The Pearl of Death (1944) Poster

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Another excellent adventure for Sherlock Holmes!
The_Void25 June 2005
This entry in Universal's awesome and prolific series of Sherlock Holmes films is one of the best that I've seen. The series works because it offers a solid hour (or so) of light entertainment, which it peppers with good humour and an engaging plot; and that is something that is masterfully handled with this movie. The plot of this film is great, and it follows Sherlock Holmes as he makes a rare blunder which leads to a rare and valuable pearl being stolen from a museum. It is then left up to the main man to make up for his mistake as he attempts to search for the lost gem and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding it's disappearance. This plot makes a great base for a tale about the great detective as it puts him in a position that we don't usually see him in - the man in the wrong. Aside from being amusing, this also gives us the chance to see a different side of Basil Rathbone's portrayal of the great detective. His mannerisms and facial expressions as he realises the trouble that his showboating has brought are priceless, and a highlight of the series on the whole.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce make for a great on-screen duo as Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick, Dr Watson and they are joined by the inept police sergeant; Lestrade, and that only increases the comedy element of the movie. The plot line this time doesn't break any new boundaries where mystery plotting is concerned, but it ensures that the film always runs smoothly through it's short running time. It also makes for some great dialogue, and Holmes' speech towards the end is of particular note for being really well done. The atmosphere for this movie is really well done, and as we follow someone that breaks people's backs during the night; this helps the story immensely. My only criticism of this film really is the same one that could be applied to most of the series, and that's that the film is far too short, and we can never really get our teeth into the mystery because the film just isn't on for long enough. However, aside from that this is still a very good Sherlock Holmes adventure and if you've enjoyed other entries in the series, no doubt you'll like this one too.
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Holmes' Creeping Menace
Ron Oliver11 February 2005
While searching for THE PEARL OF DEATH, Holmes & Watson encounter a master criminal and his terrifying backbreaking thug.

This vivid & suspenseful film makes a welcome addition in the series of movies highlighting the exploits of Baker Street's most famous inhabitants. There is danger around every corner and Holmes must match his intellect against raw brute evil as he attempts to recover the Black Pearl of the Borgias. As always, Basil Rathbone & Nigel Bruce are beyond praise as they bring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's celebrated characters to life. To the viewers' delight, Holmes finds he can be thoroughly duped and Watson uses his mouth for something other than gab.

Holmes' rivals for possession of the Pearl are little Miles Mander and pretty Evelyn Ankers. Together, they provide the master detective with one of his most challenging cases. All three characters (most especially the men) make good use of cunning disguises to try to find the diminutive treasure.

Dennis Hoey as the inept but courageous Inspector Lestrade and dear Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson return to roles they've already essayed very well in the past. The always reliable Ian Wolfe has the small part of a helpful crockery shop proprietor.

The most intriguing member of the cast is Rondo Hatton, a tragic sufferer from acromegaly, a terrible disease which deformed his body into a grotesque horror. He is most effective as the sinister Creeper, especially during his few moments with Rathbone at the film's climax, and he was immediately spun-off into cheaply produced chillers playing essentially the same character. Apparently he hated being exploited, but this was to end sadly with his sudden death in 1945.

Movie mavens will recognize an uncredited Billy Bevan as a meal-bearing constable.

This film was loosely based on Conan Doyle's short story The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. It was preceded by THE SCARLET CLAW (1944) and followed by THE HOUSE OF FEAR (1945).
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The Cursed Black Pearl of the Borgias
theowinthrop11 April 2005
In 1903 Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a short story called "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". In it Inspector Lestrade tells Holmes and Watson of a strange series of seemingly unrelated crimes in which houses are burglarized and bric-a-brac smashed. Is it the work of a madman or an intelligent criminal? Holmes discovers the running link in the crimes - in each case a cheap bust of Emperor Napoleon I was smashed. Then the crimes become deadlier - a man is murdered at the site of one of the smashups (the home of a newspaperman named Harker - a name retained in the movie by a minor victim). Holmes soon finds out that the busts came from a store where a man who fits the description of the criminal worked. This criminal is captured. The final one of the six busts is found, and broken before Watson and Lestrade by Holmes. And out pops the world's rarest black pearl, the Borgia Pearl.

