THE RATHBONE/BRUCE SERIES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES FILMS,
AS THEY OPENED IN CHICAGO
1) Hound of the Baskervilles (20th Century-Fox)
Opened in Chicago on Friday, April 21, 1939, at the B & K Apollo, Randolph at Clark; (an ad reads: "Sherlock Holmes Lives Again! . . . The weirdest, wildest adventures of the world's master detective! . . . Warning! No one will be seated during the last reel! . . . Sherlock Holmes on the trail of eerie horrors . . . stalking the phantom beast that roams the ghostly moor . . . defying the Baskerville death curse!"); Reviews: Chicago Herald-American--"Weather report for Apollo audiences: More than fair film fare, marked by a sharp rise in interest, for mystery fans especially. Due to 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' on the screen, heavy fogs are rolling in from the Darmouth moors, with audience temperatures hovering at chilly in the spine and scalp regions . . . The eerie moorlands, the inscrutable English gentleman who lives on its edge, the ghostly baying of the four-legged killer who haunts the heirs Baskerville, the astute and audacious Mr. Holmes . . . " [Mon., Apr. 24, '39, p. 14, c. 1]; Chicago Daily Times---"The Conan Doyle-flavor to the story is unmistakable and agreeable--and the film's been skillfully produced, succeeds in keeping you as interested in the great Holmes and how he'll solve the case as in the solution he eventually offers . . . There are such interesting features to the story as flickering lights across the moor, a skulking fellow who hides among the ruins near Grimpen Mire, eerie sounds in the night . . . " [Fri., Apr. 21, 1939, p. 65, c. 3]; Chicago Tribune-- "Not a kick in the carload--':Hound of the Baskervilles' for us Sherlock Holmes fans! . . . This screen adaptation of the story which has given two generations the jitters, is, in more than one way, faithful to the death! . . . Never before I venture to say, has the dull but devoted Dr. Watson been so realistically brought to life as by Nigel Bruce . . . I just know that the picture kept ME on the edge of MY seat, [And I take in a lot of movies. You know]" [Sat., Apr. 22, '39, p. 13]; Chicago Daily News--"Physically, it is as gruesomely artistic as any thing which has come down the pike in months. The vast stretches of the moors, the age-old relics of the Druids, the mists arising from the depressing no-mans-land where the Baskervilles lived for generations (for what reason, don ask us!) create atmosphere instantly . . . And let us tell you, we'd rather be in a ring with Joe Louis than that dog Richard Greene spars with, in that exciting scene on the misty moor." [Thurs., Apr. 27, '39, p. 27, c. 1]; Chicago American--"Doyle's Thriller to the Esquire . . . Tall, spare, hawk-like Basil Rathbone, whose physiognomy of "'two profiles pasted together'and shrewd, silent manner fit the public's conception of Sherlock Holmes, pays Conan Doyle's fictional detective in T'he Hound of Baskervilles,' opening tomorrow at the Esquire theater". [Mon. June 25, '39]
2) Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (20th Century-Fox)
Opened in Chicago on Friday, September 15, 1939, at the Apollo theatre, Randolph at Clark, an ad, for the same date, reads: "Brilliant Battle of Wits! . . . World's Master Detective Against Super-crime Genius! . . . A woman in love, the victim; the British Crown Jewels, the loot! . . . Grisly clues! Fiendish murders! . . . More thrilling than Hound of the Baskervilles . . . Today, 845 a.m."; Reviews: Chicago Herald-American--"Super-sleuths may come and go, but whether they find their clues in proverbs, like Charlie Chan, or in wise-cracks, like the Thin Man, none of them will ever be able to furnish the sustained thrill found by mystery-fans in the "elementary" observation of Mr. Sherlock Holmes . . . (The death instrument is later proved to be a South American bola, a cord with heavy iron weights on each end.) . . . Weird Indian music sounding through the fog (always the fog) . . . a club-footed Chilean stalking through the dark . . . nice spine-chilling stuff. . . . " [Mon.,Sept. 18, '39, p. 9, c. 3]; Chicago Tribune-"-Basil Rathbone Makes Sherlock Live on Screen . . . Mr. Rathbone, identical in appearance with Holmes as I have always imagined him, is adroit, suave, human, and mentally and physically quick as a flash. He is, as always, the finished actor and polished gentleman . . . Nigel Bruce is perfect as devoted, blundering Dr. Watson." [Sat., Sept. 16, '39, p. 11]; Chicago Daily Times--"If you ask us, this Sherlock Holmes series of films is one of the best ideas the studios have had in some time. The pictures are skillfully produced and well-acted, they're first rate mysteries, and they're concerned, of course, with the most celebrated and brilliant detective ever created in fiction all of which are good reasons why you ought to like them. This is the second, and we're certain yo'ull enjoy it as much as you did 'Hound of the Baskervilles.'" [Tues., Sept. 19, '39, p. 30]
3) Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (Universal)
