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TERROR BY NIGHT (director: Roy William Neill; screenwriters: from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle/Frank Gruber; cinematographer: Maury Gertsman; editor: Saul A. Goodkind; music: Hans Salter; cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. ‘Fatso’ Watson), Alan Mowbray (Major Duncan-Bleek), Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade), Renee Godfrey (Vivian Vedder), Frederic Worlock (Professor William Kilbane), Mary Forbes (Lady Margaret Carstairs), Geoffrey Steele (Mr. Roland Carstairs), Skelton Knaggs (Sands, Henchman), Billy Bevan (Passenger Car Attendant), Boyd Davis (Insp. McDonald), Janet Murdoch (Mrs. Shallcross), Gerald Hamer (Mr. Alfred Shallcross); Runtime: 54; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Roy William Neill; Universal; 1946)
“It can be forgiven for its many flaws.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The thirteenth and penultimate entry in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series is at 54 minutes the shortest one in the series. It’s set almost entirely on a speeding train en route from London to Edinburgh. Too bad the story didn’t pack as much zip, as it seemed to be only chugging along at moderate speed. Its tagline reads “A wry ticket to death.” The story is by Arthur Conan Doyle and it’s penned by Hollywood pulp writer Frank Gruber. Gruber’s autobiography was entitled The Pulp Jungle.

The worried Roland Carstairs and his haughty mother Lady Margaret Carstairs (Mary Forbes) are traveling to Scotland and are in possession of the valuable Star of Rhodesia, a diamond jewel with a history of those who possess it dying a violent death. Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) have been hired by Roland to guard the jewel from theft. Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) is also on board to keep an eye on things.

The fun begins when Roland is killed in his private berth by a poison dart gun and robbed of the jewel. The suspects are narrowed down to the eccentric passengers in that coach car that include: a nervous young woman (Renee Godfrey) who is taking back to Scotland the coffin of her mother; Watson’s smoothy school chum Major Duncan-Bleek (Alan Mowbray) who has been away for years in India; an easily upset cantankerous math professor (Frederic Worlock); and the nervous elderly suspicious Shallcross couple.

There are a few murders, a coffin with a false bottom that hid the murderer’s accomplice, a phony gruff policeman, and lots of switching of the real jewel for a duplicate. Holmes declares this crime has the earmarks of jewel thief extraordinaire Colonel Moran and he’s in reality one of the suspicious passengers. Nothing really made much sense and the plot could never hold together with close scrutiny. But it can be forgiven for its many flaws (including inconsistent scenery) because it proves to be an amusing entry in the series and possesses a winsome charm even as the convoluted plot gets even thicker when the train enters Scotland. It was fun trying to guess who was the jewel thief and therefore the infamous Moran, a mastermind who could be caught only by another mastermind.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”