SHERLOCK HOLMES’ FATAL HOUR (aka: THE SLEEPING CARDINAL) (director/writer: Leslie Hiscott; screenwriters: H. Fowler Mear/Cyril Twyford/based on two stories by Arthur Conan Doyle “The Empty House” and “The Final Problem”; cinematographer: Sydney Blythe/William Luff; editor: Jack Harris; music: John Greenwood; cast: Arthur Wontner (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Fleming (Dr. John Watson), Philip Hewland (Inspector Lestrade), Jane Welsh (Kathleen Adair), Norman McKinnell (Prof. Moriarty), Leslie Perrins (Ronald Adair), Minnie Rayner (Mrs. Hudson), Gordon Begg (Marston, the butler), William Fazan (Thomas Fisher), Sidney King (Tony Rutherford), Charles Paton (J.J. Godfrey); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Julius Hagen; Warner Bros.; 1931-UK)
“The creaky but entertaining film is noted for a great opening scene of the robbery of the Bank of England shot entirely in silhouette and almost entirely without dialogue.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Arthur Wontner portrayed the Sherlock Holmes character in five films between 1931 and 1937, and the 60-year-old actor when he made The Sleeping Cardinal (as it was called in the UK), the first of his Holmes movies, was acclaimed to have set the high bar for the character and was only surpassed when Basil Rathbone followed in that role. The Dr. Watson role was played by the actor Ian Fleming (not the author of the Bond books), and makes him a more sturdy character than Nigel Bruce’s more buffoonish portrayal. Director Leslie Hiscott (“Millions”/”Fame”/”Ship’s Concert”) keeps things at a slow pace as it exposes mastermind criminal Professor Moriarity (Norman McKinnell ), the man of many disguises, as a counterfeiter. It’s loosely based on two short stories by the Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle “The Empty House” and “The Final Problem,” and is written by H. Fowler Mear, Cyril Twyford and Hiscott.
There’s a murder of a guard in a bank’s strongroom, but no money is stolen. Holmes immediately suspects diabolical mastermind criminal Prof. Moriarity of plotting something deeper than a mere robbery. Meanwhile Dr. Watson’s old family friend, Kathleen Adair (Jane Welsh), asks his advice about her brother Ronald (Leslie Perrins), a young unimportant diplomat with the Foreign Office, who she believes has been cheating his friends at high-stakes bridge games ever since their trustee died and left them the estate but no money.
Ronald is called to the HQ of Prof. Moriarity but never sees him, as he’s addressed through a framed picture of The Sleeping Cardinal. Moriarity blackmails him to smuggle counterfeit bank notes in a suitcase to Paris by using his diplomatic immunity. Or else, he threatens to expose him as a cheat to his society friends. Things get more lively when Holmes confronts a disguised Moriarity and the two very clever fellows try to outwit each other.
The creaky but entertaining film is noted for a great opening scene of the robbery of the Bank of England shot entirely in silhouette and almost entirely without dialogue.
REVIEWED ON 1/1/2010 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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