Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
(1939), 85 minutes b&w
"The Struggle of Super-Minds in the Crime of the Century!"
reads the tagline for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The second of the 14 Sherlock Holmes movies
starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, this one is my favorite. It is exciting, and fast-paced, with a clever mystery story. Like
The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is an
evocative period adventure, which never goes out of style. This popular film is
loosely based on a play "Sherlock
Holmes," written by William Gillette. Rathbone is a perfect Sherlock Holmes, and George Zucco is superb as the evil mastermind, Professor
Moriarty. For many fans George Zucco is their favorite Moriarty;
Rathbone's personal favorite was Henry Daniell (The
Woman in Green).
The setting is 1894 gas-lit Victorian London. Due to lack of evidence, Holmes' nemesis Moriarty has just been acquitted of a crime although everyone believes him guilty. Leaving
the courthouse, Holmes and Moriarty share a cab and some witty dialogue. Holmes tells his enemy, "You've 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." Moriarty brags that he will pull off the most incredible crime of the century right under Holmes nose, and the humiliation will break
Holmes. Thus begins a battle of wits between the two men.
Moriarty concocts a puzzling, intriguing case to absorb Holmes' interest and to divert his attention from Moriarty's real crime: stealing the crown jewels. Miss Brandon
(Ida Lupino) comes to Holmes for help. Her brother has received a strange note, which is just like one their father received before he was killed. Therefore, she fears for her brother's life -- and rightly so! Before Holmes can get to him, Mr. Brandon is killed on the street. Almost immediately, Miss Brandon also receives the same, strange, death-portending note.
Miss Brandon's fiancé follows her and acts suspiciously, but is only the red
herring in this story. Just as Moriarty planned, Holmes becomes completely occupied with the Brandon case, and he ignores a threat to steal the Star of Delhi, a precious
emerald arriving by ship the next night.
"I don't understand why you wish to consult me about a garden
party. You couldn't possibly find a worse guide to social
"I wonder if you could possibly manage to be on hand when the Star
of Delhi is delivered?"
Moriarty knows Holmes cannot be in two places at once, so while Holmes is protecting Miss Brandon, Moriarty proceeds with his plan to steal the crown jewels.
Having replaced the policemen assigned to guard the emerald, and wearing their
uniforms, Moriarty and his men escort the Star of Delhi to the Tower of London. Holmes has sent Watson to help guard the
emerald, but Watson fails to recognize the now beardless
Moriarty. Professor Moriarty stages an unsuccessful attempt to steal the emerald.
While the tower guards are chasing Moriarty's associates, the Professor hides inside the chamber containing the crown jewels. Watson recovers the
Star of Delhi, and thinks that he has foiled Moriarty.
Meanwhile, at Mrs. Jameson's garden party Holmes, disguised as a "music hall chap," does a song and dance routine while keeping an eye on Miss Brandon. As far as I know, this is the only film in which we hear Basil Rathbone sing. It isn't great singing, but good enough for the character, and a great disguise for
Holmes. Later, Holmes hears Miss Brandon's screams coming from the garden. He rushes to her, arriving just in time to see a man about to hurl a Patagonian
bolas (a weapon made of long strands of rawhide with leather-coated lead balls on the ends). Holmes knocks Miss Brandon to the ground as the deadly
bolas flies by and decapitates a nearby statue. When Holmes learns from the would-be killer that Moriarty is behind this, he figures out what Moriarty is really up to, and he and Watson rush off to the Tower of London in time to thwart Moriarty's theft of the crown jewels.
A hand-to-hand battle between Holmes and Moriarty ensues atop the Tower,
ending with Moriarty falling to his apparent death below. (Moriarty
never really dies. He returns in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret
Weapon and again in The Woman in Green.)
Click on the filename below to download a videoclip of
Rathbone singing "I Do Like to Be Beside the Seaside." rathbone.wmv (2.76 MB)
In the final scene, while Holmes and Watson are dining in a
restaurant and reading of Ann Brandon's marriage to Jerrold Hunter, Holmes
begins to pluck at a fiddle to find the note that will annoy the flies and
make them leave. Watson demonstrates to Holmes the better way to eliminate
flies--WHACK! with a newspaper.
Holmes tries to annoy the flies.
The original final scene, the interrogation of
Mateo, was cut from the film.
This ending was not in the original script for the film. The first
ending features a scene in Inspector Bristol's office, in which Mateo (the
murderous Indian with the bolas) explains why he tried to kill Miss
Brandon. He claims that Miss Brandon's father killed his father
years ago, and stole the mine that made the Brandon family rich. Mateo
swore vengeance against Brandon and his family. (One wonders what Moriarty
had to do with this?) While this scene does tie up some loose ends,
director Alfred Werker felt the lengthy explanatory scene was too
anticlimactic and replaced it in the final edit with the shorter
Rathbone gave an exceptional performance as Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, it was the last time he would don the famous Inverness cape and deerstalker cap.
In a surprising move after the success of The Adventures of Sherlock
Holmes, Twentieth Century Fox decided not to produce more Holmes films.
About two years later Universal Studios acquired the film rights to the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Universal placed Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson) under contract for four years.
This was one of Ida Lupino's early films, and her performance was
superb. She went on to earn fame not only as an accomplished actress, but
also as a director, producer and screenwriter. According to a Scarlet
Street interview (issue #13, p. 48), Lupino had fun during the filming
of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and liked to call her co-star
Nigel Bruce wrote the following in his memoirs:
On June 5th we commenced our second Sherlock Holmes
picture, and once again my old friend Gene Markey was the producer. Besides
Basil and myself, the cast included Ida Lupino, George Zucco and Lionel Atwill.
We took over 5 weeks to make a rambling and complicated story which had no
resemblance to any of the writings of Conan Doyle. In this picture Ida Lupino
had her first really dramatic part and making full use of her chances, she gave
a grand performance which may be said to have started her on the road to
The director, who was the same man who had directed Kidnapped (Alfred Werker),
possessed a curious streak in his nature which I had already seen in his
dealings with Arlene Whelan. He well knew that I had injured my back during the
filming of Kidnapped. It had happened in front of his nose and shooting had been
suspended on account of it; and yet for the very last shot of Sherlock Holmes,
he planned a scene in which Basil ran out of a door and knocked me over, causing
me to fall on my back.
I asked him if I could fake the fall until the actual take and he smilingly
said, "Try it now and let's see what happens." By the time the cameras finally
rolled, I had fallen on my back ten times, and during the taking of the scene I
was made to repeat my fall four more times. When it was over he turned to me and
said, "Now we'll take the scene without your carrying a gun."
That was the end. I told him I wouldn't fall once again for him or anyone
else on God's earth and that I would see him in hell first. I walked off the set
and telephoned to Gene Markey. As it was after midnight, I traced Gene to a
party and he told me that of course I was not to attempt another fall and that I
should have demanded a stunt man to do the falls for me in the first place. I
returned to the set and informed the director of Gene Markey's decision, said
goodnight to Basil and walked off to my dressing room. My back was numb for a