Moriarty is sentenced to death, and Sherlock Holmes prepares to retire to the country and marry his girl (sic). But Moriarty has sworn that Holmes, Lt-Col Gore-King of Scotland Yard, and ... See full summary »
Moriarty is sentenced to death, and Sherlock Holmes prepares to retire to the country and marry his girl (sic). But Moriarty has sworn that Holmes, Lt-Col Gore-King of Scotland Yard, and his trial judge shall all be hanged too. When Moriarty escapes and proceeds to put his threat into operation, Holmes has to postpone his retirement. Written by
Kieron O'Hara <firstname.lastname@example.org>
This film, one of many to be generically titled "Sherlock Holmes," now seems to receive notice most frequently for being the earliest talkie film featuring the detective as the protagonist which is today available for viewing. This was a couple of years into the talking era, though, and there's not really any of the static awkwardness that marred many of the earliest sound movies.
Instead, it's a very dark and atmospheric piece of film-making that certainly deserves recognition for this fact. William K. Howard hangs some really spooky or creepy scenes on this pastiche story of the feud between Holmes and Professor Moriarty, including haunting silhouettes headed to the gallows, tense moments waiting in darkened houses, and a great sequence in which we meet a series of gangsters at a fairground by seeing them all score perfectly at the shooting game.
I like Clive Brook as Sherlock Holmes (giving an encore performance in the role; his first was, confusingly, in "The Return of Sherlock Holmes"). He doesn't inject very much emotional subtlety into the role of the detective, but he's a forceful, intense, charismatic presence in the role who demands attention. Judging from the one surviving audio recording of William Gillette, the most influential Holmes of the era, in the role, Brook seems to have absorbed some of his vocal inflections
to no ill effect.
Fun to watch as the lead actor may be, Holmes is in other ways not recognizable as the iconic character we all know. Perhaps it is shame Brook was not the most introspective of Holmeses, as when we meet him at the start of the film he is engaged and seen in flirtatious exchanges with his fiancée. Strangely as this strikes us, it does generate some valid personal struggle, as Holmes must wrestle with the consequences of his promise to give up his life of chasing Moriarty as he gets married. It all leads to a scene between the future Mrs Holmes and Billy the Baker Street Irregular that is actually rather touching.
Holmes is updated to the then-present day, as he was in most films in the first half of the twentieth century, so we get the amusing incongruity of the sleuth using 1930s-era slang, even if it isn't disparagingly. He also seems to be a cutting edge inventor who demonstrates his car-related discoveries with little model cars that work exactly like the big ones.
In fact, I think it's almost best to think of this as a straight-up tense crime film, with a protagonist who happens to be called Sherlock Holmes. The plot too lends itself better to being a good crime movie rather than a detective picture, with no hint of a whodunnit but a nice twist near the end to increase the stakes of the chase.
Reginald Owen gets little to do and does it pretty stiffly as Watson; it remains a mystery to me why he was cast as Holmes in another film the next year, unless the filmmakers wanted to cash in on nae association. Ernest Torrence, though he doesn't really look the part, turns out to be an excellently believable and threatening Professor Moriarty (even if one of his better scenes is marred by some very terrible back projection).
The strength of this movie isn't its evocation of the Holmes ethos, though Clive Brook brings his magnetism to the altered Holmes. Instead it's a well-shot, tense, and sometimes macabre crime drama with a human element and a Sherlock Holmes flavor. When all is said and done, this works pretty nicely.
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