During WWII several murders occur at a convalescent home where Dr. Watson has volunteered his services. He summons Holmes for help and the master detective proceeds to solve the crime from ... See full summary »
When Nazi saboteurs jeeringly predicts to the nation of new depredations via their radio Voice of Terror, the Intellegence Inner Council summons Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone)to help in ... See full summary »
This, the second adaptation of Raymond Chandler's novel, is much closer to the source text than the original - Murder, My Sweet, which tended to avoid some of the sleazier parts of the plot... See full summary »
While attending a conference in Quebec City, Sherlock Holmes and his good friend Dr. Watson are drawn into a murder investigation in the nearby village of La Mort Rouge. Holmes had received a letter from Lady Penrose asking for his assistance as she feared for her life. It was too late however as she had already been killed by the time he received it. Her throat was torn out and the local villagers are spreading rumors about monsters and evil spirits as being the cause. Holmes doesn't believe any of that and sets out to find the killer. He believes that Lady Penrose's past as an actress may have something to with her death. As others in the village are attacked, Holmes believes the killer is among them, impersonating a local villager as he goes about his business. Written by
This sixth entry in the Universal Sherlock Holmes series was the third which defied the initial conception of the franchise. Universal had envisioned Sherlock Holmes as a sort of archetypal hero who, transported into the modern era of WWII, could be put on the government payroll, as it were, to work as a contract agent to hunt down Nazi spies on behalf of the Allies. Perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, this idea met with a great deal of consternation, not only from serious Sherlockians, but also from film critics whose knowledge of Doyle's work was marginal at best.
Granted, most of the Holmes films made up to that point had been updated to their respective eras (in fact, only Fox's two Holmes features with Rathbone and Bruce had taken place in their appropriate time period), but in those cases, the modernization was all on the surface. Automobiles, telephones, and the fashions of the day were all on display...but that was, for all intents and purposes, scenery. The stories, though changed (sometimes drastically) from their original forms, had a timeless quality about them. The first three Universal films, however, were very timely, with plots focused explicitly on the events of the Second World War. This took Holmes out of his element...not only in the literal sense of removing him from Victorian/Edwardian London (as previous films had done), but in transforming the character of Holmes from a consulting detective into a spy-hunter. Indeed, at times, there is more James Bond than Sherlock Holmes in this character. This trend peaked (or bottomed out) with Sherlock Holmes in Washington...the final straw for critics and audiences alike. The film was a critical and box office flop and Universal saw fit to alter the series' direction from that point on.
Though still taking place in the 1940s, the subsequent films did their best to place Holmes back in his proper role, solving intricate mysteries with deductive reasoning...rather than the pure chance and intuition that often guided him in his forays into international espionage. This may (or may not) be accredited to the director Roy William Neill (who directed all but the first entry in the series), who, with the fourth film, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, became the associate producer...a title he would retain throughout the series' run. From that point on, the films became more Gothic in tone, in many ways more closely resembling the Universal horror films of the era than the first three Universal Holmes pictures. This decision yielded immediate positive results. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death was easily the best of the first four entries, and subsequent films topped one another until peaking with The Scarlet Claw.
Oddly enough, the film is set in a French province of Canada...for no discernible reason. The setting is completely superfluous to the plot, which could easily have played out anywhere (ideally Great Britain). This is made all the more puzzling by the fact that the predominant accent present in the film is British, rather than French Canadian...even American actors threw on Brit accents, despite the fact that American accents would have been more sensible in Canada. But no matter. This slight idiosyncrasy aside, The Scarlet Claw is the ultimate Rathbone/Bruce Universal outing. Not adapted from any of the original Doyle tales, (though borrowing heavily from The Hound of the Baskervilles), The Scarlet Claw is dripping with atmosphere. Fog-wreathed marshes are the setting as Holmes tracks a ghostly apparition that has graduated from sheep mutilation to murdering humans. The local villagers believe the culprit to be supernatural, but level-headed Holmes rejects the idea out of hand, and sets himself to the task of finding the murderer.
Rathbone, as Holmes, is at the top of his form here...cold and detached, clinical in his reasoning. And Bruce's Watson, even in this dumbed down incarnation, is a pleasure to watch. Crisp direction, beautiful cinematography (particularly for a B-film), plenty of twists and turns along the way, and no small amount of deductive reasoning from Holmes, make this the strongest entry in the Universal series. The later films were often good, but none ever matched the achievement of The Scarlet Claw...which is simultaneously Gothic, suspenseful, and very, very Holmesian. It is not without its logical flaws, but the flaws are justified by the picture's enormous entertainment value. And of all the films in the series, this one is, by far, the most entertaining.
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