Not the most reverent of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but certainly the most stylish, William K. Howard’s 1932 film seems almost to anticipate James Bond by giving us a witty, action-oriented Holmes (Clive Brook), with a ravishing blonde fiancée (Miriam Jordan), a workshop full of high-tech gizmos, and a suitably outsized villain in the form of a Professor Moriarty played by the great silent film actor Ernest Torrence (Steamboat Bill, Jr.) in what would prove to be his last important role. Moriarty, too, is a thoroughly up to date figure, with a plan to impose an American-style protection racket on the pubs of London.
This was in fact the third time that Clive Brook had played Holmes, following a couple of appearances at Paramount, and Brook is said to have strenuously objected to Howard’s light-hearted approach to the character (which includes an appearance in drag) and tendency to improvise around the William Gillette play, which serves as the basis for this production as it had for Gillette himself in 1916 and John Barrymore in 1922. The credited screenwriter, Bertram Millhauser, went on to write several of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s.
Howard, indeed, lets fly with his whole stylistic bag of tricks, including deep focus, whip pans, shock cuts, subjective point-of-view shots and sequences shot in silhouette. His unconventional approach to narrative structure is on brilliant display in a jailbreak sequence related in flashbacks. A pure delight from a master filmmaker at the height of his powers, here in an engagingly playful mood.
Here the celebrated detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s imagination is in an entirely different guise by the clever screenplay of Bertram Milhauser. We have always associated the great detective as a lone hand but in this picture they give him romance in the personal of a lovely girl and a very youthful assistant who seems to have deduction at his fingertips as cannily as Holmes himself. William K. Howard does a grand job of directing the story and George Barnes provides the mysterious effects so necessary in a production of this sort.
Arthur Forde, “Hollywood Filmograph”, November 12, 1932
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dalla pièce Sherlock Holmes di William Gillette. Scen.: Bertram Millhauser. F.: George Barnes. M.: Margaret Clancy. Scgf.: John Hughes. Int.: Clive Brook (Sherlock Holmes), Miriam Jordan (Alice Faulkner), Ernest Torrence (professor Moriarty), Herbert Mundin (George, the publican), Reginald Owen (Dr. Watson), Howard Leeds (Little Billy), Alan Mowbray (Colonel Gore-King), Montague Shaw (Judge Erskine). Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP. D.: 69’.
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