Friday, July 22, 2016

Experiment #11 - "The Woman in Green" (1945)

In which we discuss an unmade film. Holmes fights the undead and falls in love! Later, he takes on Moriarty and becomes embroiled in a very dark case.


Two reviews for the absolute low, low price of no money at all…

Nick: So, I spent my day reading an unproduced script (because I have too much time on my hands). That unproduced script was for something called Sherlock Holmes and the Vengeance of Dracula. I started reading it and - only pages into the thing - I was compelled to text Catharine. I could see at once why this movie had never been produced. However, because I am glutton for anything which is related to the great detective, I pressed on. Here are a few (spoiler-filled) thoughts:
The story is in essence a sequel to Dracula which is pretty neat. This affords us a few interesting scenes of the revived Count Dracula seeking out the principle characters from the novel to exact his revenge. Arthur Holmwood and Dr. Seward fall victim to the vampire count and Professor Van Helsing is almost killed as well, but Holmes soon intervenes. The presentation of Holmes is good (for a while) because he resolutely refuses to believe that vampires exist. Holmes is given a nice - albeit modestly-sized - monologue where he confesses that the logic which he holds so near and dear will not help him combat the forces of darkness.
It is also worth mentioning that Professor Moriarty is a character in this narrative and it was, in fact, Moriarty who unwittingly resurrected the vampire. Moriarty and Dracula at first team up (not a bad idea in itself) to stop Holmes and Watson, but when Dracula begins to plot to have the whole of England to himself, the Napoleon of Crime is forced to back out of the partnership...and ends up teaming with Holmes! Yes, you read that right: Holmes and Moriarty on the same side to defeat Count Dracula. Before, I go any further, I’m sure you have some thoughts already Catharine…

Cat: Mainly, I’m just...confused? Where does an idea like that even come from? (And, for the record, this is the first I’m hearing about the actual plot of this script, so my opinions are fresh and unbiased.) I feel like adding Moriarty into the mix just turns the whole thing a bit strange, and even...lame? Because I’m sure you could do a kinda cool Holmes/Dracula crossover, but that’s enough of a concept already; you don’t need to add extra intrigue to that… Please continue, I’m a little too amazed to have any real thoughts yet.

Nick: I must admit that Holmes and Moriarty teaming up is an interesting idea and I warmed to it a lot more than I thought that I would. What I DID NOT warm to, however, is the inclusion of one Constance Bracknell; cousin of the late Arthur Holmwood and the movie’s resident Mary Sue. She is the one who brings the case to Holmes’ attention and she thinks herself to be something of an amateur sleuth who is quite a fan of Holmes’ work. She even makes a few Holmesian deductions herself. In characteristic fashion of a movie of this kind, she is also a free-spirited turn-of-the-century kind of woman (first seen wearing breeches and working on a bicycle). Let me make it clear that I do not have a problem with this kind of character, but they come as something of a cliche in stories set in the Victorian era. Well, Constance falls under Dracula’s spell come to the script’s second-third and - following a series of incredible circumstances which I cannot really go into - after Holmes is accused of complicity to murder and is on the run from the police, finds her as his only safe haven and, though he has spent the majority of the movie bemoaning her constant presence in his investigations, finally professes his love for her!!!

Cat: If only the internet could hear the sound I just made. That’s...that’s just bad. Oh my god, that’s bad. That’s really bad. For starters. I’m with you, Nick, that cliche is kinda annoying. I can get behind the notion of trying to make a more interesting female character in a time where women were rarely given a voice and rights and respect, I really can. But I have to say, there are better ways to do that than to totally break with history for the sake of making a “cool” woman. (Yes, I realize that we’re stretching our imagination to accommodate for vampires and such, however, that sticks out a bit more than the vampires do in terms of believability to me.) I could say a bit more about that, but I’m going to walk away for now. The fact that she is a bland Mary-Sue is hardly surprising, but highly annoying. The fact that Holmes professes love for her is downright barf-inducing and I am very, very, very not happy about it. You...you just don’t do that! Movie, pick what major Holmes trait you want to throw out the window! You can’t put a love interest and vampires in the same movie and think that’s okay!!!