Opened in Chicago on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 1942, as the bottom-half of a double-bill, which featured Disney's "Bambi," at the RKO Palace; Review: Chicago Sun, "It has come at last! The movie studios have prevailed upon the executors of the late Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to permit them to completely modernize Sherlock Holmes and hand him into World War II as a Nazi spy detector. Presumably to satisfy the spirit of the first and still the greatest of the sleuth mystery writers--for he warned us he would still be around--the Universal studio calls 'Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror,' supporting picture to 'Bambi' at the Palace, an adaption of 'His Last Bow.' It isn't so, Sir Arthur, and we hope you will drop in at Universal and register a kick, for they plan to make two more along the same "modernizing" line. . .. And yet this is not a bad piece; plenty of action and some good sleuthing . . . " [Fri., Oct. 16, '42, p. 14, c. 1]; Chicago Tribune--"Conan Doyle's famous detective still lovingly plays his violin and says 'Elementary, my dear Watson!"'. . . but a fedora hat replaces the checkered double visored hunting cap, and the needle has been abandoned in the haystack of ye olden days. . . . Mr. Rathbone plays Holmes with suavity, subtlety, and just the right touch of gentle satire. . . . He is interestingly haggard, and when he speaks folks jump. . . . He is the seventh Holmes to appear on the screen. . . . The first was William Gillette who created the role on the stage in 1899, and made the original Sherlock Holmes movie two generations ago. . . . The sleuth has been portrayed at various times by the late John Barrymore, Eille Norwood, Arthur Wontner, Raymond Massey and Clive Brook." [Tues., Oct. 20, '42]
4) Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (Universal)
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Palace theatre, Randolph at La Salle on Tuesday, January 21, 1943, as the bottom-half of a double-bill which featured Walter Wangers "Arabian Nights," starring Maria Montez, Jon Hall and Sabu, Billy Gilbert and Turhan Bey; Review: Chicago Tribune--"Altho Sherlock Holmes and his devoted standby, Dr. Watson, have been considerably streamlined to fit the times, modern youth regards them with some good natured amusement, albeit considerable interest. 'Lookit that hat on the guy!' says M. Y, and chuckes over the long, dank hair cut and cavernous countenance of Mr. Holmes and the naive performances and conversational contributions of Dr. Watson. . . Just the same, there's no walking out on a Holmes picture. . . This lastest opus is based on 'The Dancing Men,' by the late Sir Air Arthur Donan Doyle. . . . The plot has been brought up to date, and "the dancing men," Holmes, Watson, Inspector Lesterade, and Prof. Moriarity--always the sinister dark to Sherlock's piercing light--figure in a counter espionage adventure. . . . The ultra smooth Basil Rathbone portrays Holmes seriously, with a bit of dash and a suggestion of tongue in the cheek. It is a nice recipe for bringing a dated hero up to date. . . . Nigel Bruce is a lovable Watson, whose sometime bungling is evened up by spells of perspicacity, fomented by his unfaltering admiration for and loyalty to the sleuth of Baker street. . . . Other roles are competently handled . . . The picture is short, urbanely dialoged, and satisfactorily staged and photographed." [Sun., Jan. 31, '43]
5) Sherlock Holmes in Washington (Universal)
Opened at Chicago on Saturday, April 24, 1943, at the RKO Palace, as the bottom-half of a double-bill which featured Abbott and Costello in "It Aint Hay; Review: Chicago Tribune-- "Members of the old guard, who are for Sherlock Holmes as he was created, needle and all, aren't caring for the present day screen episodes woven around Arthur Conan Doyle's picturesque character . . . I like them--albeit I suspect Basil Rathbone, especially in this number, of tongue-in-the-cheekery, and Nigel Bruce of aiding and abetting as Dr. Watson in like manner. , , loved the two of them and enjoyed the whole picture, not minding in the least being spoofed as I feel reasonably certain was the case. . . . As for the rest in the audience they gave every sign of being vastly entertained by S. Holmes, Doc Watson, and what goes with 'em." [Sun. May 1, '43]
6) Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (Universal)
Opened in Chicago on Friday, October 29, 1943, at the Oriental theatre, Randolph near State; an ad reads: "Screen--1st Showing--The Mystery Wizards at their best in their Newest Murder Masterpiece!"; the stage show starred "The Pistol Packin Mama Sensation," Al Dexter and His Texas Troopers. Review: Chicago Tribune--"Let me sell you a good old fashioned detective story thriller this morning! 'Old fashioned,' really, only in a manner of speaking, for this piece brings Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous Baker street sleuth up to date--as recent Holmes pictures have been doing. . . The action keeps you interested, amused, and guessing. Mr. Holmes is unusually peppy. Probably has been taking his vitamins. . . . Basil Rathbone sees to it that his every screen moment counts. He plays straighter than usual not so much tongue-in-the-cheek stuff and the picture ends on an earnestly delivered homily from him to Watson. Good Stuff!" [Sat., Oct. 30, '43, p. 17]
[Crazy House (Universal)]
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Palace on Friday, December 3, 1943; this film starred the comedy duo Olsen and Johnson ("Those Comedy Sensation of 'Hellzapoppin 'and 'Son's OFun' . . . in the Screen's Mad, Musical, Laugh-Quake!"), with 28 stars and 17 acts! Though not a Holmes film in the traditional sense, both Rathbone and Bruce, as Holmes and Watson, make a most brief appearance in the work.]
