Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray and Dennis Hoey
Director: Roy William Neill
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars
When the diamond he was hired to protect is stolen and the son of its son is murdered right under the nose of Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) and Inspector Lestrade (Hoey), as they travel by night train from London to Edinburgh. The great detective must solve a locked-room mystery and recover the diamond before the train reaches its destination to save both his reputation and that of Lestrade. To complicate matters even further, the nefarious Colonel Moran is on the train as well, possibly seeking revenge for Holmes causing the death of his associate, Professor Moriarty.
"Terror By Night" is a nice Holmes adventure that puts all the characters in a sealed environment with the killer and one that still manages to keep the mystery going strong up to the very end, even if there really is only one likely suspect from about halfway through the film (due to the way these things usually work out). However, it you're the kind of viewer like me who likes to play along in solving the case, the film is still entertaining once you've figured out the killer, there is still the question as to how he is going to get away with it.
Although briskly paced and well-acted, the film isn't perfect. I found myself wondering how the various villains on board the train were moving about unseen(something the film never did fully answer) and I further was unclear on why the second murder was committed, as it put Holmes on a direct path to solving the mystery. (Unless that was part of the master plan all along? Let Holmes get a victory that would facilitate his ultimate defeat? I'll have to watch the film again to see if maybe I missed something there.)
Nigel Bruce's Watson continues to be portrayed as just shy of a total idiot, although he has fewer opportunities to behave like a moron here, as he spends most of the film hanging out with an Army buddy who happens to be traveling on the train. Bruce is still the primary comic relief, but fewer jokes are at his character's expense than usual. Similarly, Holmes has fewer opportunities to mistreat Watson. One can actually believe they're friends in this picture.
"Terror By Night" is a fun, fast-paced Holmes adventure that shows why the Basil Rathbone films are celebrated by fans of classic mystery films and Holmes alike. It has nothing to do with the original Doyle tales, but it is a nice use of his characters.