Nick: I will spare you much more of this. Well, with Constance under Dracula’s spell and Watson incapacitated, Holmes and Moriarty discover that the vampire’s plan is to turn everyone in England into a vampire by spilling his blood into the main London gasworks. A fight ensues (at which point Van Helsing and Watson join the fray) and Dracula ends up turning into a giant winged beast (not unlike the monster he becomes in 2004’s Van Helsing). Holmes manages to kill Dracula and he and the gang escape the gasworks in a coal cart (not unlike the spectacular set-piece from Temple of Doom). The next day, Holmes learns that Constance has made a full recovery but she has no memories of the traumatic events and, knowing that it is the best for her health, Holmes decides to not profess his love again. And, with Dracula dead and Moriarty having broken off his truce with the detective, Holmes and Watson set off ready to embark on their next case.
Well...the whole thing was just weird beyond belief. It was strange to notice the parallels in the script between this and other, better movies: the Temple of Doom-esque chase was only one of two scenes which could have been ripped from the Indiana Jones franchise, and there was a scene in which Dracula showed that no mortal weapon could harm him by walking onto an upraised sword (something which also turned up in Van Helsing). It was very obvious that this script was written as a big, blockbuster type of movie, but, in doing so, I cannot help but feel that the screenwriter lost the very essence of Sherlock Holmes. In terms of blockbusting Sherlock Holmes films, I’ll take 2009’s Sherlock Holmes with RDJ over this anyday. That movie not only had a better plot, but did Doyle’s characters the justice they so deserve. (Side-note: Director Chris Columbus was toying with the idea of directing this film but abandoned the script in favor of directing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.)

We come back to Indiana Jones A LOT

Cat: And thank GOD he chose the better film, oh my god. I can’t fathom the fact that that almost came to reality. Now, I will say that the concept of Holmes and Watson essentially being brought onto a case all about Dracula could be cool and could go in a multitude of interesting directions. This...doesn’t sound like one of those directions. While Dracula’s overall plot involving the gasworks actually sounds pretty neat, the rest of this just doesn’t sound like a Holmes-related project. You could easily replace Holmes, Watson, and Moriarty with other characters, from the sound of it. Maybe I’m being way too critical, but this is just making me shake my head in the worst way. This makes the RDJ movie look like Sherlock Holmes cinematic gold.

Nick: Sherlock Holmes v. Dracula can work well (I have seen it done), but this is sadly not one of those instances. And, believe me: I wanted to like this script. I have been seeking it out for some time and I would have loved to see a big-screen version of Sherlock Holmes matching wits with the king of vampires. But, I am certainly glad that this project never did get off the ground. (And maybe I’ll hold out hope for a good  cinematic adaptation of David Stuart Davies brilliant Sherlock v. Dracula novel The Tangled Skein some day.) Anyway, we have a movie that was made to discuss today. And I think we are both of a mind that it turned out pretty well.

Vital Statistics:
The Woman in Green (1945)
Major motion picture
Starring Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Hillary Brooke (Lydia Marlow), Paul Cavanaugh (Sir George Finick), Henry Daniell (Professor Moriarty)
68 minutes, black-and-white


Nick: Where does one start when they’re talking about The Woman in Green? The beginning I suppose: London is in the thrall of a serial killer’s reign who is brutally murdering young woman and cutting off their right forefingers. While the Universal Holmes films have touched on some pretty dark topics, this may be the darkest yet. And, to make it worse, in the original script, the victims weren’t young woman but children aged eight or nine!

Cat: Yeah, when you told me that, my jaw hit the floor. I’m surprised that even made it to the original script and wasn’t an idea that was immediately shot down, honestly. I feel compelled to say that I was very excited for us to get to this because I knew this was the last Rathbone-era Moriarty-related movie, and as before, that got me very, very excited - especially for a particular scene that we will get to later.

A swanky '40s nightclub

Nick: Despite my best intentions of trying to keep Moriarty’s presence in this movie a secret, once more my bad poker face spoiled all my fun. Well, seeing as this movie is especially dark it makes some sense that the chuckle-inducing Lestrade is not present this time around. The law is presented in the form of Inspector Tobias Gregson who is decidedly more somber and serious than the loveable Dennis Hoey. Holmes and Gregson - after visiting the morgue - decamp to a swanky London nightclub (not the kind of place you’d expect to find Holmes, but he appears to know the bartender’s name) where they observe aristocrat Sir George Finick talking with a mysterious young woman. Taking him back to her place, the woman seduces Sir George in perhaps the eeriest, yet most soothing scene ever committed to film.

Cat: It’s okay, Nick, you really tried. (And I already knew that before you even put on a poker face, so…) But yes, even if the movie was more serious, Dennis Hoey was missed. The scene back at the woman’s place was very cool, though I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t point this out: the scene showing Sir George and this mysterious young lady relaxing with some quiet music and a basin of water on the coffee table with some flowers in it. It’s pretty cool and there’s a shot what’s supposed to be the two of them sitting on the couch reflected in the water. That too would be pretty neat...if it made sense. The angles and the images in the water are totally off and don’t make any sense as a real reflection. (I actually paused the movie and totally ruined the moment to point this out to Nick because it was really bugging me. By the end of this blog he’s going to hate watching movies with me.)

