The House of Fear
Page Two



One of the better entries in Universal's long-lived Sherlock Holmes series, "The House of Fear" will fully satisfy in action spots and make a good supporting dualler in the naborhoods. Based on the Conan Doyle tale, "The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips," this is laid in the shuddery setting of Drearcliff, a mysterious Scottish mansion inhabited by a half-dozen retired gentlemen each of whom receives a warning before meeting a violent death. Even Sherlock Holmes, who is aided by the loyal, blundering Dr. Watson and later annoyed by the bluff Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, is stumped for a while, but he finally reveals an amazing solution — one that will come as a complete surprise to even the cleverest of the who-dun-it enthusiasts. Although the early scenes are slow-moving, the climax has both suspense and excitement and there is no romance to distract one's attention from the gruesome happenings. Basil Rathbone, as the imperturbable Holmes; Nigel Bruce, as the faithful Dr. Watson, and Dennis Hoey, as the not-quite-bright Inspector Lestrade, give standard portrayals, while Aubrey Mather and Paul Cavanagh are excellent as the last two surviving members of "The Good Companions" club who have watched their cronies receive a death warning. The three women in the cast have minor parts.

Each member of a group of English clubmen who live together in a somber old Scottish mansion has a large insurance policy upon himself, made out to the surviving members of the club. Shortly after a message containing only five orange pips is received, one of the members dies horribly in a car crash and , the next night, another is killed after receiving an envelope with four orange pips. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called into the case but he is unable to stop the violent deaths of Holmes Herbert and Harry Cording, two of the other members. When only Paul Cavanagh and Aubrey Mather are left, the murder of a village tobacconist leads Holmes to the solution. In a surprise move, Dr. Watson is kidnapped but Holmes discovers an old smugglers' tunnel which leads to a cave where he finds the club members all very much alive. Using Aubrey Mather as an innocent dupe, the others had intended to collect the insurance by robbing local graves and mutilating each corpse so that the authorities could not learn that it was not one of the club members who had, apparently, met a violent death.


Film Bulletin, April 16, 1945


"It's hardly believable, but the ensemble cast play this hokey murder mystery to the hilt and the surprise ending seems to make sense. It's entertaining despite its slow pace and other structural flaws." Dennis Schwartz, Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Holmes shushes Watson

Lestrade, Holmes, and Watson

"Rathbone and Bruce are both in fine form. Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade shares the comic relief duties with Nigel Bruce but fortunately the comic elements are not overdone. There is plenty of amusement but the focus is on the mystery, and on the gothic possibilities of a large old house in an isolated setting.  The gothic sensibility is very strong indeed in this movie. Gothic atmosphere was something that Universal could be relied on to do supremely well in those days and director Roy William Neill pulls out all the stops. ... As is the case with the rest of the Rathbone/Bruce movies production values are high. The house and the remote location are used skillfully. This might be a B-movie but it’s a classy and very professionally made B-movie."  Classic Movie Ramblings


This latest of the "Sherlock Holmes" murder mystery melodramas is below par for the series. It should, however, serve its purpose as a supporting feature. There is nothing unusual about the production, most of it being repetitious of the previous pictures. The story and treatment follow the usual formula—that is, mysterious murders are committed, "Holmes" is called in on the case, and through his amazing though implausible powers of deduction, and with the aid of his trusty friend, "Dr. Watson," clears up the mystery. The action slows down considerably in spots, and the suspense usually found in pictures of this type is lacking:—

Called upon to solve the mysterious deaths of two wealthy men, members of an exclusive club known as "The Good Comrades," Holmes (Basil Rathbone), accompanied by his friend, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce), goes to the Scottish mansion where the club members lived. There he learns that each of the members, of whom five were alive, carried a large insurance policy upon himself, payable to the last surviving member of the club. Holmes learns also that, in each death, the victim was so mutilated that his body was barely recognizable. Different clues lead Holmes to suspect one or another of the members of murdering his comrades and, during this investigation, additional murders are committed until the club is reduced to two surviving members. Meanwhile several attempts are made on his and Dr. Watson's life. Holmes finally discovers a solution to the crimes though the murder of a village tobacconist, who had been shot after declaring that he had seen one of the murdered men walking on the beach. Following up this clue, Homes discovers an underground tunnel leading from the mansion to the sea, where he finds the supposedly murdered club members very much alive. He proves that they had robbed graves and had disguised the corpses to appear like each of them in an ingenious scheme to collect the insurance money.

Roy Chanslor wrote the screen play based on the "Adventures of the Five Orange Pips" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Roy Williams Neill produced and directed it. The cast includes Aubrey Mather, Dennis Hoey, Paul Cavanagh and others.