7) The Spider Woman (Universal)
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Grand, Clark near Randolph, on Thursday, December 23, 1943, as the top-half of a double-bill ; an ad reads: "Double Shock and Shudder Show! Weird Mistress of Murder vs. The Master of Mystery! (with "Calling Dr. Death, "with Lon Chaney; the ad for that date reads: "Screens First Inner Sanctum Mystery!"); Reviews: Chicago Herald-American---"Miss Sondergaard is not the spider (she's far too beautful); but her plans to ruin Mr. Rathbone and the ever-faithful Nigel Bruce go astray. At the end of this pretty complicated detective piece, remodeled from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the lady walks away gallantly to face her fate. . . . As we said, the moral is to shun the spider, and thus avoid being murdered. The old-fashioned nightshirt is good enough for us." [Fri., Dec. 24, '43, p. 6, c. 7]; Chicago Sun---"While London was aghast at a wave of 'Pyjama' [English spelling] suicides, the word came that Sherlock Holmes was dead, having fallen into a Scottish trout stream on the trail of an elusive finny culprit . . Of course, you and I know that the report of Holmes' death was premature--he's too valuable a property of Universal Pictures to go falling into trout streams. . . .We expected all along that he was just playing possum to trap the murderess ('a female Moriarity, my dear Watson,' he explains) . . . The spider's venom is so deadly and cruel that the victims invariably leap from windows to assuage the pain--with the villainess collecting double indeminity . . . And it is also one of the best shockers in the Holmes cycle, with Rathbone at his imperturbable best and Nigel Bruce again doing the historically correct Dr. Watson." [Fri., Dec. 24, '43, p. 13, c. 2]; Chicago Daily Times--"Sherlock Holmes adventures, of late, have had to do with Nazis, saboteurs, and espionage agents; but his most recent picture, we are happy to report, is back in the Baker st. groove. . . . Nobody but Mr. Holmes, in other words, could possibly have solved this case which involves such strange and esoteric clues as tropical spiders, murders that are suicides and suicides that are murders, and a pigmy from the Congo who, incidentally, tucks himself neatly into a large suitcase. . . . Basil Rathbone, again in the role of the quick-witted Holmes, starts solving this bizarre mystery in a highly unusual fashion by staging his own death. He tumbles off a cliff into a Scottish trout stream, right in front of the horrified eyes of Dr. Watson; and audiences are apt to find the scenes in which the faithful Watson and ill-tempered Inspector Lestrade mourn for him, are very touching scenes indeed. Mr. Holmes, it turn out, thinks its touching, too, as he happens to be right there disguised, of course, as an aged mailman! . . . Miss Sondergaard, handsome and dangerous-looking, is described by Mr. Holmes as a female Moriarty and she turns in an expert performance as a master mind;"
KIND: Sherlock Holmes mystery, based on yarn by the late Arthur Conan Doyle.
ACTING: Basil Rathbone plays straighter than usual. With reason because Gale Sondergaard, as the Spider Woman, a female Moriarty no less, is nobody to be off-hand and coy about. . . Brother, Sister, SHE IS POISON! . . . Nigel Bruce impersonates Dr. Watson in his customary beguiling fashion. . . . Other players are solid.
STAGING, PHOTOGRAPHY, ATMOSPHERE: Skeery.
STORY: Shucks, I aint agoin to tell you! But it really is one of the best of the stream-lined Sherlock Holmes series.
