In which Nick gets mad at a mummy, Holmes sings and dances, and Catharine points the finger of suspicion at a lasso.
Some unfinished business from last time:
Nick: So, I neglected to ask you: What did you think of Mrs. Hudson in The Hound of the Baskervilles? I mean, she had about 30 seconds of screentime, but...still. It’s Mrs. Hudson.
Cat: Mrs. Hudson is always amazing, in any way, shape, or form. For her 30 second scene and two lines of dialogue, I liked her!
Nick: When the series moved to Universal from 20th Century Fox in the ‘40s, there were only three actors who made the move: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, and Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson. Of all the actresses who have played Holmes and Watson’s landlady, I think that Mary Gordon, Rosalie Williams (who played Mrs. Hudson opposite Jeremy Brett), and Una Stubbs (in Sherlock) have played the part best. So, you can imagine my surprise when, as I was watching Universal’s The Mummy’s Tomb (1942), I was surprised to find Mary Gordon amongst the cast. And then...she gets killed! I was so upset. Stupid Lon Chaney Jr. Why’d he have to kill Mrs. Hudson?
Cat: I can’t help you there, Nick. I’m sure it was a senseless crime.
Nick: Maybe one of these days I’ll get over it. Or...maybe not.
Cat: Going to go out on a limb here and say probably not.
Time to move on...
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
Major motion picture
Starring: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Ida Lupino (Ann Brandon), Alan Marshal (Jerold Hunter), George Zucco (Professor Moriarty)
82 minutes, black-and-white
Nick: So, let’s just make one thing very clear before we begin. Before we started this movie I told you that it was going to be a Holmes v. Moriarty movie and you...jumped for joy.
Cat: Yes. Yes I did. Mentally as well as physically. The look on your face was kind of priceless, honestly.
Nick: Well, I didn’t see that coming at all. I mean, I understand more than you can possibly understand. I guess that we ought to dive right in and, what with this being a Moriarty-centric film, why don’t we discuss the Napoleon of Crime? Now, when you first saw Moriarty standing on the dock of the Old Bailey courtroom, you said something like, “he looks like a funny old man.” And then, he starting threatening his butler who forgot to water his flowers.
Cat: Okay, that was legitimately chilling. The scene before with his conversation with Holmes in the cab, where they shared their cordially biting remarks about each other, did help to give an idea of what kind of a guy Moriarty was, but then this came along and I was more than a bit surprised. I honestly thought he was going to pull out a gun and kill this guy at any second—and clearly, so did the butler.
Nick: That scene between Holmes and Moriarty as they share a hansom cab is, honestly, one of my favorites in all Sherlockian film. I love Holmes’s line: “You have a magnificent brain Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.” Now, I suppose I’m going to ask you an unfair question but, how do you compare George Zucco’s Moriarty in this film to Andrew Scott’s Jim Moriarty?
Cat: That is an unfair question, why would you ask me this? You know just how much I love Andrew Scott’s Moriarty. Hmm. They were definitely different. George Zucco had a quieter approach (or at least, a more consistently quiet one) that I thought was really good. A bit scary, but good. Scott has this outbursts from time to time that give him an unpredictable quality. Zucco had that too, but it was in a different way. You never knew when he was going to make an unexpected move that you could miss if you blinked. I definitely enjoyed him, and the dynamic he had with Holmes though, to be sure.
Nick: As I mentioned, Moriarty turns up three times in the Basil Rathbone series and he’s played by three different actors giving three very different interpretations of the character.It’ll be interesting to see how the other two measure up to a pretty glowing review you gave to Zucco’s portrayal. As an aside, George Zucco was known in the ‘30s and ‘40s as one of the “maddest doctors in Hollywood” as he often played mad scientists...often with relish. It makes perfect sense then that Zucco would be cast as the evil math professor. (One of my favorite Zucco performances can be found in 20th Century Fox’s Dr. Renault's Secret where he plays the eponymous doctor who manages to transform a gorilla into a man...with disastrous results. Another great mad doctor turn can be found in Universal’s The Mad Ghoul where Zucco plays college professor who maliciously turns one of his students into a zombie so he can woo the guy’s girlfriend. It’s a nasty film, but really well done. In case you couldn’t tell, I love vintage horror movies.)
Cat: That is...wow. I’m really not surprised. He’s definitely got the creepy element down, that’s for sure.
Nick: And, if we’re talking about Moriarty, I guess we ought to talk about his plan...stealing the crown jewels. I suppose you really should mention your wonderful Sherlock reference which I fully admit was brilliant and totally unexpected.
Cat: Come to expect those, I’m sure I won’t be able to limit myself to just one or two. (The reference in question was “Honey, you should see me in a crown”.) To be honest, I thought of another one, but I didn’t mention it. In that very good cab scene, when Moriarty said to Holmes, “I’m going to break you Holmes,”, all I could think about was the scene in Sherlock when Moriarty says to Sherlock, “I’ll burn the heart out of you.” Then I got a little sad inside. But anyway, to get back on track, Moriarty is after the (somewhat poorly guarded…) crown jewels. Except this is only half of a master plan and this is, naturally, the half of the plan Holmes isn’t too focused on.