Of course the story is more fully fleshed out by Conan Doyle. His villain is an ethnic type - so there is a little racism (though nothing like the racism met with in G.K.Chesterton or R.Austin Freeman). However the story is not totally like that in the film. The villain, Beppo, is not a criminal mastermind - not a Moriarty type. He has a clever idea, not one of many clever ideas. And he kills his victim when he is confronted by an enemy (something totally unplanned). There is no "creature of the night" figure of dread but just Beppo.

So the film version is (except for the pearl and the busts of Napoleon) a rewrite. Giles Connover and the Creeper (or, as Lestrade calls him, "the Oxton 'Orror") are movie innovations, and both are quite effective, thanks to Miles Manders acting and (unfortunately) Rondo Hatton's appearance. But they helped make the film better than average.

So does Rathbone. He does a disguise act at the start (as good as his song and dance act in "THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES"). He also has a go at imitating the voice of another actor in the film (and he does it nicely)and a disguise at the end. Nice balance there. Bruce adds some good comedy, especially when he thinks fast and shows he too can hide the pearl. Also note his scene where he tries to reassure a visitor that he is as good at deductions as Holmes was.

Altogether a different story from the Doyle original, but it is a good film on it's own merits.
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The Case of the Borrowed Ending
c532c26 February 2004
Somehow the ending of THE PEARL OF DEATH was picked up and plunked down into MURDER, MY SWEET: The unarmed Detective in the dark, faced up against Miles Mander and a hulking brute, turns the tables through his understanding of the relationships between the characters. I wonder if the writers at RKO ever acknowledged this swipe from Universal? At any rate, both films make good use of lighting and creepy sets to exploit the situation, and both directors (Dmytrick & Neill) know how to use the limited acting skills of Mike Mazurki and Rondo Hatton to best advantage. I liked Rathbone's pithy comment to the Police when they arrive to catch the baddies, "You won't need your revolver. Nor handcuffs. Worthy of a hard-boiled Private Eye in any film noir!
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Another good Holmes entry from Universal
james_oblivion22 February 2006
The Universal Holmes series was on a roll at this point, having just released what is probably the best film in the series, The Scarlet Claw, earlier the same year. This one is a bit of a step down, but on a par with earlier films like Sherlock Holmes Faces Death and The Spider Woman...and on a much higher level than the first three flag-waving WWII propaganda films.

This entry is based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story, The Six Napoleons. And while numerous changes were made, it actually follows the original story more closely than any of the other Universal pictures did. Most of the films were either very loose adaptations, amalgams of several different Holmes stories, or original scripts that were merely inspired by the Conan Doyle canon. This one, however, follows the general outline of the original story, while adding various subplots along the way. Overall, it works, even if it does seem to veer off-track at a few points.

These films were produced at breakneck speed (it was not uncommon for three Holmes films to be released in a single year) with fairly low budgets, but Roy William Neill knew how to achieve great results with his limited resources. As with its immediate predecessors, the camera-work in The Pearl of Death is strong and evocative, the direction is confident and effective, and the performances are, at least for the most part, fine to excellent. Rathbone's Holmes is once again in his proper element here, and Rathbone makes the most of the character.

