Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Spider Woman

Year 10, Day 76 - 3/17/18 - Movie #2,878

BEFORE: They sort of changed the pattern of the titles with this one, the films in this series no longer begin with "Sherlock Holmes and..." which seems like a bad bit of branding for a franchise.  You'd think that putting Sherlock's name in each title would draw more audiences in, and that leaving it out would be bad for business.  Like the "Rambo" and "Indiana Jones" franchises made the mistake of not properly branding their first films with the hero name, this franchise seems to have made that mistake with the later films.

Film #7 in the Basil Rathbone series, so I'm halfway through with this Sherlock series after today.

THE PLOT: Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of so-called "pajama suicides".  He knows the female villain behind them is as cunning as Moriarty and as venomous as a spider.

AFTER: This is a prime example of the "locked-room" mystery, where a man is killed somehow while at home, under lock and key, so the detective has to figure out how the murderer got to him.  They turned this into a whole series of suicides that takes place at night, so therefore "pajama suicides", where men shoot themselves or jump from their balconies while dressed for bed.  ("Pajama Suicides" is also a great band name, I don't know why nobody ever used it for that.).

Holmes would normally be assigned to the case, only he falls in the river during a fishing trip in Scotland with Watson, and is presumed dead.  But come on, he's pulled this sort of thing before - if everyone assumes that he's dead, that just gives him the freedom to work the case in disguise, without alerting the villain that he's working the case.

They set up this bit in this film, and in previous Sherlock Holmes films, where Holmes adopts a disguise, usually as an older man like a peddler, or here in brown-face as an Indian Rajah, and then he tests the disguise by visiting Dr. Watson in his own office.  I guess if Dr. Watson can't recognize Holmes, then the disguise is a good one, though he still looks quite a bit like Basil Rathbone to me.  But the gag here is that there's an expert who happens to look a bit like Holmes, and when he shows up at Holmes' flat as requested, Watson naturally assumes he's Sherlock in disguise, so he tries to pull his make-up off, only the guy's not wearing any.  It took three or four films just to set that gag up, it's nice to see that pay off.

Holmes determines that all of the wealthy men who committed suicide are also gamblers, and they've also taken out insurance policies, so the best bet is to follow the money.  The film's title is a big clue about who the villain is and how she reaches her victims, but her modus operandi also seems to share something in common with a certain Edgar Allan Poe story.  There are also bits and pieces of several Conan Doyle stories worked in, like a bit from "The Adventure of the Speckled Band", one bit from "The Sign of Four", and so on.

Also starring Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Vernon Downing, Mary Gordon (all carrying over from "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death"), Gale Sondergaard, Alec Craig (last seen in "Mrs. Miniver"), Arthur Hohl (last seen in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"), Teddy Infuhr, Lydia Billbrook, Angelo Rossitto (last seen in "Doctor Dolittle")

RATING: 4 out of 10 shooting gallery targets

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

Year 10, Day 76 - 3/17/18 - Movie #2,877

BEFORE: It's St. Patrick's Day, and I'm still in the U.K., figuratively of course, watching Sherlock Holmes movies.  I know England's not Ireland but it's the best I can do this year.  If you're looking for something Irish to watch, I can recommend "Sing Street", "Leap Year" or even "Albert Nobbs".  Or, watch "Once" if you have to, but I didn't really enjoy it.

Day 6 with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock, and I'll be watching a double-header today, so my Easter film will line up correctly with that holiday.

THE PLOT: During World War II several murders occur at a convalescent home where Dr. Watson has volunteered his services.  He summons Holmes for help when a doctor at the manor is attacked.

AFTER: Loosely based on the Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual", this one sees Holmes called to Northumberland to solve a mystery - that's about as north as you can go in England without being in Scotland.  Again, not Ireland, but close, right?

At a stately manor that serves as a home for veterans with shell shock - this was before we had the euphemisms like "combat fatigue" or "post-traumatic stress disorder", terms with defied the conventions of language by getting longer over the years, instead of shorter.  Some of these men also become suspects in the attack on a doctor and the following murders in the Musgrave family, which owns the estate.

Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard shows up to try to crack the case, so you just know he's going to screw up his investigation - so he arrests Sally Musgrave's new boyfriend, Captain Vickery, for the murder of her brother Geoffrey, just because they had a fight that day, and he was seen using a rake earlier, which now has no fingerprints on it - therefore, he must have wiped them off, which is suspicious.  Umm, or perhaps he wore gardening gloves.  Or, as Holmes suggests, perhaps someone else wiped off THEIR fingerprints, and wiped off his, too.

The Musgraves undergo a strange ritual whenever one of them dies, the next one in line has to recite a long, strange poem, preferably on a dark and stormy night so their recital can be punctuated with thunder claps.  But what do the strange phrases in the poem mean, and why does the butler know them better than Sally does?  The game is afoot...

Also starring Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon"), Arthur Margetson, Hillary Brooke (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror"), Halliwell Hobbes (last seen in "You Can't Take It With You"), Minna Phillips, Milburn Stone, Gavin Muir (also carrying over from "Sherlock Holmes in Washington"), Mary Gordon (ditto), Gerald Hamer (ditto), Vernon Downing (last seen in "Suspicion"), Olaf Hytten, Frederick Worlock, Charles Coleman, with a cameo from Peter Lawford (last seen in "Royal Wedding").

RATING: 5 out of 10 secret passageways

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sherlock Holmes in Washington

Year 10, Day 75 - 3/16/18 - Movie #2,876

BEFORE: Day 5 with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes - this is an original story, not taken from the famous novels.  But the filmmakers apparently didn't realize that before their franchise character can go to Washington, first he has to go to camp, then he has to be "scared stupid".  God, it's like they didn't know the rules about franchises or something.  (Right now, Tyler Perry is somewhere working on a screenplay where his Medea character accidentally gets elected as a senator due to Russian election interference, or something...)

THE PLOT: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson travel to Washington D.C. in order to prevent a secret document from falling into enemy hands. 

AFTER:  This film concerns some very important documents that needed to be transported from the U.K. to Washington D.C. - you might think that those documents had something to do with the U.S. entering World War II, only by the time the film was completed, that had already happened, so I guess it can't be that.  Look, they're just important documents, OK, their contents aren't important.  What's important is that they arrive safely, and WHO is carrying them - it's not the emissary from the British government, because that would be too obvious.  They send another man undercover ON THE SAME PLANE (umm, terrible idea) who's pretending to be an ineffectual, unassuming lawyer of no importance, and he has the documents.  But as a decoy, he chooses to introduce himself to everyone on the plane as a man of little importance who's certainly not doing anything important in Washington, or carrying anything of any importance.  (Perhaps he oversold it.)

Somehow the enemy agents realize that it would be too obvious to send the message with the official messenger, so they start thinking about who would be the best decoy, and they determine that the least likely person on the plane is actually the MOST likely to be carrying the documents.  Ah, if only espionage were that easy to figure out in the real the decoy is intercepted, only the agents can't find the documents on him.

It turns out the medium is the message, and once Holmes is called in to track down the missing agent, he determines that the man must have used this newfangled technology called "microfilm" to take pictures of the 2 pages, and this microfilm would be so small that it could be easily hidden, say, between the layers of cardboard in a matchbook cover.  So, therefore, logically, that MUST be what happened, right?   This seems like a big leap in logic, though - whatever happened to Sherlock Holmes eliminating all the impossible scenarios, leaving only the improbable one that therefore MUST be true?

The agent must have passed this matchbook to another passenger on the train from New York to Washington.  Oh, yeah, this was filmed back in the day, when you simply could not fly a plane from London to Washington, DC - you had to land in New York City and take a train the rest of the way, so DON'T even ask why the plane couldn't fly all the way to Washington.  Obviously, there was no commercial airport near Washington DC until after World War II, everyone knows that - it's not like it was an important city before then...

Holmes and Watson fly to America (they're on a military plane, so they don't have to stop in NYC first, apparently...) and begin the process of elimination to determine who the missing agent must have passed the matchbook to.  Meanwhile the enemy agents are doing the same thing, only their process of elimination is a bit more deadly.  Nobody really figures out that this matchbook is special, and the camera follows it as it gets passed around at a party, because people in those days had MANNERS, they didn't just put a matchbook in their pocket for later, they kept it on the waiter's serving tray in case someone else needed it.  Because nearly everyone smoked, they actually believed it was a healthy thing to do...