Cat may nitpick but Nick thinks it's pretty darn cool-looking

Nick: I’d make some passive aggressive comment about the long hours of hard work which I am sure that Universal special effects man John P. Fulton put into composing that shot, but I’ll move on. We have bigger fish to fry. After blacking out, Sir George awakes the next morning in a seedy hotel room and learns quickly of yet another murder. Reaching into his pocket he discovers, to his horror, a severed finger and returns to the woman’s apartment to figure out what is going on when he is confronted by a mysterious man with a chilling message to relay: “I saw [your cigarette case] fall, but you never noticed. You were very busy...bending over something...with a knife. Then you put something in your pocket.” And it was at this point that Catharine discovered that this mysterious man was none other than Professor James Moriarty. So, let us break narrative for a moment to discuss the third and final incarnation of the Napoleon of Crime.

Cat: Ooh, yes, let’s. To be entirely honest, I would love to know why Universal kept bringing Moriarty back as a character after killing him twice. Was it just for the appeal of the well-known character? I’d love to know how that decision was made. Anyway, the third Moriarty is played by Henry Daniell and I thought he was pretty alright! (Not sure if I could pick a favorite, though I’m sure you’ll ask at the end, Nick.) I think, of the three, he might have the creepiest sounding voice. He just sounds like he should be the master of crime. And after he’s introduced, you don’t see him for awhile - which, in my mind, made him all the creepier, as if he could  disappear at will. I’m trying to save some of my thoughts for later moments relating to specific scenes, so what are your thoughts on our final Professor, Nick?

Nick: Honestly, of all the Professors that we have seen in the series so far, Henry Daniell is my favorite. That opinion is not one which I think is held by most fans, but he is so cold and calculating that he really gets under your skin and he’s really creepy. I am - in general - just a big fan of Daniell. He is one my favorite parts of Voice of Terror and his performance in the 1945 horror film The Body Snatcher is amazing. Truly incredible work. What is interesting to note about Henry Daniell’s Moriarty is that Rathbone himself was quite partial to him. In his autobiography In and Out of Character, Rathbone wrote: “There are other Moriartys but none so delectably dangerous as that of Henry Daniell.” I am rather inclined to agree. Is he the best Moriarty ever? No. But he was a perfect foil to Rathbone’s Holmes for The Woman in Green.

Cat: I do have to agree there - and it’s fascinating that he was (essentially) a personal favorite of the Baz himself! I could certainly understand him being the more forgettable Moriarty though - because he does very effectively get under the audience’s skin and, because he acts very much like a “puppetmaster” in this film, you almost forget that he’s there (especially since he doesn’t have a ton of screentime - just a few really good scenes here and there). Personally, I feel like all three Moriartys are good for different reasons and the title of “favorite” or “best” becomes a matter of personal preference.

Nick: I definitely agree that it is a matter of opinion, but it is interesting that you likened Daniell’s Moriarty to a puppet-master. To quote (famously) from “The Final Problem”: “He sits motionless, like a spider in the centre of its web, but that web has a thousand radiations, and he knows well every quiver of each of them. He does little himself. He only plans. But his agents are numerous and splendidly organized. Is there a crime to be done, a paper to be abstracted, we will say, a house to be rifled, a man to be removed–the word is passed to the professor, the matter is organized and carried out.” It is very Canonical in that way and I like it for that reason. But, let us discuss one or two plot points before we get to what is - in essence - the centerpiece of the film. So, Sir George’s worried daughter comes to Holmes and the detective is powerless to prevent Sir George’s murder. Holmes soon comes to the conclusion that Moriarty is the mastermind of this scheme and he is soon visited by Moriarty at his Baker Street rooms. The scene is modeled after the famed scene in “The Final Problem” and Rathbone and Daniell play off of each other really well. And, a portion of this scene turned up later in an episode of Sherlock!

Henry Daniell comes to confront the Baz

Cat: And it was REALLY GOOD! One day awhile ago, I found myself watching some making of feature for Sherlock and Steven Moffat was talking about how they thought this scene was really neat, so they gave it a nod in the episode The Reichenbach Fall. I thought that was really cool, which is one of the reasons I’ve been looking forward to this movie, just for this scene alone. It totally did not disappoint. What I thought was really interesting about it was that, despite the tense air of the scene, you almost know exactly what’s going to happen. At least, I felt that way? It was almost like nothing else could happen except for there to be this small, invasive confrontation that ends with an these two great minds reaching an impasse. Even still, it was a really tense moment and, like you said earlier, Nick, the two actors played beautifully off of each other. Definitely counts as one of my favorite moments of the Rathbone series, for sure.