Nick: I think it is kind of fair to say that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes has a fairly convoluted plot (with two separate plotlines running parallel to each other the whole time). And, as Cat mentioned, Holmes is more interested in one of those plots than the other and I think now would be as good a time as any to discuss the detective, his distressed client, her “slimey” fiance, and, of course, good old Watson. So, first and foremost, we got to see more of Basil this time around. Any more thoughts you had about him now that he had more screentime?
Cat: The only additional thought I had about him when we reached the end of the movie was that it just solidified how awesome and, well, kick-ass he is.
Nick: Oh, I agree. That’s the main reason that I like this movie more than The Hound of the Baskervilles. Out of necessity, Holmes has disappear from the plot but here, those constraints are lifted and he gets to do his detective thing throughout the whole movie and, we get to see a few more facets to Holmes’ character added. He indulges in a bit of housebreaking, he adopts a wonderful disguise and (most badass of all), he drives a hansom cab across London when he has discovered that Moriarty is going to get away with his evil scheme. That scene is - honestly - one of the coolest in Sherlockian cinema. (Between Holmes taking the reins and his banter with Moriarty in a hansom, this movie has some awesome scenes on hansom cabs.)
Cat: I’m not entirely sure I would agree with you on calling that a “wonderful” disguise, but otherwise, you’re totally right. In this movie, the audience actually gets to SEE Holmes doing things, as opposed to him just kinda showing back up in the middle of things, having somehow solved the whole thing off on his own. So that is a definite plus for this movie.
Nick: Well, let’s talk a bit about that disguise because I think it’s great. Holmes’ disguise as a Cockney music hall singer is a highlight for me. Sherlock Holmes has adopted a lot of disguises on film (Rathbone especially - he cited it as one of the reasons he liked the playing the character), and I still think that the song-and-dance routine which he puts on here is great and I think it works on two levels: 1) It shows the audience just how fantastic Holmes is as a character as he’s able to pass himself off as a genuine singer and dancer and 2) It shows off Rathbone’s skills as an actor. As I mentioned to Catharine, that scene was the only time that Rathbone sang and danced in a movie and, knowing that that scene is something of an isolated incident, makes it a little more special. (Or maybe I just like Basil Rathbone too much which is a distinct possibility.)
Cat: That miiiight have something to do with it, Nick. We neglected to mention during our Hound reactions, but when Holmes reveals himself to Watson after being in another disguise, I may or may not have overreacted slightly. (Okay, I entirely overreacted. Nick was extremely amused.) So when this guy comes out, looking like Bert from Mary Poppins, I had my suspicions that this was another disguise, but didn’t want to think too much of it. When it was revealed that it was another disguise, I kicked myself for doubting my instincts. So that may be affecting my judgement of this particular disguise, but at the same time, I never thought I’d be able to say that I have seen Basil Rathbone, as Sherlock Holmes, singing and dancing while looking like Bert the Chimney Sweep.
Nick: Well, when the movies moved to Universal the disguises became a little less integral to the plot and a little easier to see through the charade. (Not that I doubt your ability to see past a thick mustache or beard on Basil.) Well onto the good doctor - Nigel Bruce. You were, of course, not a member of the Nigel Bruce fanclub after Hound (though you admitted to finding him humorous in a stupid kind of way). Was your opinion of Bruce’s good doctor changed at all?
|Holmes and Watson...on the case|
Cat: Not really, to be entirely honest. But I think that I’ve sort of resigned myself to him at this point. There were a few moments in this film where, like with Hound, I could appreciate the stupid comic relief! For example, when Watson has to lie in the street for the sake of crime scene reconstruction/analysis and he’s having a conversation with this poor passerby who hasn’t a clue what’s going on, I was genuinely amused! However, I think my, “Murder me like one of your French girls, Sherlock,” comment significantly enhanced the scene.
Nick: Oh...yes...of course it did. (The less said about Titanic in any conversation the better for me.) This movie also showcased a pretty sassy Watson too and I loved the implications that there’s some rivalry between Watson and Billy the pageboy. The scene where Billy’s going on-and-on about chinchillas and Holmes asks Watson if he heard, Bruce’s deadpan response of “My hearing is in no way impaired” is one of my favorite parts of this film.
Cat: I also enjoyed Dr. John H. “Sassypants” Watson.
Nick: I honestly think that this should be a new goal for us: To come up with as many nicknames for the good doctor as possible. That’s two we’ve come up now.
Cat: That won’t exactly be a hard goal to meet, but I am more than on board with that idea. We should make a list at the very end that showcases at least the best ones.
