a tweed cap and long side whiskers. Even worse is this movie's version of Doctor Watson, played by an inept English actor named Henry Reeves-Smith. His performance in this movie must be the absolute worst portrayal of Doctor Watson, ever. "The Return of Sherlock Holmes" was filmed on claustrophobic soundstages at the Paramount studio in Astoria, Queens ... and not for one instant do we believe we're in England. This film is set in the present day: 1929, when Conan Doyle was still alive. Doyle gets a script credit, but he didn't actually work on this awful and un-Sherlockian film.
Doctor Watson's daughter(!) Mary is engaged to Roger Longmore, played by neurotic-looking effeminate actor Phillips Holmes, who can't act but certainly knows how to flare his nostrils. Roger is a reformed criminal, who used to work for none other than Professor Moriarty. Sherlock's archnemesis Moriarty is played by an inept American actor named Harry T. Morey, who apparently got the job because "Harry T. Morey" sounds like "Moriarty" pronounced sideways: he brings nothing else to this role. Conveniently, Roger has a piece of paper (printed on McGuffin stationery) which contains the evidence exposing Moriarty's criminal dealings. Of course, Moriarty wants the piece of paper. Of course, Sherlock Holmes is sworn to stop him. Somehow Holmes, Watson, Moriarty, Colonel Moran, Watson's daughter, uncle Tom Cobley and the piece of paper all end up aboard a transatlantic steamship. Meanwhile, Roger Longmore has got himself murdered. (Phillips Holmes is more convincing during the brief scene in which he plays a corpse than in the longer scenes in which he impersonates a living human being.)
Whilst he's investigating the murder of Watson's would-be son-in-law, Holmes (Sherlock, not Phillips) wears two different disguises on shipboard: impersonating a German magician and a Cockney steward. I kept hoping Sherlock would get his disguises mixed up, and he would impersonate a German steward and a Cockney magician.
This movie is full of gimmicks, gadgets and gizmos which might be appropriate for James Bond or Craig Kennedy or the Shadow, but which simply don't belong in a Sherlock Holmes movie. Sherlock applies glow-in-the-dark paint to Moran's boots, so he can follow his footprints. Moriarty murders his victims with a cigarette-case containing a poison-tipped needle. (Which makes this the first Hollywood movie to admit that cigarettes CAN kill you.) Quick, Watson, the needle!
The absurdity reaches its nadir in a scene on board the steamship when Holmes and Moriarty sit down to dinner together, all veddy sophisticated, eh wot? I kept hoping one of the sailors would shout "Iceberg, right ahead!" and this whole shipload would go down with all hands.
This movie is rather dire, without ever reaching the delirious depths of ineptitude that would make it bad enough to be hilarious. It mayn't be the worst Sherlock Holmes movie ever, but it certainly comes close.
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