(Thankfully, even though everyone smoked in the 1940's, men, women and children, that still wasn't enough to use up all the matches in the matchbook, otherwise the microfilm would have ended up in the trash.)

Things get even more confusing near the end when Holmes comes face-to-face with the man who's trying to get ahold of the important documents, and he's played by the actor who played Moriarty in film #2, only here he's not playing Moriarty, but a different man.  After all, we saw Moriarty last in film #4, and he was played by a different actor than the one who played him in film #2.  Basically, there's very little consistent continuity throughout this film series, once you get beyond the two main actors and the woman who plays their housekeeper.

Also starring Nigel Bruce (also carrying over), Marjorie Lord, Henry Daniell (last seen in "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror"), Gavin Muir (ditto), George Zucco (last seen in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), John Archer (last seen in "White Heat"), Edmund MacDonald, Don Terry (last seen in "Hold That Ghost"), Bradley Page (last seen in "The Big Store"), Holmes Herbert (also carrying over from "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon"), Mary Gordon (ditto), Thurston Hall, Gerald Hamer, Clarence Muse, Gilbert Emery, Alice Fleming, Mary Forbes, Ian Wolfe (last seen in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers").

RATING: 4 out of 10 broken antiques

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

Year 10, Day 74 - 3/15/18 - Movie #2,875

BEFORE: It's already been a big year for European-based films - I had the 3-day layover in Greece with "Mamma Mia!", "My Life in Ruins" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2", and a few films have been set in France, like "Beauty and the Beast", "Le Divorce", "Daddy Long Legs" and "Silk Stockings".  Oh, and "Youth" was set in the Swiss alps.

But for films set outside the U.S., nearly everything else has been set somewhere in the U.K.  "Albert Nobbs", "Leap Year", "Once" and "Sing Street" were set in Ireland, "The Man Who Knew Infinity", "Alice Through the Looking Glass", "Like Minds", "A Monster Calls", "Atonement", "Royal Wedding", "Miss Potter", "Bridget Jones's Baby", "The V.I.P.s", "Anne of the Thousand Days" and "The Private Life of Henry VIII" were all set in England.  Now, of course, that's where most of the Sherlock Holmes stories are set, too - so that's at least a quarter of this year's films taking place in the U.K., with more on the way.

Today it's Basil Rathbone's fourth film as Sherlock, and he's still fighting Nazis during World War II.  My money's on Britain and her Allies in this fight...

THE PLOT: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson must protect a Swiss inventor of an advanced bomb sight from falling into German hands.

AFTER: Professor Moriarty is back, after appearing to die in the second film, and no surprise, he's working on the side of the Axis powers, because it probably benefits him to do so.  He's played by a different actor, though, so he's kind of like the Blofeld of this series - only this actor played a different character in the first Sherlock film, so for extra fun you can watch "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and pretend that his character there is really Moriarty in disguise, I suppose.

The main plot concerns a new bomb sight that somehow uses sonic beams to help with its targeting - I'm pretty sure that's not a thing, but I suppose in 1942 they really couldn't talk about how bomb sights work in movies, because that was classified information.  Right?  This is possibly just sloppy screenwriting, although I suppose if the Nazis watched a movie where the RAF had sonic-beam bomb sights, that would send them off to try to develop their own to compete, and they might then spend a lot of money and effort on something impossible to invent.

Sherlock disguises himself as an old bookseller in order to get the bombsight's inventor, Dr. Tobel, from Switzerland to London.  Tobel's put in Dr. Watson's care, and he immediately sneaks away to get a message to his fiancĂ©e, with instructions for her to deliver it to Holmes in case anything happens to him.  Umm, wouldn't it have been easier for Tobel to give this message to Holmes in the first place?  And then, on the way back, something happens to him!  Jeez, the guy was safe in Watson's house, he should have just stayed there!

Later on, when this message is important, Holmes opens the envelope to instead find a message from Moriarty, which reads, and I quote, "Neener Neener Neener."  Moriarty must have found a way to switch out the message, only we never see that happen.  But Holmes is able to recover the message by finding the pad the message's paper was torn from, then soaking the pad in fluorescent salts and exposing it to ultraviolet light.  Apparently the great genius Sherlock Holmes never learned that trick where you rub a pencil on a notepad to see the impressions left when someone wrote something on the previous missing page.