Nick: The reference in Sherlock comes in The Reichenbach Fall when Jim Moriarty goes to visit Sherlock while the detective plays the violin. Sherlock stops playing seeming to acknowledge Moriarty’s presence and then continues playing showing that he is prepared to confront his enemy and does not mind him being there. It’s a great little moment. The confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at an end, Moriarty makes an attempt on Holmes’ life from the empty house across from his rooms (an obvious reference to “The Empty House”), but the man behind the trigger this time around is a hypnotized ex-sniper which leads Holmes and Watson to The Mesmer Club...home of the most prominent hypnotists in London. (That’s a really weird thing to type.)

Cat: I think that has to go along with the Canadian Occult Society: too weird to be believed (but you also secretly want to say you’re a part of them). The rest of the movie actually has a lot to do with hypnosis and hypnotizing, and Watson has no problems with voicing his displeasure on the subject (which I found quite amusing). He’s not one to believe in the possibility of hypnosis as a real talent or ability and, after huffing about it to Holmes at the Mesmer Club, he ends up being used for a demonstration. Oh, the second-hand embarrassment. I really couldn’t help cringing on Watson’s behalf here, I just couldn’t.

Nick: Watson is fooled by the hypnotists at the Mesmer Club by easily succumbing to hypnosis and rolling up his trouser leg and taking off his shoe, The original script had Watson taking off his pants...which I really would not want to see. The other really curious thing about this scene is that it is the only time that Mycroft is mentioned in the Universal films. Apparently, he’s a member of the Mesmer Club!?

Cat: Yeah, of all the mentions or references to make, this was certainly an interesting one? I’m still surprised he didn’t turn up even in passing during the “Nazi Trilogy”. Though to be entirely honest, the Mesmer Club is just weird. They shoved a needle through some poor hypnotized guy’s hand!! And SHOWED IT! It was really out of the blue and a bit disturbing, to be quite honest. So, it makes sense that Holmes and Watson would be trying to locate Lydia Marlow there.

Sherlock Holmes faces death...again

Nick: I don’t usually get creeped out and have to look away at old movies, but the scene with the needle through the hand does it for me in this movie. Well, let’s move onto the finale of this film because we are so close. So, Holmes meets Lydia Marlowe (the mysterious woman who lured Sir George into Moriarty’s web of blackmail and murder) and she takes him back to her apartment where she appears to hypnotize him as well. Moriarty lures Holmes out on the balcony of her apartment and from there onto the ledge overlooking the street. Holmes is moments away from stepping off the ledge and falling to his doom when Watson and the police show up and clap handcuffs on the Professor and the femme fatale. Moriarty, trying to flee, leaps from one balcony onto the ledge of the adjoining building only to fall to his death (Moriarty really ought to stay away from heights). And, roll credits. So, in true Sherlockian fashion, I ask: Has anything escaped me?

Cat: I don’t think so, except for the part where Holmes reveals once Watson and the police come onto the scene that he was never hypnotized to begin with; he was only stalling for them to show up. Of course, he has to give Watson a small heart attack first by not immediately getting off the ledge. We really need to keep Holmes away from high places too…

Nick: Oh, and how could we almost forget the really, really, REALLY creepy doctor who dresses little dolls who is obviously the Finger Murderer who is in Moriarty’s employ. My good God, that man is scary!

Cat: Oh yeah...him. I really did not like him. He was actually really, really scary, to be quite honest. I wouldn’t expect a character from an older movie (especially one who has such little screen time!) to be that disturbing.

Nick: Oh, I know. You know, The Woman in Green has got really some really messed up parts. I wasn’t kidding when I said that things get dark...really dark...really fast.

Cat: You really weren’t. Honestly, aside from the freaky imagery with the needle in the hand, I wasn’t particularly bugged by anything (excluding you revealing the original victims of the murders early on in our viewing), but the Finger Murderer made things unsettling really, really quick. I think the really creepy thing about him was that you could actually see someone like that going around and doing awful things today. That, and the doll aspect. Dolls are very easy to make creepy.

Nick: Then let’s never watch any of those Chucky movies...or Annabelle.

Cat: Annabelle is straight up off limits.

It’s time for Final Thoughts:

Nick: Bottom-line: I am very partial to The Woman in Green. Is it perfect? I wouldn’t say that, but it is really entertaining. It feels really dark which is great. And not dark in the same way as Scarlet Claw or Pearl of Death. This is a gritty Holmes film. The killer is a predator and the blackmail scheme is nefarious. While the comedic scenes may consume a great deal of the runtime (Nigel Bruce’s Watson is pretty tiresome in the Mesmer Club scene), but they are well-placed; especially as the rest of the film is so dark. Rathbone’s Holmes is - as always - great and he plays off of Henry Daniell’s superb Moriarty brilliantly. A shout-out to Hillary Brooke’s Lydia Marlow too. She is the definition of a femme fatale. I honestly believe that The Woman in Green is the last great Sherlock Holmes film made by Universal. And you Catharine, your final thoughts?

