The House of Fear
(1945), 68 min., b&w

official trailer

"Murder is an insidious thing, Watson. Once a man has dipped in fingers in blood, sooner or later he'll feel the urge to kill again." (Sherlock Holmes, in The House of Fear). Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are together again as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in The House of Fear the tenth film in the Sherlock Holmes series.

Atop a craggy cliff top in Scotland sits Drearcliff House, the home of seven friends who call themselves the "Good Comrades." After two of them die under mysterious and gory circumstances, Holmes and Watson are invited by the Good Comrades' insurance agency to investigate, and find out if the deaths are accidental or murder. It is suspicious because each member in the group named the others as beneficiaries in case of his death. Each man is worth a great deal more dead than alive. Holmes is intrigued when insurance agent Chalmers explains that each of the men who died received an envelope containing orange pips (seeds) just prior to their deaths. When Holmes sees a photograph of the Good Comrades, he recognizes Dr. Merrivale in the photo, a man who had been tried for murder.

Upon their arrival in Scotland Holmes and Watson learn of the legend of Drearcliff, that "No man goes whole to his grave." Shortly thereafter the housekeeper from Drearcliff comes to the police to report another death at the creepy old house. The police invite Holmes and Watson to come along. The charred remains of the third victim are found in the furnace. Since the third death is clearly a murder, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is called. Together Lestrade and Holmes try to solve the mystery and protect the remaining members of the Good Comrades.

One by one each of the remaining men receives an envelope with orange pips, and later his horribly mutilated body is found, until finally only one man remains. Is he the killer?

Watson and Holmes on their way to the Scottish village near Drearcliff

McGregor tells Holmes and Watson about the Drearcliff legend.

The House of Fear is supposedly based on "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips," but, as is usually the case when one of the Sherlock Holmes films claims to be based on a Conan Doyle story, only a kernel of an idea has been taken from the story and a completely different story has been written. The only similarity between The House of Fear and "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips" is that the intended victim receives an envelope containing the orange pips as a warning that he is about to be murdered. Nevertheless, it's a good yarn, with plenty of suspects and a surprise twist at the end.


Another of the Basil RathboneNigel Bruce Sherlock HolmesDr. Watson mysteries in the light-budget whodunit vein for the duallers, this one is better than average.

Yarn deals with the disappearance of all members of "The Good Comrades Club" except one, who supposedly is to inherit the insurance policy covering the group. Holmes is called in, and with the aid of Dr. Watson finds several clues which lead to the finding of those who faded from sight in a secret hiding place in the cellar of a large English mansion.

Rathbone and Bruce go through their paces in the usual oh-so-British manner, aided by Dennis Hoey, as the police inspector, and Aubrey Mather, as the surviving member. Settings are substantial, dialog trite at times but interesting enough. The camera work by Virgil Miller could have been better.


Variety, March 21, 1945


Concerning The House of Fear, the TV Guide Database states, "After attempting to move Holmes and Watson into the modern WWII era, Universal decided to return the pair to Victorian times for this [film]." This statement is incorrect. As you will observe in the film, one of the "good comrades" dies when his car drives over a cliff. There are also references to telephones and other non-Victorian things. The story does not, however, involve Nazis or World War II spies.

Holmes and Watson

Holmes questions Mrs. Monteith, the housekeeper.

"Observant viewers will recognize the Drearcliff interiors and exteriors from the sets. for Hulstone Towers in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death—that elaborately cluttered living room, the suits of armor and the checkerboard floor that was key, in the earlier film, to another secret passage that led to a crypt.  The scenes at the inn and graveyard are the familiar Universal sets used in the Frankenstein and Wolf Man movies." Classic Film Freak



Melodramatic entertainment that borders on the gruesome has been concocted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story "The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips." The Sherlock Holmes fans should have themselves a grand time, for the film is among the best of the series, being loaded with action, suspenses and unalloyed villainy.

The scene of the story is a forbidding old house on the Scottish coast where the members of a club known as "The Good Comrades" keep disappearing mysteriously, supposedly the victims of foul play. Each holds a heavy insurance policy naming the club's final survivor as the beneficiary. By the time Holmes and his trusty Dr. Watson find the answer to the riddle only one member is left. The missing members are found in an abandoned tunnel very much alive. Their murders were faked to enable them to get the insurance money.

The film has capable direction by Roy William Neill, who also produced, and acting that has much to be said for it. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce once more are an effective and amusing team.

The Film Daily, March 23, 1945


On November 4, 1965, Basil Rathbone attended a gathering of the Maiwand Jezails (a Scion of the Baker Street Irregulars) and gave a 20-minute presentation. His speech included some comments about the Sherlock Holmes films:

None of those pictures made at Universal took more than 17 days. We never started shooting before nine today it's 8:30 or even 8 o'clock and worked until six. No night work unless required by the script. At four o'clock there was half an hour for tea. This mood the whole of the making of the pictures they had a sense of "family." We all got along very well together. We had our little differences from time to time but the one lovely character of them all was our dear friend, the director.

We loved Roy Neill. He was mousy, a little guy. A little guy and as sweet as they come. But a damn good disciplinarian. We didn't disobey orders on the set. We were always on time and we always knew our lines. It was thoroughly professional.

Rathbone's speech to the Maiwand Jezails was printed in The Woods Runner (May 1979, vol. VII, No. 31). Roy Neill was the director of 11 of the 12 Sherlock Holmes films made at Universal. (Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was directed by John Rawlins.)

Alastair and Cosgrave persuade Holmes to stay at Drearcliff

Holmes notices Simpson's tattoo.

