Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sherlock Sunday: Holmes Faces Death

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Arthur Margetson, Hillary Brooke, and Dennis Hoey
Director: Roy William Neill
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) is summoned to the country by his friend Dr. Watson (Bruce) to solve discover the secrets behind a series of murders at a convalesce home for injured military officers.

The fourth installment of Universal Pictures' "modern day" adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a loose adaptation of Doyle's story "The Musgrave Ritual." It's an effective update of the tale, and it's perhaps the most thrilling of the Universal Holmes I've seem so far. It's certainly the darkest, as it continues to deal with the contemporary (for when the film was made) issues of World War 2. This time, it deals with homefront issues, such as caring for soldiers who return from battle not just with physical injuries but mental damage as well. It's one aspect of the film that gives it staying-power and that makes it just as relevant today as six decades ago.

The film is especially effective in the way it creates the ending. It gives viewers a real sense that Holmes has outsmarted himself for once and that the clever trap he lays to get the otherwise untouchable killer to reveal himself turns into a death trap for Holmes himself. It's a very well-done twist to the story, and twice-welcomed due to the fact that Holmes' bait and trap are so cliched that I feared for what was going to come next when it showed up in the film.

Also worth noting is that the idiotic hairstyle that Holmes sported in the first few movies in this series is gone. The treatment of Watson and other characters is also notably more respectful by Holmes in this film than in several other entries in the picture. Yes, he puts Lestrade down when he's being a bonehead, but he shows more respect for Watson than is average for the series and he doesn't seem like he's constantly trying to prove how superior he is to everyone around him.

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