Cat: I have to agree, The Woman in Green was pretty good. I too really liked the darker themes and moments and I think they all played out really well - especially given that the movie can convey the same feelings of unease and tension that more recent movies can while not being gruesome (as they never really show any blood, the actual murders, etc.). I think that it deserves points for that alone, to be fair. Of all the Universal movies, I’ve really liked the three that involve Moriarty because I find that Basil Rathbone gives an especially good performance in them. (For the record, I actually got chills during the scene in Baker Street during the Holmes/Moriarty confrontation where Moriarty says to Holmes, “Everything that I have to say to you has already crossed your mind.” and Holmes smoothly responds, “And my answer has no doubt crossed yours.” - a moment also referenced in Sherlock, but I think I prefered it here.) Though the scene where it appears as though Holmes has been hypnotized was fun to watch, I felt like the overall use and mention of hypnosis got to be a bit much (possibly due to the Mesmer Club scene with Watson, that did feel a bit long). Long story short: I thought there were solid elements in this film that I really, really, really liked.

Nick: Well, seeing as we have come to the end of Moriarty’s time in the Rathbone/Bruce series, I propose a quick ranking of the three (very different) Napoleons of Crime. As I know this may be difficult for Catharine, I’ll go first and get the ball rolling. From least-favorite to favorite: Lionel Atwill, George Zucco, Henry Daniell. Atwill is good; cold and ruthless but he feels like a common thug. Zucco, though a little underused, is quiet and chilling. And Daniell is utterly unreadable. He’s about as aloof and distant as they come. You just get a sense that he is merciless. Okay, over to you!

Cat: Oh, I knew it’d come to this…I like them all for different reasons! Okay, favorite to least favorite (I guess): George Zucco, Henry Daniell, and Lionel Atwill. I’m a bit partial to Zucco (as he was the first Rathbone-era Moriarty I met), but I really liked his quiet, but still very threatening demeanor; I also really liked the dynamic he had with Basil Rathbone. I feel like Henry Daniell looked the most like a Moriarty, and though he had a few scenes, his attitude was really chilling and fun to watch - espeically when playing off/with Basil Rathbone. I (begrudgingly) put Lionel Atwill the lowest because I wasn’t a huge fan of his actual character as Moriarty, but I really liked his role in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon and his final confrontation with Holmes. There you have it. (But really, I didn’t not like any of them!)

Nick: Well, I hope that these films have satisfied the need for Holmes/Moriarty because he will sadly not turn up again until we get to 1976’s The Seven-Per-Cent Solution. Oh...but it will be very worth it! Okay, last bit of business: Deerstalker rating. I give this one a solid four out of five. I really The Woman in Green and, as I mentioned above, I think it is the last of the great Universal Holmes films. And you Catharine?

Cat: I think I have to give this a 4.0 as well. If there were more Moriarty/Holmes scenes, I might give it a 4.5, I think. However, I did still really like The Woman in Green (which, I have to say, is really an ironic title for a black and white movie…); I think it had a lot of really good things going for it, to be honest.

Nick: This one does have a lot going for it...something which I am not sure can be said of our next film…

Nick's Rating
Catharine's Rating

Next Time: Deep breath everyone...we’re going to tackle Pursuit to Algiers...

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Experiment #10 - "The House of Fear" (1945)

In which Catharine fills the gaps in Nick’s knowledge of Star Trek. Holmes and Watson travel to Scotland and are surrounded by murder...and plaid.


Space: the final frontier:

Nick: I am the last one who should be making any Star Trek-related references or jokes. I have never seen an episode and know very little about its characters or continuity. In true Sherlockian fashion, the extent of knowledge is that Spock quotes Holmes at one point and later (in, I think, The Next Generation) dresses up as the great detective on - again I think - two occasions. I don’t know. Fill me in with what knowledge you can Catharine.

Cat: I’ll try, because I don’t boast to be really “in the know” with Star Trek, despite the fact that one of my best friends is an insane Trekkie. I’ve seen the newer movies, a couple episodes of the original series, and Star Trek II. That’s it. That being said, I (think) I can confirm that - though it may be Data in Next Gen who dresses up as Holmes. Point being, someone dresses up at Sherlock Holmes at some point. There’s also something in The Next Generation where the crew has to defeat a holodeck version of Moriarty who is hacking their systems. Details aside (we are clearly not the people to try to speak Klingon to), the great detective has a slight relationship with Star Trek.

Nick: Yes. Holmes does have a connection to Star Trek (which I find kind of cool in itself). However, fans of the great detective and Trekkies alike have wondered for some time now whether the two have more in common than meets the eye. Again, Catharine you may be able to give this more context than I can: when did people begin to wonder if Mr. Spock is descended from Sherlock Holmes?!