AUDIENCE APPEAL: Plenty. [Tues., Dec. 28, '43, p. 15]
8) The Scarlet Claw (Universal)
Opened in Chicago on Saturday, May 20, 1944 at the RKO Palace as the bottom-half of a double-bill which featured "Chip Off the Old Block", a film starring Donald OConnor. No review.
9) Pearl of Death (Universal)
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Palace on Thurs., Sept. 7, 1944 as the bottom-half of a double-bill that featured RKO's Bride by Mistake, starring Alan Marshall and Laraine Day. Review: Chicago Tribune--"You will find 'The Pearl of Death' a right exciting number, with Basil Rathbone urbane and cunning as always in his role of Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson at his endearing best [he does have the best time all by himself, mumbling and bumbling!], Miles Mander being right horrible as the master criminal who directs the activities of the Creeper, and Evelyn Ankers fitting in admirably as a lady desperado. "[Tues., Sept. 12, '44]
10) House of Fear (Universal)
Opened at the RKO Palace theatre on Thursday, March 22, 1945, as the bottom-half of a double-bill featuring Abbott and Costello in "Here Come the Co-eds." Review: Chicago Tribune--"Basil Rathbone, looking like an elegant bloodhound and clipping his words so short that understanding him is very often not a bit elemental, my dear Watson, is an extremely busy man in 'The House of Fear.' . . . The film was taken from Arthur Conan Doyle's 'Adventures of the Five Orange Pips.' . . . .Sherlock arrives at Drearcliff, and although Dr. Watson gets batted about a bit, the sleuth unravels the problem with his customary aplomb. . . . The entire cast is competent, the story an interesting one, with the result that the film is mildly engrossing in an adult fashion." [Tues., Mar. 27, '45]
11) The Woman in Green (Universal)
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Palace on Wednesday, July 11, 1945, as the bottom-half of a double-bill featuring Universal's "On Stage Everybody." Review: Chicago Tribune--"As far as I could see, the title has very little to do with the film; there's a woman in it all right, but I didn't see a smidge of green and no one even mentioned the color. . . . It's another of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce doing their customary excellent work in their customary roles. In fact, these mysteries are just about the best thing that Universal turns out. The plots generally are pretty neat, photography is sufficently eerie, the casts are made up of capable people, and the dialog always is intelligent and sometimes dryly humorous." [Thurs., July 12, '45]
12) Pursuit to Algiers (Universal)
Opened in Chicago at the RKO Palace on Tuesday, December 18, 1945, at 8:45 a.m., as the bottom-half of a double-bill featuring "George White's Scandals," starring Joan Davis, Jack Haley, Gene Krupa; Review: Chicago Tribune--"Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson is rapidly becoming one of my favorite movie characters. He huffs and puffs around in the wake of the icy Sherlock Holmes and brings humor and warmth to their series of mysteries. Not that Mr. Rathbone isn't excellent as the all-knowing detective; it's just that you can't help but like the old doctor better. . . . It's not one of the best mysteries you ever saw, but it is intelligent with a few unusual twists here and there." [Thurs., Dec. 20, '45]
13) Terror by Night (Universal)
Opened at Palace theatre on Wednesday, April 3, 1946, as a Midwest Premiere, being the bottom-half of a double-bill featuring Abbott and Costello in "Little Giant;" Review: Chicago Tribune--"Mr. Holmes former arch enemy, Mr. Moriarty, is referred to as 'the late,' and the suave detective has a new and ruthless villain, a Col. Moran, this trip. . . . The plot is so tricky that if you are momentarily shrouded by someones overcoat, as frequently happens when people are on the march for better seats in theaters, you may lose track of things entirely and the ending may leave you still trying to figure out who was who. Nigel Bruce, as Dr. Watson, tries his hand at sleuthing in a humorous episode, and as usual he contributes a good deal to the entertainment value of the film. HIs Watson is the same slow-witted likable old chap, excellent relief from the eternally smooth and infallible Holmes." [Thurs., Apr. 4 '46]
14) Dressed to Kill (Universal)
Opened at the Palace theatre, Wednesday, May 15, 1946, as the bottom-half of a double-bill featuring "Badman"s Territory," starring Randolph Scott; Review: Chicago Tribune--"Sherlock Holmes and his old friend, Dr. Watson, solve another trick case, but a clever woman nearly succeeds in making fools of them. . . . The famed Prof. Moriarity has been succeeded by one Hilda Courtney as the great sleuth's cunning adversary, and the lady is definitely a smoothie. . . . Like most of the films of this series, 'Dressed to Kill' is ably acted, directed with an eye to detail, and moves at a good pace. The humor, as usual, is pleasantly dry. " [Tues., May 21, '46.]