When the chemicals do their work, the message is in code, and it's the stick-figure code used in the Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Dancing Men".  Of course, it's a simple substitution cipher, where each different stick figure stands for a different letter.  But big NITPICK POINT here for code-breakers, just because "E" is the most frequently-used English letter (followed by "T, A, O, I and N" in that order) that doesn't mean you can just replace the most common cipher symbol with "E", the 2nd-most frequent symbol with "T" and proceed from there.  Ciphers and codes are a bit more tricky than that.  It's very easy to write a message where "E" is NOT the most frequent letter, especially if you know that's how someone's going to try and break the code.  And if the information in the cipher turns out to be people's names or place names, then you're really not going to break the code by frequency.  (Plus, who says the message is going to be in English?  If it's a Nazi code, or a cipher made by a Swiss man, it could easily be in German or French, and different frequency rules apply...)

Tobel had given various parts of the bomb-sight to four different Swiss scientists, figuring that was the best way to keep the item safe, however, Moriarty breaks the code and tracks down and kills three of them, so much for safety.  Holmes disguises himself as the fourth scientist, but this only puts Holmes in the clutches of Moriarty once again - fortunately this arch-villain (as the template for all future James Bond and comic-book villains) decides to kill Holmes very slowly, which allows enough time for him to be rescued.  Well, at least the world's greatest criminal mastermind is willing to give his enemy a sporting chance.

NITPICK POINT #2: When the bomb-sight is being tested for the British government, the footage of bombs hitting the ground looks to be stock footage of bombs being dropped in a desert landscape, most likely somewhere in Nevada or California.  Definitely not England, no deserts there.

Also starring Nigel Bruce (also carrying over), Lionel Atwill (last seen in "The Hound of the Baskervilles"), Kaaren Verne (last seen in "Silk Stockings"), William Post Jr. (last seen in "Call Northside 777"), Dennis Hoey (last seen in "Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"), Holmes Herbert (last seen in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes") Mary Gordon (also carrying over from "Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror"), Harry Cording (ditto), Henry Victor, Paul Fix (last seen in "Hold That Ghost").

RATING: 4 out of 10 paint drops

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror

Year 10, Day 73 - 3/14/18 - Movie #2,874

BEFORE: Day 3 with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, 11 more to go. 

THE PLOT: When a Nazi saboteur jeeringly predicts terrorist attacks to the nation via their radio "Voice of Terror", the Intelligence Inner Council summons Sherlock Holmes to help in the crisis. On the first night of the investigation, Holmes and Watson are visited by a dying man on their doorstep.

AFTER: This film is very loosely based on Conan Doyle's short story "His Last Bow", where Holmes and Watson faced off against German spies during World War I.  But since this film was released in 1942, the setting for the story was moved forward to World War II, in order to be more current with the times.  The only problem here is, the first two films in this 14-film series were set in the past, during the Victorian era, which ended in 1901.  So that means they moved Holmes and Watson about 40 years into the future (the then-present), with no explanation.  And they don't look 40 years older - so this then becomes a sort of reboot.  Yep, just three films into the series, and they rebooted the characters - you'd think he was Spider-Man or James Bond or something. 

Or, perhaps the films were not meant to be viewed in order of their release - "The Last Bow" is chronologically the last Sherlock Holmes story, so maybe "The Voice of Terror" is the last film, and the next 11 movies all take place before it, it's difficult to say.

(Perhaps my main problem with reboots right now is the fact that I've just learned that both Marvel AND DC comics are gearing up to reboot their lines again - for DC, this comes less than two years after the last universe reboot ("Rebirth") and for Marvel, it's only been about 2 years since "Secret Wars", and about 6 months since they decided to re-number all of their long-running comic books ("legacy numbering") to appeal to older fans like myself.  But it's not bad enough that this is very confusing to many readers - with issue #18 of the new series of "Black Panther", for example, being followed by issue #166 of "legacy numbering", and then for sure in about 6 months the series will be cancelled AGAIN, with a new #1 issue following a month or so later.  It's already starting to happen.  Seriously, the Avengers series that launched in 2016 ran for 11 issues before it switched to legacy numbering, so Avengers #11 was followed by Avengers #672, and after just 18 issues with the new numbering system, the book will be cancelled as of Avengers #690, to be followed by Avengers #1.  So every time they try to "correct" their numbering problems, they can't seem stick with it.  This temporary re-numbering of everything allowed them to publish Daredevil #600, Amazing Spider-Man #800, and so on, but they couldn't stick with it long enought to publish Avengers #700?  Is the lure of the bump in sales from a new #1 issue that enticing, that they have to move on to the 8th volume of the comic book, even though sales are fine?  God help any kid looking for a back-issue to continue the story he's trying to read - he might have Avengers #11 and be looking for Avengers #12, and there are SIX of them out there on the market, only none of them are the right one, because right after that issue #11 came issue #672.  How is he supposed to know that?)