Nick: I agree with that wholeheartedly. Now, we have skirted around a couple of issues here which are very important in any discussion of this film. The main plotline concerns a young woman, Ann Brandon (Ida Lupino) who comes to Holmes fearing for the life of her brother and later for herself. I would be interested in hearing your opinion of Lupino because, honestly, I think she is one of the best (sadly overlooked) actresses of her time. Her role in Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was one of her earlier ones but, within a couple of years she was starring alongside movie stars the likes of Humphrey Bogart. (She’s brilliant in a movie called They Drive By Night where she kills her husband and has a hysterical breakdown in court and in a movie called High Sierra - also with Bogart - she plays the femme fatale, but with a bit more substance than you usually find in the traditional gangster movie female.)
|Rathbone and Lupino|
Cat: I liked her well enough! I think it was a bit more interesting to watch her as Ann than Wendy Barrie as Beryl in Hound because she was almost always in this state of anxiety, and that appealed to my personal tastes a bit more because it felt like she was actually doing something. The one scene I liked her in the most, I think, was the scene where she hears the flute music floating in through her window after her brother bites the dust (somewhat literally, actually). I thought this was a cool element to the movie in general, this flute player, because he plays the same tune over and over, but you forget that’s not just background music. That’s music actually being played by a character. It was really creepy and the scene where he’s playing it under her window was especially so because you don’t really realize he’s there (or, rather, that someone’s there) until you see this concerned look cross Ann’s face and she begins slowly walking to the window. It was really cool and Lupino really took the time to build up the tension in the scene as she approached the window, which I really liked. Although, as a footnote on Lupino’s performance...let’s say that she’s not the best screamer I’ve ever heard and leave it at that.
Nick: No one, I think, ever called Ida Lupino one of the “scream queens” of Old Hollywood so I cannot entirely blame her on that front. But, she really elevated that scene and makes it something of a set-piece in this movie. And, I love that music (Holmes calls it an ancient Incan funeral durge) because it permeates the entire film. And, it is just a strange little calling card for the murderer and, in that way, it feels very Canonical. The original stories are full of murderers leaving their calling cards behind them and the South American murderer who intimidates his victims with this music before strangling them with a pair of bolas feels like something out of Doyle. As an aside, Cat almost got the method of murder right saying that the killer used a lasso. I really underestimated her deductive abilities when this experiment began. I’m sure if you were afforded a few clients when you started your detective agency you would have done quite well.
Cat: Aw, shucks, Nick, you’re going to make me blush. Though I will say this, people are somewhat consistently surprised when they realize that I’m a somewhat decent observer, so you are not the first.
Nick: It’ll be my goal then to stump you. When we get to some of the genuine adaptations, hopefully some of Doyle’s works will test your abilities of observation and deduction.
It’s time for final thoughts
Nick: Well, I went first last time when I shared my thoughts on Hound so I think it’s only fair that Cat gives her formal opinion of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes first.
Cat: Why thank you, Nick. I really liked this movie a lot. I think the combination of more Basil Rathbone (honestly, I could watch that man do nothing but talk, in character, for an hour and half and I’d be content), the addition of Moriarty, and this movie’s atmosphere were what really did it for me. It’s not that Hound didn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes movie, but this one definitely felt more so like one, with Holmes himself doing more than in Hound. It was fun all around. Basil Rathbone, Professor James Moriarty, and killer South American flute players, what more could you want out of a Sherlock Holmes movie? Nick, your thoughts?
Nick: Before we started this movie, I told Cat that I didn’t want to bias her judgment but this was probably my favorite Sherlock Holmes film of the 1930s and, I still stand by that sentiment. As we noted above, Basil Rathbone is given more to do this time around and that really elevates this movie in my opinion. He really gets to be the central figure and he never let’s you forget the fact. Throughout these
reactions, I have been noting my favorite parts (or set pieces) from this film and I think that’s why this movie works so well. The plot may be full of holes but it links together some fine set pieces (Holmes’ tense cab ride with Moriarty; the murder and subsequent investigation of Ann Brandon’s brother; the garden party with Holmes’ song-and-dance routine; and the final confrontation at the Tower of London) in a really entertaining way. Hound may be the more atmospheric more respected bit of cinema but if I’m looking for a Sherlock Holmes movie to sit down and enjoy, I think The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes fits the bill admirably.
|One of Nick's favorite pictures of Basil|
Cat: Well said (and I’m glad you mentioned the Tower of London scene, because I forgot to, and it was amazing). Now, the ultimate question: How many deerstalkers would you award The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Nick?
Nick: Despite the plot holes (and I can blame no one other than 20th Century Fox for that), this movie is excellent. It’s just so much fun and it’s certainly in my Top 10 Sherlock Holmes movies. I don’t hesitate in giving it 4 and a-half deerstalkers out of 5. And you, Catharine?
Cat: I too give this a 4.5 out of 5! It was just really enjoyable all around, and I definitely see why it’s one of your Top 10.
Nick: I will now be really curious to see what you make of the rest of the Rathbone/Bruce series. As I mentioned, the series moved to Universal Studios and...well...almost everything changed.