The 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 etiquette."

"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.)

"I do like to be beside the seaside"
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 restaurant scene.

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 "Basil Bathrug."

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 stardom.

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 month!

(posted on the Scarlet Street forums)

Holmes in the Tower of London, looking for Moriarty

See more pictures on Page Two and Page Three.

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ....................... Sherlock Holmes Production Co. ................ 20th Century Fox
Nigel Bruce ............................. Dr. Watson   Producer ........................... Darryl F. Zanuck
Ida Lupino .............................. Ann Brandon   Assoc. Producer ............. Gene Markey
Alan Marshal ......................... Jerrold Hunter   Director ............................. Alfred Werker
Terry Kilburn .......................... Billy   Assistant Directors ........ William Eckhardt, Virgil Hart
George Zucco ......................... Prof. Moriarty  

Screenplay ........................

 Edwin Blum, William A. Drake
Henry Stephenson ................. Sir Ronald Ramsgate   (based on the play by William Gillette and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle)
E.E. Clive .................................. Insp. Bristol   Cinematographer .............. Leon Shamroy
Arthur Hohl ............................ Bassick  

Editor ..................................

Robert Bischoff
May Beatty ............................. Mrs. Jameson  

Music Director ..................

Cyril J. Mockridge

Peter Willes ............................ Lloyd Brandon  

Original Music ...................

Robert Russell Bennett, David Buttolph,

Mary Gordon .......................... Mrs. Hudson  

David Raksin, Walter Scharf

Holmes Herbert ....................... Justice  

Sound editors ....................

W.D. Flick, Roger Heman

George Regas .......................... Mateo   Art Directors ...................... Richard Day, Hans Peters
Mary Forbes ............................. Lady Conyngham   Set Decoration ................... Thomas Little
Frank Dawson .......................... Dawes   Costume Design ................ Gwen Wakeling
William Austin ........................ Stranger   Wardrobe supervisor ........ Sam Benson
Anthony Kemble-Cooper....... Tony      
Frank Baker ........................... Tompkins  

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is available on DVD and BluRay:

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Frank Benson ....................... Cockney  
Ted Billings .......................... Pub customer  
Harry Cording ...................... Cragin  
Robert Cory .......................... Tower sentry  
Neil Fitzgerald ...................... Clerk of the court  
Denis Green ......................... Sergeant of the guard  
Gordon Hart .......................... Guard  
Ivo Henderson ..................... Bobby  
Keith Hitchcock ................... Constable  
Leyland Hodgson ................ Bobby    
Boyd Irwin ............................ Bobby    
Charles Irwin ........................ Marine Sargeant    
Leonard Mudie .................... Moriarty's attorney    
Robert Nobel ....................... Foreman of the Jury    
Ivan F. Simpson .................. Trial Prosecutor    
Robert R. Stephenson ........ Cabby    
Eric Wilton ........................... Conyngham's butler    
       

Images on this page, Page Two and Page Three are from the film The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, copyright 20th Century Fox.

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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2011