Anyway, the "Voice of Terror" - I'm not sure I fully understood the "scary" nature of the Nazi terrorist reports on the radio.  Everyone seems to think it's very chilling that the Germans can reach the U.K. with their radio signals, and comment on their acts of terrorism on London soil AS THEY'RE HAPPENING.  Really?  They didn't have news back in 1942?  Or was everyone just used to getting their news via next-day reports, or via newsreels in the movie theaters, which took weeks to produce?  It's hard to understand this since we now live in a world where everything is reported instantly, while it's happening - but let's assume for a moment that people in 1942 were blown away by a news report happening in real time. 

It still doesn't make sense - any terrorist action needed to be planned, and that meant that someone, somewhere, had a pretty good idea about what might happen, or what would happen, ideally, if things went according to plan.  So one guy in the U.K. had instructions to de-rail a train at noon, let's say, and then a German man would broadcast a radio report about it at around the same time.  So what's the big, impressive part?  It just takes a little planning and coordination, something that the best terrorists would already be good at.  One might imagine, under this system, that the voice on the radio would occasionally be WRONG about what's taking place, like if the agent in the U.K. wasn't able to de-rail the train at the right time, but who cares?  The propaganda doesn't necessarily have to be true, and most people listening to the radio broadcast would have no way to determine that there WASN'T a train derailment at noon, so again, getting on the radio and talking about things that are currently happening just isn't that impressive. 

It might be more impressive with a little lead time, like if the Voice of Terror said that there would be a train derailment in this particular location next Thursday, and then it happened.  But I suppose that would give Sherlock Holmes time enough to stop it, so that's out.  And reporting about it AFTER isn't really that impressive, so, really, the only thing to do is to broadcast it on the radio as it's happening.  Something we all take for granted in this instant-gratification, social-media based world now, but I guess in 1942 it seemed like some kind of sorcery? 

Sherlock Holmes uses an oscilloscope to determine that the Voice of Terror is not broadcasting live, but is playing phonograph records that were recorded in London.  There's gotta be a NITPICK POINT in there somewhere - like, why not just listen for the "pops" and "crackles" that we all used to experience when listening to records?  Or wait for the record to skip?  I seriously doubt that anyone today could listen to radio, or satellite radio, and have any way to tell whether a DJ is broadcasting live, or if his show were pre-recorded.  I don't think that's a thing.  But let's assume that Holmes can tell the difference between a live broadcast and a record - how the hell does he know where the record was made?  And again, this proves that the terrorist acts are planned in advance, to allow time for the recordings to reach Germany before broadcast, but so what?  Aren't all terrorist acts planned in advance?  This gains no ground toward solving the case.

What's worse is that there's no information given at the end about how Holmes was able to find and identify the Nazi spy, the mole hiding in plain sight.  He can put forth this theory, but with no evidence to support it, it's just idle speculation.  Thank God the spy admitted he was right - but a good mystery solution is like a math puzzle, if you don't show your work about how you arrived at the answer, you shouldn't get credit for it.  Holmes doesn't show his work here.  He almost does, but the clue is totally bogus, I'm not buying it.

I get that fighting the Nazis was important in 1942, and they wanted to get Sherlock Holmes involved in that fight to be contemporary, but I can't help but feel that it cheapened the character a little to take him out of his Victorian-era setting.  But that's what the TWO current TV series featuring Sherlock Holmes do also, move him into the present-day.  So what do I know, in the end?  I just don't think the opening credit of this film, declaring "Sherlock Holmes is ageless, invincible and unchanging" is enough to explain how he moved ahead 40 years in time without getting older.