The Pearl of Death is just a step below The Scarlet Claw, in my estimation...which still makes this outing quite enjoyable. Anyone who liked The Spider Woman, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, or The House of Fear will definitely appreciate this one. Out of the dozen Holmes films that Universal churned out between 1942 and 1946, this is one of the eight that I would say deserve to be called "great."
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Classic Sherlock Holmes mystery.
gavmaster16 August 2000
Expertly directed by R. William Neill, who was responsible for the film noir classic "Black Angel", "The Pearl Of Death" is based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons". This film has it all: mystery, action, comedy, horror, even a half-assed patriotic message tacked on to the end (it was made as WWII was coming to a close). I was impressed by Basil Rathbone's characterization of Holmes: he consistently utters lines that, coming from an inferior actor, would probably sound ridiculous, yet he manages (probably because this was his sixth turn at the character) to impress me with his believability and sheer presence on the screen. Until I saw this film I was always irritated by Nigel Bruce's bumbling Dr. Watson, whose character is miles away from the Watson portrayed in the books, but I now realize that he was the perfect foil for Rathbone's Holmes. The updating of Holmes into the modern era also troubles me, but the film manages to maintain a kind of 'timeless' quality by avoiding too many 'modern' references. Virgil Miller's cinematography is beautiful: I would hate to see it "Colorized" by Turner and his evil band. Miller, who shot another one of my favorite films, "Mr. Moto Takes A Chance" is the perfect compliment for Neill's great direction: together they make every shot interesting, and provide many unforgettable images.
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This One Will 'Creep' You Out!
ccthemovieman-11 November 2006
Here is yet another solid Sherlock Holmes entry, featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. This story centers around a chase by crooks to seize a valuable pearl, a bunch of murders that take place as a result of that pursuit, and Holmes trying to make sure the pearl stays with its rightful owner.

It turns out the pearl is hidden in one of six plastic Napoleon busts. Whoever buys these busts winds up dead by a hired killer, monstrous fiend called "The Creeper," a huge man-beast who literally breaks backs.

Holmes (Rathbone) narrowly avoids getting hurt several times himself while Watson (Bruce) mumbles his way through to provide comic relief. Dennis Hoey, who plays "Inspector Lestrade," is as dumb as a brick and adds more humor to the story.
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The Pearl of Death (1944) ***
JoeKarlosi11 June 2004
Another good Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes film, one of the most entertaining of this series. It features the first appearance of Rondo Hatton as "The Creeper", a killer who snaps people's spines. Hatton was an unfortunate victim of "acromegaly" in real life, a disease which distorts and enlarges the face, hands, and feet. Director Roy William Neill takes special care to photograph him only in the shadows at first until just the right moment occurs.

THE PEARL OF DEATH wraps around an interesting plot of a trio of crooks looking to possess the valued pearl of the title. This includes solid work from Universal's usual scream queen Evelyn Ankers, uncharacteristically used as a baddie this time around in juxtaposition of her usual damsel in distress persona. Regulars Rathbone, Bruce and Dennis Hoey are all in top form, though the comedy factor is played up to the hilt on several occasions. Great fun all around.
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Sherlock Horror!
Coventry22 November 2005
Even though "The Pearl of Death" primarily remains a mystery-thriller, the film just bathes in a genuine horror atmosphere and that's all thanks to the introduction of its spooky villain in the shape of "The Creeper". This impressive character is mostly appearing off-screen or in the shadows, and yet his presence alone makes "The Pearl of Death" the most unsettling of all Sherlock Holmes movies. The Creeper, played by Rondo Hatton who suffered from the incurable Acromegaly-disease, plays a merciless killer who always slays his victims in the same way, namely by breaking their backs. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson cross his path whilst trying to recover a stolen pearl with great historical (and financial) value. Holmes does whatever he can to get back the pearl, since he was responsible for losing it while pointing out the security-weaknesses of the British Museum. Roy William Neill does another classy job directing the screenplay based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's story "The Six Napoleons". The dialogues are extraordinary well written and marvelously rattled off by the great cast. There are fewer obscure filming locations in this installment but, opposed to that, there's a big collection of imaginative disguises and thrilling booby-traps. As usual, the characters of Dr. Watson and Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade provide the film with a welcome comic relief.
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Holmes meets The Creeper!
VicCasey11 October 2005
Rondo Hatton is my hero. Rondo took the crummy hand that fate dealt him and played it magnificently. He became one of the most endearing and cool anti-heroes of all B-moviedom. Hatton played The Creeper in three movies: The Pearl of Death, The House of Horrors, and The Brute Man (a prequel to House of Horrors). To experience Rondo Hatton as The Creeper is to experience pure magic! I watched horror movies as kid and always loved "the monster". A good "monster" gets my vote every damn time. The Creeper fits that bill perfectly and better than most. The Creeper is one of my all time favorite fright flick anti-heroes. GOD BLESS YOU RONDO HATTON!
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