Cat: Weeeeeell, in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Spock says at one point, “An ancestor of mine maintained that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” According to Google, the quote is also mentioned by Spock in the 2009 reboot (though without any mention of an ancestor). For those not well versed in Star Trek characters (it’s okay, no one’s judging): Mr. Spock is the pointy eared guy with the weird eyebrows (played by Leonard Nimoy in TOS and Zachary Quinto in the more recent movies) who is from the hyper-logical planet, Vulcan. Though he himself tries to remain logical in the face of all emotion, he is half-human on his mother’s side (which makes this a bit difficult at times). So, to get to the point, many have theorized that the mentioned quote means that (on his mother’s side), he is related to Holmes. I personally have a slightly different theory, but there you have it.

Nick: The really curious thing about Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is that it was directed and written by Nicholas Meyer who (as most Sherlockians know) wrote three Holmes pastiches: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, The West End Horror, and The Canary Trainer. Also, according to Meyer, he has joked that if (on his mother’s side) Spock’s great-great-great-great grandfather was Sherlock Holmes than his great-great-great-great grandmother was - you guessed it - Irene Adler. I don’t know how I feel about that. A few days ago I was okay with that idea, but as I have debated that in my mind over the past few days, I’m liking that idea less and less. (And just you wait until we get to Sherlock Holmes in New York when we have some real fun Sherlock Holmes and Irene interactions.) Anyway,your theory makes sense Catharine, if you’d like to share that with the world.

Cat: Well, to me, it makes more sense to interpret that as meaning that Arthur Conan Doyle is the ancestor in question. Especially with my (limited) understanding of the way that holodeck episode that I mentioned earlier is handled. Because, technically, ACD is the true originator of the quote. There are other fans that believe this (I think), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Holmes version of the theory is more popular. It has a certain “appeal”, I suppose.

Nick: I agree, there is something appealing about it. That’s probably why I was at first okay with the whole idea. I think that it is interesting that Holmes has been a fascination for so many science fiction writers. There are dozens of steampunk variations on the Holmes mythos and encounters with aliens and robots, etc. are found in abundance in pastiches (some better than others, but that’s a discussion for another time). Anyway, one of my favorite sci-fi Sherlockian crossover can be found in the worlds of Doctor Who - a TV show I can discuss in-depth. One of my favorite serials is the 1977 six-parter, The Talons of Weng-Chiang written by Robert Holmes. I think the whole thing is fantastic as Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor dons a deerstalker hat and Inverness cape in Victorian London and encounters a giant rat in a story which is in equal parts derived from the Fu Manchu stories, Dracula, The Phantom of the Opera, the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Pygmalion. I’m saying it now: when we get to it, I think we ought to review it for the blog.

Cat: Heh. See, it’s funny ‘cause a guy named Holmes wrote it. I can talk about Doctor Who slightly less in-depth, but I do have a soft spot in my heart for the Christmas special The Snowmen where the Eleventh Doctor tries to introduce himself as Sherlock Holmes, which works for about two minutes. He’s trying to rattle off really impressive, entirely unrealistic, and incorrect deductions and it’s just really amusing. I relate to it on a deep level, because I can only imagine that’s how I come off whenever I try to sound super smart.

Nick: I too have a soft spot for The Snowmen. (It too is essentially a Sherlock Holmes pastiche which makes me very happy.) Well, before we move on, any discussion of Star Trek which I am taking part in is not complete without a reference to the sitcom, Frasier. I think it is very possible that it is is my favorite TV show and I have seldom seen a comedy series as well written as it is. In one episode, Frasier is trying to deliver a speech in Hebrew at his son’s bar mitzvah only to have been duped into delivering it in Klingon by his Star Trek-obsessed colleague. The results are, I think, hysterical.  

And with that it is time to get to the matter at hand. After all, there is a movie to be reviewed.

Vital Statistics:
The House of Fear (1945)
Major motion picture
Starring Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Aubrey Mather (Alastair), Paul Cavanagh (Dr. Simon Merrivale), Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade), Harry Cording (Captain Simpson)
68 minutes, black-and-white


Nick: If you have ever wanted to know what it would be like if Sherlock Holmes was dropped into the middle of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this movie is probably the closest thing to answering your question.

Cat: Except it’s in Scotland. You know how I knew that? No, not anyone’s accents, but the outrageous amounts of plaid. If I was smart, I would’ve kept a tally for the amount of times a plaid print was on screen. Take my word for it, it was a LOT.


Nick: Catharine is right: there is a lot of plaid in this movie. (And scrolling through some screengrabs to be used in this review only accentuated that fact.) Anyway, let’s take this one apart. So we start with a montage of members of the reclusive club, The Good Comrades receiving envelopes containing orange pips only for them to die horribly. We learn about all of this in flashback and voice-over, delivered by the Comrades’ insurance agent who has come to Holmes for help. It’s a really minor point but I love this scene in Baker Street at the beginning because it feels so much like one of the original stories. So seldom in the Universal films does Holmes really get a client come to 221b and lay out his or her case and, done here, it felt very satisfying.