Unobjectionable morally.

Harrison's Reports, March 24, 1945


"'The House of Fear' is a good old fashioned spooky murder mystery with references to the original story, 'The Five Orange Pips.' It features mutilated corpses, secret passages, a remote Scottish castle and eccentric characters. There are some good performances, with a particularly entertaining Inspector Lestrade and Bruce Alistair."

A fisherman give Holmes an important clue.

Lestrade and Holmes

"... one of the neatest and most effective of the Universal Holmes mysteries. Throughout, the special effects department was kept busy with providing howling winds, thunder and lightning which, added to the dimly lit interiors, give the film a suitably mysterious and sinister mood." David Stuart Davies, Holmes of the Movies (New York: Bramhall House, 1976)


The screen adaptation of Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips" is a typical specimen in the Universal series, maintaining its customary high level of dialogue and logically flowing sequences. One shortcoming, however lies in the film's lack of realism. As the weird murders and obscure going-on are flashed upon the screen, they seem no more emotionally gripping than a disassembled jig-saw puzzle. Even when murders begin multiplying at Holmes' feet, he appears as unstirred and mechanical as though he were working out some cryptogram.

In the plot, an eccentric company of seven retired gentlemen, calling themselves "The Good Comrades," have insurance policies made out to the last surviving member. When one by one they start disappearing, to have their mutilated bodies turn up under the most sinister circumstances, Sherlock Holmes and his faithful Dr. Watson entrain to their retreat in an eerie Scottish mansion perched high above the sea.

The direction of Roy William Neill, who also produced, has sprayed the film with such conventional melodramatic touches as secret passageways, storm-swept nights, poisoned needles, clatter-shutters, etc.

When the crimes leave only two members, Holmes strikes suddenly and comes up with a surprise solution.

Basil Rathbone's intense characterization of the famous detective, is well balanced by the blundering amiability of Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson.

Seen at the Rialto theatre, New York, where an afternoon audience seemingly enjoyed the sleuthing. Reviewer's Rating: Average. M. H.

Motion Picture Herald, March 24, 1945


The Universal Sherlock Holmes films, "churned out though they were, had in all of them moments to cherish. But The House of Fear was perhaps the last fully satisfying entry in the series." Chris Steinbrunner and Norman Michaels, The Films of Sherlock Holmes (Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Press, 1978)

Lestrade and Holmes investigate a hidden passageway.

The Good Comrades' scheme is exposed.

"Roy Chanslor's muddled screenplay, based on Conan Doyle's 'The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips,' was rather a bore and Roy William Neill's efforts to instill some life into it were unsuccessful. ... Rathbone seemed to be a bit weary of the detective role by this time." Michael B. Druxman, Basil Rathbone: His Life and His Films, (Hardcover: South Brunswick and New York: A.S. Barnes, 1975; Paperback edition: BearManor Media, 2011)


Sherlock Holmes detects in his best prescribed manner and his stooge, Dr. Watson, harrumphs and grumbles all over the place, but the picture fails to attain the high degree of suspense and tempo that has characterized the many predecessors in the series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's super-sleuth. This one is predicated upon the Doyle whodunit, "The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips," which incidentally, and in keeping with Hollywood's propensity toward raising the ante, are herein increased to seven. The film boasts a surprise climax, but its effectiveness is considerably dulled by the slow, repetitious events preceding. Seven retired Britons occupy a spooky castle in Scotland. Six are apparently slain violently, but it turns out to be a plot to bilk the insurance companies. Produced and directed by Roy William Neill.

Box Office Digest, March 24, 1945


"Among the ace cards in director Roy William Neill’s 1945 thriller’s winning hand are a load of appropriately doomy and gloomy atmosphere, a nice creepy, menacing mood and of course the dignified performances of the classy star duo, who are effectively balanced by the comic relief of Dennis Hoey’s amusingly slow-witted Inspector Lestrade." Derek Winnert,

Holmes is amused by Watson's telling of the tale.

Holmes and his friend Watson

"The House of Fear gets closer to the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle spirit than any of this series has the past couple of seasons. They have been throwing Sherlock in among monsters and Nazis lately, but not in this new one at the Rialto. The opportunity to slip back into the mood of preoccupation and elaborate talk of the original is just the thing for Basil Rathbone's florid style of acting, of course. If one of your main interests in the series has been the way he played Sherlock, this will be among the very best." Alton Cook, New York World-Telegram, March 17, 1945


See Page Three for pictures of posters, lobby cards and promo photos.

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All original content is © Marcia Jessen, 2018