Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sherlock Sunday: The Woman in Green

The Woman in Green (1945)
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Hillary Brooke, Henry Daniell and Matthew Boulton
Director: Roy William Neill
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Inspector Gregson (Boulton) turns to Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) for help in solving a series of grisly mutilation murders. Holmes soon discovers the murders are only part of a much larger criminal enterprise... and that his old foe Professor Moriarty (Daniell) may have returned to London.

"The Woman in Green" is not one of the best of the Universal Pictures' Holmes movies, but even so it's obvious why so many fans believe the Basil Rathbone Holmes is THE Holmes. Pains were taken to make Rathbone and the set of 221B Baker Street like living manifestations of the famous Sidney Paget illos from Strand Magazine and those efforts go along way to making this film fun to watch. Rathbone's Holmes is also very no-nonsense and task focused, always straight to the point; with the exception of his occasional ribbing of Watson, there is none of the humor present in so many other portrayals of Holmes.

But speaking of Watson, he is the weak point in this film, as he is in just about every one of the Holmes films from Universal. Nigel Bruce does a fine job as being comic relief as the bumbling, dimwitted Watson, but one continues to wonder why Holmes would keep him around, because he causes more problems than he solves. Is it just so Watson can pick up the tab for dinner now and then? Perhaps Watson is going senile, and Holmes keeps him around out of love and respect for the way he used to be? As excellent and accurate as the portrayal of Holmes in these films is when compared to the Doyle stories, Watson is completely off target.

The plot of the film is original, although there's an assassination attempt on Holmes that's taken from "The Empty House," and there's some dialogue that I think was lifted from "The Final Solution." Like the majority of the other Universal Holmes films, the characters were transported to modern times (which means the 1940s), but this doesn't seem to harm them in any way. If anything, it enhances the characterization of Holmes, because it forced the costumers to ditch the ludicrously out-of-place tweed coat and deerstalker hat that so many filmmakers insist on making the character wear even while in the city.

"The Woman in Green" is one of several Holmes movies that slipped into public domain when the copyright wasn't properly renewed during the 1970s. It's available in a number of value packs (taken from copies of varying quality), but if you want to have the best image quality possible, you want to get "The Sherlock Holmes Collection, Vol. 3," which includes an excellent restoration. The other collection linked to is recommended due to its low price and the fact that you get three Rathbone films and three films starring Arthur Wontner as Holmes.

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