Also starring Evelyn Ankers (last seen in "The Ghost of Frankenstein"), Reginald Denny (last seen in "Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), Thomas Gomez, Henry Daniell (last seen in "The Body Snatcher"), Montagu Love, Olaf Hytten (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), Leyland Hodgson, Mary Gordon (also carrying over from "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"), Leyland Hodgson (ditto), Robert Barron (last seen in "Lost in a Harem"). 

RATING: 3 out of 10 dive bar patrons

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Year 10, Day 72 - 3/13/18 - Movie #2,873

BEFORE: Another day, another snowstorm that supposedly is going to be a terrible nor'easter that will cripple our metropolitan area, canceling schools and stranding people indoors, and the news tips off a blind panic so that everyone rushes to the stores and stocks up on milk and bread so they won't starve.  And for the second time in a week, the storm amounted to nearly nothing, at least in our area of Queens, NY.  Maybe things are different upstate or out on Long Island, but if I don't have to shovel the snow, if nothing accumulates on my sidewalk, and everything that falls is melted two days later, I can't understand the need for panic.  Here's hoping that in two weeks, or by the time I'm done with these Sherlock Holmes movies, we'll have some nice spring weather and winter will be nothing more than a bad memory.

Basil Rathbone carries over from "The Hound of the Baskervilles", and suddenly I realize that I'll probably have a tie at the end of the year for most on-screen appearances, because Nigel Bruce, who plays Dr. Watson, is most likely in every film, too.  And things are looking up for the actress who plays Mrs. Hudson, too.

THE PLOT: The master sleuth hunts his archenemy, Professor Moriarty, who is planning the crime of the century.

AFTER: This was apparently based not on the novels but on a staged version of Sherlock's story, from 1899.  That play was a patchwork of story elements from "A Study in Scarlet", "The Final Problem" and "A Scandal in Bohemia", though there seem to be vast differences between those stories and the play, and then even more differences between the play and this film.  I guess any time you move the stories from one medium to another, differences are going to ensue.  (Then why call it an "adaptation" at all?)

The good news is that Professor Moriarty makes his first appearance in the film series here, though it's clear that he and Sherlock Holmes have a history, so it's not their first meeting.  The film opens with Moriarty being acquitted of murder charges - Sherlock arrives with proof of his guilt, but he's just a little too late.  So Moriarty's in the clear, and can't be tried twice for the same offense.  We all know that Sherlock is usually the smartest person in the room, but for that to be effective, he's got to BE in the room, at the right time.

Once released, Moriarty starts putting his plan for the "Crime of the Century" in motion - and mostly this involves coming up with something that will distract Sherlock Holmes, because he believes that Sherlock can only focus on one thing at a time.  If he can devise a tricky enough puzzle for Holmes to solve, then he can be on the other side of town, doing whatever he wants - or so the theory goes.

Unfortunately, this means that the entire case we see in the film has little relevance, because we know it's only there to keep Holmes away from the delivery of the Star of Delhi, a giant emerald, which is being brought to London to join the crown jewels in the Tower of London.  Sure, because England takes whatever it wants from its colony in India, and brings the best stuff back home.

The distraction story involves a woman, Ann Brandon, whose brother receives a note with a drawing of a man with an albatross around his neck, a reference to the long poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".  Ten years prior, her father had received a similar drawing by mail, and was murdered shortly after that.  So now she believes her brother's life is similarly in danger.  What does this all have to do with some strange South American music and a man with a club foot?  Again, it hardly matters here because this is all the secondary sub-plot, right?

NITPICK POINT: The killer's weapon is a bolas, a thrown weapon with balls connected by cords, used in South America to catch animals by tangling up their legs.  But here it's thrown at people at head-height, which I suppose could be dangerous if the weighted balls hit someone in the head.  But what's shown is the bolas hitting the neck of a statue and decapitating it.  This is highly unlikely to happen, even if the cords were made of razor-wire, which they're not.  How do these cords manage to go through marble, or perhaps concrete?  Sure, it looks cool, but it's not feasible.

