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Gustav von Seyffertitz
Sherlock Holmes takes a vacation and visits his old friend Sir Henry Baskerville. His vacation ends when he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a double-murder mystery. Now he's got to find Professor Moriarty and the horse Silver Blaze before the great cup final horse race. Written by
Ivar Agøy <email@example.com>
Arthur Wontner played Arthur Conan Doyle's famed investigator, Detective Sherlock Holmes, on numerous occasions in the 1930s, and behind Basil Rathbone his portrayals are often considered among the best early efforts. Wontner's final Sherlock Holmes film, 'Silver Blaze' was based on Doyle's 1892 short story of the same name, published in the collection, "The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes." However, in addition to the basic mystery, director Thomas Bentley and writers H. Fowler Mear and Arthur Macrae (both uncredited) have tossed in a few twists and turns of their own, most notably the addition of Inspector Lestrade, Sir Henry Baskerville, and, of course, Holmes' arch-enemy Professor Moriarty and his ruthless assassin Moran. In 1941, for the film's release in the United States, the title was changed from 'Silver Blaze' to 'Murder at the Baskervilles,' most likely to cash-in on the success of Sidney Lanfield's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939),' which starred Basil Rathbone as Holmes.
The basic plot of the mystery remains much the same as the original story, though certain details and characters have been added and changed. Whilst Holmes and Dr. Watson (Ian Fleming) are visiting their old friend Sir Henry Baskerville (Lawrence Grossmith), the good-natured by rather dim-witted Inspector Lestrade (John Turnbull) approaches them to solve the mystery of the disappearance of the famous racing horse, Silver Blaze. Just days before an important race, the horse has mysteriously disappeared, and the stable lad who had been looking after him has been fatally poisoned. After following Silver Blaze's subtle footprints in the grass, Holmes happens upon the murdered body of James Straker (Martin Walker), whose family had owned the horse. The prime suspect in the murders due to some substantial bets he had made against Silver Blaze is none other than Sir Henry Baskerville's future son-in-law. Holmes, however, feels that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye, and he quickly suspects the evil and cunning Professor Moriarty (Lyn Harding) to be behind it all.
Arthur Wontner is an excellent Sherlock Holmes, possessing the mild-mannered but shrewdly-brilliant air of Doyle's famous literary character. Based on Sidney Paget's original illustrations for 'The Strand' magazine, he even looks like Sherlock Holmes! He delivers his dialogue with all the calmness and confidence that you'd expect from Holmes. My personal favourite, to Inspector Lestrade, who really has no idea how to proceed with the case: "We're old friends. I should hate to see you make such an ass of yourself as wrongfully to arrest the future son-in-law of Sir Henry Baskerville." Dr. Watson who doesn't really have much to do until the end of the film has a pleasant and curious personality, and Ian Fleming (not to be confused with the author of the James Bond novels) brings this very nicely to the screen. Strangely, Fleming somehow reminds me, in his general manner and delivery, of Charles Chaplin in his talkie years.
Though undoubtedly low-budget, 'Silver Blaze' is a competent Sherlock Holmes mystery, and a pleasant way to spend an hour or so. There are a few ambitious moments; I was most impressed by the scene in which a jockey was shot with Professor Moriarty's trademark silent air-gun whilst riding a horse in full flight. This one is worth a look.
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