Cat: Though I can’t help but question a lot about The Good Comrades. It seems like that was just a very odd group of people to have essentially a “best friends forever” club. But, who am I to judge? To be sure, the introductory montage was definitely dramatic and set the mood accordingly, I thought.

Nick: It most certainly did! Finding the case interesting enough, Holmes and Watson are off to Scotland quicker than you can say “holy deerstalkers Batman!” Once in Scotland (and surrounded by plaid), they integrate themselves into the Good Comrades’ mansion and sit back and wait as the members begin to die off one-by-one. And, honestly, I think that’s my biggest problem with this movie: it’s really repetitive. A member of the Good Comrades will receive his mysterious orange pips (more on them in a minute), fear for his life, and then die horribly. I don’t know; usually a plot like this (where the killer picks off people in an isolated location) really works for me. Here, it just doesn’t. Do you have similar feelings?

Cat: Kind of? It does have a very repetitive nature to it that can get a bit boring after awhile, because it doesn’t exactly feel like much happens. With each new victim, the lead-up to their deaths follows basically the same turn of events as you described, Nick. On a side note though, Universal did not disappoint and at least put everyone in a positively gorgeous mansion set, so at least there was a pretty house to look at when you got a tiny bit bored!

Well, the set's nice

Nick: Universal was not rivaled when it came to creating creepy mansion sets and The House of Fear does not disappoint. (I also love how in one scene you can clearly see the wolf-headed cane- which figured very prominently in the plot of Universal’s The Wolf Man -leaning against a wall.) Another way to alleviate any tedium comes in the ever-welcome form of Dennis Hoey’s Lestrade. If you do not question the reason that a Scotland Yard inspector is about as far away from London as possible, then his antics are enjoyable as always.

Cat: Okay, I genuinely have grown to love every second Dennis Hoey is on screen. He is amazing and he brought me much joy in this film. As if Lestrade by himself wasn’t great enough, every second he and Watson are on screen together is pure GOLD. The only way I can describe their relationship is by saying that it’s similar to two little kids desperately trying to out-do the other to prove their worthiness and gain admiration from their teacher/big brother/friend/father/whatever role you want Holmes to take in this scenario. They play off of each other really well. Maybe it was because the mystery in this movie got a bit tedious at times, but their antics were particularly amusing in The House of Fear.

Nick: And what makes things even funnier is the way that Rathbone plays Holmes in that he is pretty clearly stuck in the middle of their bickering and cannot stand it. The three play off each other really well throughout the entire movie. However, as I noted to Catharine before we started this movie, this is the one and only time in the series that Bruce’s Watson ever got on my nerves. There is one scene in which Watson is left to his own devices and takes to shooting at a suit of armor and a cat only to exclaim “they’ve got me surrounded.” This bit of comic business goes on too long in my mind and is really only there to pad out the runtime.

Cat: Honestly, I wasn’t as “offended” as Nick was. I mean, I didn’t start out as Nigel Bruce’s biggest fan, so I certainly can’t fault Nick for not enjoying this one scene. As I recall, Nick, you considered it to be “the definition of facepalming”. I found it kinda funny. Harmless might be the better word than funny, but you get the point. Besides, it could always be worse. I mean, it could have been longer…

Nick: It certainly could have been worse, I suppose I just don’t find it funny. Nigel Bruce trying to pull off a man’s beard I find funny. Nigel Bruce asking a police officer “what’s cooking” I find hysterical. Nigel Bruce shooting at a suit of armor, I find myself burying my head in my hands.

Cat:  Well, I find Nigel Bruce essentially getting pushed over and left sitting on a set of steps in Hound to be downright cringe-worthy, so I suppose there’s just a moment for everyone.

Nick: Well, as the Good Comrades continue to die, let’s take a moment to discuss two things: the orange pips and the manner in which they died. Now, I love all of the original stories (even “The Mazarin Stone” which many consider to be one of the worst), but I have never considered “The Five Orange Pips” to be one of the best. It’s good and it has some excellent atmospheric bits, but the solution is telegraphed from the outset, so I have often wondered what has prompted so many writers to be influenced by this one story (it’s been referenced twice in Sherlock alone). And - thanks to Catharine - I’ve come to realize it’s not the story’s plot which is so appealing, it’s the concept. The idea that someone could receive five innocuous orange seeds and know that he/she is about to die is, admittedly, pretty neat. So, in the context of this story, I think it works pretty well.

Bravo ACD! You made seeds scary!