Also starring Nigel Bruce (carrying over), Ida Lupino (last seen in "High Sierra"), Alan Marshal (last seen in "After the Thin Man"), Terry Kilburn, George Zucco (last seen in "The Barkleys of Broadway"), Henry Stephenson (last seen in "Mutiny on the Bounty" (1935)), E.E. Clive (also carrying over from "The Hound of the Baskervilles", but in a different role), Peter Willes (ditto), Arthur Hohl, May Beatty, Mary Gordon (also carrying over), Holmes Herbert (last seen in "The Ghost of Frankenstein"), George Regas, Mary Forbes (last seen in "Roberta"), Frank Dawson (last seen in "A Day at the Races"), William Austin (last seen in "The Private Life of Henry VIII").

RATING: 5 out of 10 flies in a glass

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Year 10, Day 71 - 3/12/18 - Movie #2,872

BEFORE: Wendy Barrie, who played Jane Seymour in "The Private Lives of Henry VIII", carries over tonight, to the first of 14 Sherlock Holmes films.  I think this is the only one based on a real Arthur Conan Doyle story, but I could be wrong.  I read all the Sherlock Holmes that I could find when I was a college student, but I never saw any of the older films with Basil Rathbone.  But I've been collecting them over the years, and finally about a year or two ago, I got the last one.

It's working them into my schedule that was a total bitch - it's my own fault for making so many constricting rules about actor linking.  But I finally found a way to get here - I'll try hard to resist calling this part of the chain "March Mystery Madness" or something like that.

THE PLOT: Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson investigate the legend of a supernatural hound, a beast that may be stalking a young heir on the fog-shrouded moorland that makes up his estate.

AFTER: I noticed that many of the actors in "The Private Life of Henry VIII" also made appearances in early Alfred Hitchcock films - and also Elsa Lanchester was famous for her appearance in "The Bride of Frankenstein".  Tonight at least 1 actor appeared in a Hitchcock film, and at least two appeared in Frankenstein film.  I wonder if Baskerville Manor also appeared as a Gothic castle in prior films from the "Frankenstein" series.

This one's got it all - if this were a tournament for mysteries, it would surely be tough to beat.  It's got a tough-to-prove murder made to look like an accident, a spooky dog whose howls can be heard across the foggy moor, an old lady that conducts seances to speak with the spirit world, and best of all, Sherlock Holmes hides in disguise to conduct his investigation, and uses misdirection to force the killer to make a move. 

The original novel by Conan Doyle was much more intricate, like in how it pointed out that the escaped convict lurking in the area was attacked by the hound because of the clothes he was wearing (which used to belong to Henry Baskerville) and when viewed in retrospect, after being explained by Sherlock Holmes, these things tend to make a lot of sense.  But not if you omit details like this film the film, once you do that there's no real reason for the convict character to even be there, except to function as a red herring of sorts.  But on the whole it's too bad they had to dumb down the original story just to make a movie.  

"The Hound of the Baskervilles" was the third Holmes novel, and was the detective's first appearance after a long absence, having been apparently killed off in the short story "The Adventure of the Final Problem", part of the "Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes" book.  I don't know if Doyle was the first author to bring back his main character from the dead, but that happens so often in comic books now that I can't take any superhero's death seriously.  (They ALWAYS come back - something to keep in mind this spring when you see "Avengers: Infinity War".)  It's too bad they couldn't have started the film series with an adaptation of "A Study in Scarlet", but I guess I see why they went with the spookier, more visually interesting story about a killer dog. 

NITPICK POINT: Near the end of the film, Holmes focuses on a family portrait, and blocks part of it off to compare the eyes and nose to that of another man in the room.  In the long-shot the subject of the portrait is seen from the left and is facing a little to the right - but when the camera cuts to a close-up of the painting, seen head-on, the subject is facing to the left.  The nose clearly slopes down to the left in the close-up, in order to match the footage of the other man in the room.  But cutting to a close-up of the painting shouldn't make the nose change direction - the close-up appears to be of a completely different painting. 

Also starring Basil Rathbone (last seen in "The Adventures of Robin Hood"), Nigel Bruce (last seen in "Suspicion"), Richard Greene, Lionel Atwill (last seen in "House of Frankenstein"), John Carradine (ditto), Beryl Mercer (last seen in "The Public Enemy"), Morton Lowry, Ralph Forbes (last seen in "The Three Musketeers" (1935)), Barlowe Borland, E.E. Clive, Eily Malyon, Lionel Pape, Nigel De Brulier, Mary Gordon, Ian Maclaren.

RATING: 6 out of 10 hansom cabs