Saturday, 11 February 2012

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1948)

The sixth film in the Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" is an entertaining and intriguing mystery.

"Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" is based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story "The Musgrave Ritual." While it is not the same story, there are many similarities. The names of some characters (Brunton) and places (Hurlstone) appear in both the story and the film. Both story and film involve something valuable, which is hidden in the cellar of an ancient manor, and clues to its location are hidden in a series of questions and answers, called The Musgrave Ritual. And in both the story and the film Sherlock Holmes deduces the meaning of the ritual and solves the mystery. At the beginning of the Conan Doyle story, Watson writes about Holmes adorning the wall of their London flat with bullet pocks. Sure enough, in Holme's first scene he is at 221B Baker St., shooting his gun at a figure drawn on the wall!

Thankfully the mystery in "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" has nothing to do with Nazis, and the characters of Holmes and Watson are more in keeping with the way Conan Doyle wrote them. That makes this film especially enjoyable for a Holmes fan. Musgrave Manor is a splendid, spooky old mansion, complete with secret passageways and howling wind outside. The Musgrave siblings, Geoffrey, Phillip and Sally, have opened their home to convalescing soldiers. Dr. Watson and Dr. Sexton are also staying at Musgrave Manor, taking care of the patients.

Holmes comes to the Manor after an attempt is made to kill Dr. Sexton. Shortly thereafter both Geoffrey and Phillip are murdered. Upon assuming her inheritance Sally must recite the centuries-old ritual, which is meaningless for her. Holmes realizes that the words in the ritual describe movements of chess pieces, which are in fact clues to the location of something. Since the black and white floor of the main hall resembles a chess board, Holmes has the rest of the household move as human chess pieces. Eventually he finds a crypt in which is hidden an ancient land grant signed by King Henry I. Also in the crypt is the body of the butler. Holmes very cleverly devises a plan to lure the killer back to the crypt later that evening, and traps him into confessing all the murders. Holmes then fakes his own death and allows the killer to leave -- but he walks right into the hands of Lestrade and half a dozen policemen.

It may be of interest to note that Captain Vickery, the love interest of Sally Musgrave, is played by a young Milburn Stone (Doc Adams of "Gunsmoke" fame). A 20-year-old Peter Lawford appears in the pub scene at the beginning of the film. He plays the sailor at the bar who bandages his friend's hand and says "Blimey!" when he hears about the raven.

1 comment:

  1. Basil Rathbone was a very masterly Holmes. He is one of my favorite Holmes as well :)