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One of the earliest Sherlock Holmes films this is interesting if only for the fact that Holmes is about to get married as the film opens and even dons drag part way through. It may be best not to reflect too much on his relationship with Billy, the Canadian boy who Holmes is training in the arts of criminology. Dr Watson is relegated to an occasional appearance and the arch-villain Moriarty is played with a heavy leering menace that doesn't quite fit with the books. But there's not a lot here that does fit with the books although that does not necessarily detract. The impressive opening, with Moriarty cast in shadows as he proceeds to and from the courtroom for sentencing, sets an appropriate atmosphere which holds throughout. Not a great Sherlock Holmes by any stretch of the imagination, but an interesting example.
In this day and age, we have been exposed to some excellent,
enthusiastic actors tackling the mighty Sherlock. In 1932, there was
nothing to speak of. Sir Arthur had died a few years before, and fans
knew there would be no more original stories.
So, I think this is a pretty good "tour DE force." Sure, it's nowhere near any "real" Holmes story; and sure, it includes some pretty bizarre elements. But, given the times, it's worthwhile. There is some great acting, from underplaying of Holmes to really fun overplaying of the villains; a good pace to the story; and I was very happy with the production.
Think B-gangster movie and you won't be disappointed. But, if you really want Sherlock, fast forward to Basil Rathbone!
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.
Adapted from a stage play, rather than from one of Conan Doyle's books,
is a slightly odd portrayal of the great detective. Holmes finds himself
about to be married to a society girl, a daughter of a wealthy banker. But
marriage has to wait when the arch criminal Moriarty escapes the hangman's
noose to unleash Chicago-style violence on the pubs of London. An
"Americanised" story that will be unfamiliar to Holmes devotees (and,
indeed, to students of London criminology) is, nevertheless, redeemed by
some tight direction and excellent performances by Clive Brook as Holmes
Ernest Torrance, a villainous Moriarty. There's quite a memorable opening
Moriarty, in silhouette, being taken to and from the court for
An interesting example of an early effort by the industry to put Holmes on the cinema map. And there can't be many films in which Holmes appears in drag!
"Sherlock Holmes" is very badly underrated at a current 4.8 on IMDb.
This is a well-above average entry.
For its year (1932) and in comparison with other creaky mysteries of the time, this is a real standout with sharp acting, lines delivered crisply, action-packed scenes, a very good story with good twists and surprise plus good conflict with Moriarty, and chiaroscuro photography that should make noir fans feel at home.
The story doesn't follow "tradition" in two respects, which are that Clive Brook (Holmes) is aiming to retire and marry Miriam Jordan, and in the outcome of the battle with Moriarty.
The story opens with Moriarty tried, convicted and headed for hanging. He makes several death threats at his trial and promises that Holmes' name will be dragged through the mud. He makes an escape and proceeds to put his clever plot into execution. There are some genuinely tense moments as his plot unfolds and as Holmes attempts to figure out and parry his moves. Equally clever are the ruses and counter-moves devised by Holmes. Torrence gives us a determined and clever Moriarty without undue histrionics. Another plus is the presence of Holmes's helper, Billy. Reginald Owen as Watson appears but has rather less to do in this film. He's not really part of the main action.
The staging in the action scenes is quite modern and shows no signs of being slow or dated. This helps make the movie as good as it is.
The earliest talkie Sherlock Holmes at present available, "Conan Doyle's Master Detective Sherlock Holmes" (to give the movie its full title) will probably outrage Conan Doyle purists. (Although actually credited to William Gillette's stage adaptation, the script bears but two or three faint resemblances to that either). The film is really an original creation, using Doyle characters. It stars an unusually adventurous Clive Brook (in his third impersonation of the sleuth), supported by Ernest Torrence as an engrossingly charismatic, menacing Moriarty. So far, so good. But now we are introduced to the lovely Miriam Jordan (in her second of only seven films) who plays Holmes' fiancée! She has quite a sizable role too, especially compared to Dr Watson (Reginald Owen) who figures in only two scenes, his line-feeding duties being undertaken here by Howard Leeds (his first of only three movies) as Little Billy. There is no Lestrade, alas, but Alan Mowbray creditably fills in the Scotland Yard gap as Gore-King. Although the movie also accommodates no less than three extraneous comic scenes with Cockney publican, Herbert Mundin (whose role has obviously been built up by playwright Bayard Veiller, credited with additional dialogue), and thus occasionally seems too talky (even at 68 minutes), it does have some splendid Moriarty atmosphere (the trial) and action (the escape), most ably contrived by director William K. Howard.