The film was shot in May 1944, but not released until March 1945. Universal gave the film the same title as a 1939 Universal film starring William Gargan and Irene Hervey, but the two films are unrelated.

Basil Rathbone was paid $20,000 for making The House of Fear; Nigel Bruce was paid $12,000. The budget for the film was $192,250.


Audience Slant: (Adult) Another Sherlock Holmes mystery with enough killings to satisfy the most rabid mystery fans.

Box-Office Slant: A satisfactory program offering.

Plot: A unique club known as "The Good Comrades" meets at a mysterious Scottish mansion. Each member must carry a large insurance policy upon himself made out to the last surviving member. Deaths and queer occurrences bring in Basil Rathbone and he solves these mysterious happenings in an unexpected way.

Comment: Again Sherlock Holmes goes forth to solve a mystery that hasn't much suspense but an over-abundance of killings. It's the kind of a picture that should make a satisfactory program offering in situations where patrons aren't too critical. For armchair detectives there's a challenge in the solution, for the story has a surprise ending. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are very satisfactory in the roles of the famous detective and his assistant, respectively. Others in the cast whose appearances are worthy of mention are Sally Shepherd, Paul Cavanagh and Aubrey Mather. Roy William Neill produced and directed.

Showmen's Trade Review, March 24, 1945


The House of Fear is one of the best of the 12 Universal Sherlock Holmes films. It has a great cast of suspicious characters and an appropriately sinister atmosphere. Not all film critics agree, however. Reviews were mixed, with most stating that the film was at least entertaining and satisfactory. The New York Times was decidedly negative: "Neither the mystery nor the solution are anything to get nervous about, and Mr. Rathbone's performance of the detective is as pedestrian as a cop's on patrol. Sherlock Holmes has certainly gone to the bow-wows in the clutches of Hollywood." Bosley Crowther, New York Times, March 17, 1945

"The Master hasn't lost his old, exasperating touch." The New Yorker, March 31, 1945

Dr. Merrivale, Holmes and Watson

Holmes checks on Merrivale.

"This is a classic whodunit, based on Doyle's story 'The Five Orange Pips,' and it features lots of delicious tension of the sort featured in countless other films—like John Carpenter's The Thing—where the killer could be any of the characters. The ending is definitely a shocker." Casey Broadwater,


Basil Rathbone, again playing that master of deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes, is not called upon to display his full powers in this direction in "The House of Fear," latest of the superior series by Universal, because a superfluity of clues and suspects baffles even this 'human bloodhound'; nevertheless, it emerges as another interesting, and at times exciting detective film.

When individual members of a club known as 'The Good Comrades,' who gather at the dreary Scottish mansion owned by Aubrey Mather, meet their deaths, each one foreshadowed by delivery of a letter containing orange pits, the master is called in on the case with Dr. Watson. As the murders, for such it seems they are, proceed in a veritable procession, Rathbone is powerless to prevent them. When only Mather remains alive, Scotland Yard Inspector Dennis Hoey arrests him as the murderer, but Rathbone, scornful of the obvious, finds an old smuggler's tunnel which leads him to the 'murdered victims,' all very much alive. It seems that each of the band has had a large insurance policy placed on his life, the proceeds of which they had caused to be diligently collected.

Rathbone delivers his usual urbane performance as the master detective; Nigel Bruce lends solid support, and a group of able character actors also register creditably. Roy William Neill produced and directed, stressing mystery and suspense, while Roy Chansler did the screenplay from a Conan Doyle story.

Charles Ryweck

Motion Picture Daily, March 20, 1945


"The tenth film in the franchise is loosely based on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story, but this new twist still delivers the goods. ... Watching Holmes, Watson and later on Lestrade try to avoid more murders inside an old Scottish mansion is a lot of fun; the three of them are a humorous contrast to the agitated potential victims." Stefan Hedmark, Thrill Me Softly

Holmes, Lestrade, and Alastair

Watson, Holmes, Lestrade and Simpson

" ... charming, with the skillful interplay of the leads set neatly off once again by Neill’s off-noir lighting and intelligent pace." Dan Stumpf,


Go to Page Two for more reviews and pictures from The House of Fear.  See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.


Basil Rathbone ... Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce ... Dr. Watson
Aubrey Mather ... Alastair
Paul Cavanagh ... Simon Merrivale
Dennis Hoey ... Inspector Lestrade
Harry Cording ... John Simpson
Holmes Herbert ... Alan Cosgrave
Sally Shepherd ... Mrs. Monteith
Gavin Muir ... Chalmers
Florette Hillier ... Alison MacGregor
David Clyde ... Alex MacGregor
Doris Lloyd ... Bessie
Cyril Delevanti ... Stanley Raeburn
Wilson Benge ... Guy Davies
Richard Alexander ... Ralph King
Leslie Denison ... Sgt. Bleeker
Alec Craig ... Angus
David Thursby ... Police Sergeant
Bobbie Hale ... Pub Patron
Production Company ... Universal
Producer ... Roy William Neill
Director ... Roy William Neill
Asst. Director ... Melville Shyer
Cinematographer ... Virgil Miller
Film Editing ... Saul Goodkind
Dialogue Director ... Ray Kessler
Art Directors ... John B. Goodman, Eugene Lourie
Musical Director ... Paul Sawtell
Stock Music Composers ... Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner
Writer (story) ... Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ("The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips")
Screenplay ... Roy Chanslor
Set Decorators ... Russel A. Gausman, E.R. Robinson
Sound Director ... Bernard B. Brown
Sound technician ... William Hedgcock
Technical advisor ... Bernard DeRoux


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The House of Fear is available on DVD:

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DVD also available as part of The Sherlock Holmes Collection, Volume 2:

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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2018