Case Number 19739


Sherlock Holmes In Washington
MPI // 1942 // 72 Minutes // Not Rated
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
MPI // 1943 // 68 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // September 22nd, 2010

The Charge

"Sherlock Holmes, the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible and unchanging. In solving significant problems of the present day he remains -- as ever -- the supreme master of deductive reasoning."

Opening Statement

Sherlock Holmes was born in print in 1887, with A Study in Scarlet, and he kept up his consulting detective practice through 1927. The character was moved forward into the Forties by Universal Pictures, which was taking over the series started by Fox, featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

MPI's restored Sherlock Holmes Double Feature includes the two movies -- Sherlock Holmes in Washington and Sherlock Holmes Faces Death -- plus a commentary by David Stuart Davies, who was editor of Sherlock magazine.

Facts of the Case

This double-feature set contains two Sherlock Holmes cases, each on its own disc:

Sherlock Holmes in Washington
The Home Office sends Holmes and Watson across the Atlantic to handle "a matter of the utmost security," the disappearance of a courier and the confidential papers he carried. It turns into a search for microfilm and the woman (Marjorie Lord, The Danny Thomas Show) who unwittingly carries it, with a short detour for a tour of Washington through stock footage.

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
On a dark and stormy night, a man is stabbed at Musgrave Manor, a convalescence home for soldiers. Dr. Watson, who has been posted there, calls on Holmes. When the detective arrives, the bodies start to pile up, and Holmes must clear an American soldier (Milburn Stone, Gunsmoke). The key to the mystery is "the Musgrave ritual," a speech given ceremoniously when a member of the Musgrave family dies. This one's inspired by a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story.

The Evidence

It appears what Basil Rathbone did to make his Sherlock Holmes definitive was actually to underplay the character's eccentricities, such as the unlikely deductions and the scientific experiments at 221B Baker Street. They're all there (except for the substance abuse), but Rathbone makes Holmes seem somehow normal when he's, say, firing rounds in his flat and terrifying landlady Mrs. Hudson. That's especially visible in Sherlock Holmes in Washington, where Holmes becomes the typical cliffhanger action hero, but it's also noticeable in the more traditional Sherlock Holmes Faces Death. In his commentary, David Stuart Davies criticizes the World War II storylines of the first three Universal Holmes movies, but they appear to have had one noble purpose: helping to get the balance of eccentric and heroic, Victorian and modern right for the series as a whole.

As Watson, Nigel Bruce lends comic relief, reading the funnies while Holmes scans a newspaper for important information in Washington. However, his bumbling seems to be an act to trap a villain in Faces Death. In both movies, he's ready with a gun in the closing scene. Other supporting characters don't get much to do -- Inspector Lestrade really is a complete bumbler who gets lost in secret passages in Faces Death -- but the actors do as well as could be expected with cardboard roles.

The two movies are fun to watch, but very different. Faces Death is full of creepy atmosphere -- a crow flying about, constant wind, lightning that crashes through windows and knocks over a suit of armor, secret passages, and lots of eerie shadows -- but eventually reveals itself as a solid traditional whodunnit, even if it's telegraphed with visual tricks. Washington is more of a cliffhanger, with the focus on Holmes dodging attempts on his life while rescuing a woman in peril.

The restored prints look and sound sharp. These old movies have been taken care of very well.

Davies' commentary, which accompanies Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, is full of interesting tidbits about Holmes and the Universal movie series, pointing out the similarities to and deviations from the original story, "The Musgrave Ritual." He also drops a lot of spoilers, so watch the movie without comment first.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If you're just looking for a glimpse of Basil Rathbone in action as the classic detective, you might be able to pick up a movie or set -- or perhaps some episodes of his radio series -- at a good price. Look around before you buy.

A still gallery listed on the box is nowhere to be found on the DVD.

Closing Statement

Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes series is one of the must-sees of classic film, and it appears that moving the character to the Forties was what set Rathbone apart from other actors who portrayed the consulting detective. Even if you don't buy this set, you should see Rathbone in the role sometime. With lots of background from David Stuart Davies, this isn't a bad place to begin.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Sherlock Holmes In Washington
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 0
Acting: 86
Story: 85
Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Sherlock Holmes In Washington
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* English

Running Time: 72 Minutes
Release Year: 1942
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Sherlock Holmes In Washington
* None

Scales of Justice, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Video: 90
Audio: 90
Extras: 90
Acting: 86
Story: 88
Judgment: 88

Perp Profile, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)

* English

Running Time: 68 Minutes
Release Year: 1943
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
* Commentary

* IMDb: Sherlock Holmes in Washington

* IMDb: Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

* The Sherlock Holmes Society of London