Those looking for Conan Doyle in this flick will be disappointed, but
in the end, this pre-code Sherlock Holmes is a pleasant enough time
waster for a dull afternoon.
It has some interesting cinematography and competent performances from Clive Brook and Ernest Torrence as Holmes and Moriarty (truth be told, I only watched this film because Torrence is one of my favorite character actors), but otherwise, there's nothing too special at work here. Miriam Jordon is grating as Holmes' society bride-to-be, Alice, and for some reason, Holmes is given a mildly irritating kid sidekick/apprentice named Billy.
Unless you're interested in all of Holmes' cinematic incarnations, I would urge you to skip this one.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The film begins with Professor Moriarty, arch-criminal and personal
arch-enemy of Sherlock Holmes, being sentenced to death for the many
murders he committed - but he swears that before HE'll hang, the three
people who helped arrest and convict him will die as well; including
Sherlock Holmes, of course...
In the meantime, we get to know an entirely 'different' Sherlock Holmes than the pedantic, snobby loner we knew from Conan Doyle's novels and would later find again in Basil Rathbone: Clive Brook (who played the role for the second time; his first appearance as Holmes was in a 1925 silent) is a cheerful, amiable chap - and what's more, he's in love, and he's about to give up sleuthing in order to marry and retire to the country!! But - Moriarty upsets his plans by breaking out of jail, and immediately beginning to take his revenge: he hangs the judge who convicted him in his own house; so, in alphabetical order, as Holmes deduces, the next one will be Colonel Gore-King, with whom Holmes isn't exactly on friendly terms... Moriarty plans to use that grudge for his own plans - while, criminal mastermind as he is, he's working at the same time with the help of Chicago gangsters on the 'reign' over all pubs, American style (protection or 'pineapples' = bombs, for Englishmen) - and on a big-scale robbery at the big bank that belongs to Holmes' future father-in-law... BUT - Holmes has got an equally brilliant mind, and develops his own plans...
As we said, we see Sherlock Holmes in an ENTIRELY new light here - and the two most memorable scenes are the one where he disguises in drag, as his father-in-law's 'Aunt Matilda' (!); and the final scene, where we see the great sleuth for once KISS his girl (!!). But, of course, there's enough left of the Holmes we all know - for example, he can't avoid even here using that well-known term of his, 'Elementary!', all the time...
For 'strict' Sherlock Holmes fanatics, this movie may be 'against the rules' set by Conan Doyle - but for all others, I believe, it's a wonderfully entertaining, excellently played and directed, enormously suspenseful and VERY clever classic detective movie; and with a good dose of British humor, too!
Clive Brook gets his second chance to essay the role of Baker Street's
famous sleuth in a film simply entitled Sherlock Holmes. And Reginald
Owen who had been Holmes in another film is very briefly seen as Doctor
That's because Watson is getting married and as such is now leaving the companionship of Holmes for one who can offer him something Holmes cannot. That's all right because Holmes himself is now keeping company with the lovely Miriam Jordan, daughter of Ivan Simpson one of London's most prominent bankers. Holmes in turn is breaking in a new assistant, the juvenile Howard Leeds.
But before everyone's happily ever after ending is assured the great arch rival of Holmes, Professor Moriarty has escaped from prison and he vows vengeance on three people, Holmes, Alan Mowbray the Scotland Yard inspector who was teamed rather unwillingly with Holmes to bring Moriarty down, and the judge who sentenced him to death. It's the judge who goes first and Brook and Mowbray are in unwilling harness again.
I've never seen a haughtier version of Holmes than Clive Brook in this film. But Brook really typified upper English class haughtiness and seemed always that way on screen. However Moriarty is played by the Scottish actor Ernest Torrence and he's a pretty even match for Brook in terms of intelligence and cunning the way Moriarty has come down to us.
Torrence has brought in professional criminals from other countries including the USA where Chicago hit-man Stanley Fields is trying to set up a protection racket. Fields has a most interesting scene with pub owner Herbert Mundin giving him an offer he can't refuse, but does.
Brook isn't quite up to either Arthur Wontner or Basil Rathbone as Holmes, but the film is all right. I fear Holmes purists will hold out for Jeremy Brett though.
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