Cat: Yay, I helped! But I have to agree, the concept itself is really cool, and I’m sure it might even be better to read than to watch. Because to watch the cool concept play out can make for a slightly boring time because of the repetitive nature. However, I’m really trying not to knock the movie too much. There were some little things here and there (aside from the pretty set and possibly-cringe-worthy-Nigel-Bruce-moments) that at least kept me interested. The members of the Good Comrades were sometimes very interesting characters because of how odd they seemed (again I ask, how exactly did these guys come together to form a “league of friendship”?) and their deaths helped raise interesting questions on the killer’s motive, as none of them were the same. Though I do have to call out the movie for this one scene. I can’t remember which member it was (Nick, help me out), but one of the members is found dead in the furnace, having apparently been burned to a crisp. That’s all well and good (well, at least as good as a human bonfire gets), but then Holmes, Watson, Lestrade, and everyone else stands around the furnace examining the crime scene without a care in the world! It should have smelled absolutely AWFUL down there if someone really had been burned like that. Yes, I’m being ridiculously nit-picky, but when Sherlock Holmes has impacted the field of forensic science so much, I can’t help but get a bit pouty over such a glaring inaccuracy.

Nick: That is a true, and very acceptable nit-pick. And that brings up a good point about this movie: the people die horrible, horrible deaths. They’re burned, blown up, cut apart, etc. But, it actually serves a plot point: the Good Comrades have all been faking their deaths and using the money from their life insurance to pass onto their other members. It’s a fairly surprising twist ending (one which I did not see coming when I first watched this movie). What did you think? (And I honestly cannot remember which Good Comrade was burned in the furnace.)

Cat: I was...surprised, for sure. Like I (poorly) explained in our last post, I like the mysteries that feel more like a thriller. I kinda sort of said that with The House of Fear in mind, because it felt like  the solution was figured out/revealed in the blink of an eye. I kinda feel like I missed something, somewhere - which I didn’t exactly enjoy?

Nick: Things did end very quickly. Though, there is a little bit towards the end which I particularly liked (and which made up for Watson’s scene of stupidity): Watson discovers that the special tobacco smoked by Captain Carey has disappeared (even though it was there before the Captain’s death). In essence, Watson therefore spots the vital clue to unraveling the whole thing. And he boasts about this back at Baker Street when the case has been closed. In typical Watson fashion, he makes it out as though he solved the whole thing only to be stumped when questioned on one or two more complex points. Holmes’ amusement at the whole thing only furthers the two men’s friendship and in this scene in particular you can see the real life friendship between Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

The Baker Street Bros

Cat: Which was really nice. They are truly the Baker Street Bros.

It’s time for Final Thoughts:

Nick: Well, since I gave my formal opinion first last time, would you care to do the honors Catharine?

Cat:  Sure thing. I feel like I’ve kind of already made my opinion evident by now. By no means was this a bad or not entertaining movie, but it feels like there are elements about it that can make it a bit...boring? I don’t really know if boring’s the right word; it might be more accurate to say that this feels like a very “standard” mystery movie. You sort of know what you’re going to be in store for within the first fifteen to twenty minutes or so, and the movie very much follows those expectations. For me, at least. But, there were still very enjoyable elements to it, like some good comedy between Watson and Lestrade. It didn’t necessarily “make” the movie for me, but it kept it fun and entertaining enough to still make it enjoyable. What’s your take on this, Nick?

Nick: As a fan of “standard” mysteries (I love Agatha Christie), this one was a little disappointing. The repetitive nature of the movie just takes out a lot of the excitement and - while there is promise in the premise - there is a lot of padding to flesh this out to a full length film. There is a certain amount of inventiveness in the story (the final reveal is especially good) and I do like the orange pip motif. There’s also something almost tangibly horrific in the gruesome deaths of the Good Comrades (I liken the mood to The Scarlet Claw). But, a good concept simply couldn’t sustain this movie all the way through. By no means bad, but I think the definition of a mediocre mystery film. What would your deerstalker rating be?

Cat: I almost feel bad saying this, but I think I have to go with a 3.5. Basing my rating on how much it captured my interest and how likely it’d be for me to rewatch the movie on my own (which is my typical criteria), this one kinda missed the mark for me. It’s really, really not bad, it just didn’t totally grab me. What’s your deerstalker rating?

Nick: I too would give it a 3.5 out of 5. There is nothing wrong with a 3.5 in my mind. The House of Fear is a good Sherlock Holmes movie, but it lacks something special. I agree; this is one which I do not often find myself coming back to.

This review marks our tenth experiment as part of The Great Sherlock Holmes Experiment. As something of a minor milestone, we hope that you have enjoyed these reviews/discussions as much as we have had making them. Join us next time when the game will - as always - be afoot.

Nick's Rating
Catharine's Rating

Next Time: Things get dark...really dark