Basil Rathbone, Ida Lupino, and Alan Marshal in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)


(director: Alfred Werker; screenwriters: Edwin Blum/William Drake; from the play “Sherlock Holmes”by William Gillette/characters from Arthur Conan Doyle; cinematographer: Leon Shamroy; editor: Robert Bischoff; music: Robert Russell Bennett/David Buttolph/Cyril J. Mockridge/David Raksin/Walter Scharf; cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Ida Lupino (Ann Brandon), Alan Marshal (Jerrold Hunter), Terry Kilburn (Billy), George Zucco (Professor Moriarty), Henry Stephenson (Sir Ronald Ramsgate), E.E. Clive (Inspector Bristol), Arthur Hohl (Bassick), May Beatty (Mrs. Jameson), Peter Willes (Lloyd Brandon), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson), George Regas (Mateo); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Darryl F. Zanuck; Twentieth Century-Fox; 1939)

“Superior mystery film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Basil Rathbone is the definitive screen deerstalker cap wearing Number 1 English sleuth, Sherlock Holmes. Nigel Bruce plays Dr. Watson, Holmes’ wary partner, as a pleasingly lovable buffoon. His performance upset many fans of the series, but I found his comic relief diverting. They make their second screen appearances as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, after which the series shifted from Fox to Universal. George Zucco as Professor Moriarty, makes for the best Moriarty in the series as he plays Holmes’ main criminal nemesis and has many witty moments. Ida Lupino gives a fine performance as the sole romantic figure in the mystery and an ingenue plagued by an ancient family curse.

Director Alfred Werker (“The House of Rothchild”/”Three Hours to Kill”/”The Reluctant Dragon”) keeps things workmanlike and moving at a quick pace. It’s not based on any of Conan Doyle’s original stories but on the play “Sherlock Holmes”by William Gillette, and is cleverly written by Edwin Blum and William Drake. The setting is in foggy London, during the 19th century.

After Professor Moriarty is acquitted of murder charges, the arch criminal vows to defeat his rival, Sherlock Holmes, by committing the crime of the century: the theft of the Crown Jewels. But the criminal seeks to fool the sleuth by a few diversions, which involve Holmes reacting to the theft of the valuable the Star of Delhi jewel and therefore being too far removed to stop the major crime.

The best line in this superior mystery film has Holmes saying to Moriarty: ‘You’ve a magnificent brain. I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.’ The weirdest scene has a clubfooted gaucho flutist, armed with a bolas, roaming the park at night in a foggy London to kill for Moriarty.


REVIEWED ON 12/29/2009 GRADE: B+