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SCARLET CLAW, THE (director/writer: Roy William Neill; screenwriters: Edmund L. Hartmann/story by Paul Gangelin & Brenda Weisberg (story)/based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters; cinematographer: George Robinson; editor: Paul Landres; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Doctor Watson), Gerald Hamer (Potts), Paul Cavanagh (Lord Penrose), Arthur Hohl (Emile Journet), Miles Mander (Judge Brisson), Kay Harding (Marie Journet), David Clyde (Sergeant Thompson), Ian Wolfe (Drake), Victoria Horne (Nora); Runtime: 74; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roy William Neill; Universal; 1944)
“The fog machines are kept busy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Roy William Neill (“The Black Room”/”Black Angel”/”Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man”) ably directs the sixth in the series of twelve Sherlock Holmes films for Universal. It’s a grisly revenge murder mystery, where the villain is a crazed actor who dons disguises to get even with those he believes wronged him by tearing out their throats with a garden tool (supposedly resembling the claw of a supernatural being). Neill effectively uses special effects from the supernatural horror films, and the fog machines are kept busy. The winsome creepy atmosphere was the work of John P. Fulton, the pic’s excellent special effects maven. It seems at first like a retelling of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but goes off in a slightly different direction. It’s one of the more entertaining ones in the series.

The Scarlet Claw was set in Canada, one of the few in the series set outside of England. It’s not based on any Conan Doyle story, but on a story by Paul Gangelin & Brenda Weisberg. It’s deftly written by Edmund L. Hartmann and Neill. It’s set in the 1940s, modernizing the Victorian tales.

The bullheaded Lord William Penrose (Paul Cavanagh) addresses the Royal Canadian Occult Society in Quebec by stating his utmost belief in the supernatural. The lecture is attended by Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Doctor Watson (Nigel Bruce), who beg to differ with Penrose. Holmes says “he neither believes nor disbelieves anything until he’s in full possession of the facts.” Suddenly Penrose is called away from the lecture when he receives a phone call telling him his former actress wife was gruesomely murdered in his hometown village of La Morte Rouge, some 12 miles from Quebec. The marshes on the outskirts of the tiny hamlet are the location the locals claim to have seen a ‘glowing’ phantom lurking for the last two years. The village has lived in fear ever since the phantom was spotted. Holmes decides to go to the village in Quebec and take the case, when he receives a letter written to him by a frightened Lady Penrose asking him to save her life. It’s too late for her, but Sherlock hopes he can solve the murder and prevent any others.

Penrose is convinced the killing is due to supernatural local legend, while the more reasonable Holmes suspects that the real killer has used local superstition as a cover-up for his murder spree. Holmes soon deduces that the culprit is a demented actor, a master of disguises, and he could be anyone in the village. Thereby he sets a trap for the vengeful madman, and snares him in the foggy marshes before he can claim his fourth victim.

REVIEWED ON 12/30/2009 GRADE: B+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”