Scarlet Claw, The (1944)

“According to your theory, Dr. Watson, everyone in the village is under suspicion!”

Synopsis:
When Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) receive a letter requesting assistance from a recently murdered woman, they travel to her hometown, where the villagers are convinced her death was caused by a legendary monster.

Genres:

Review:
This eighth entry in the fourteen-film series of Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Holmes flicks (most made for Universal Studios) is generally considered to be the best of the bunch, and it does indeed pack plenty of atmospheric punch. Only the first two films in the series were set in Doyle’s original Victorian-era London; this and others were updated to the 1940s. With that said, the setting and overall ambiance of The Scarlet Claw — which takes place in Quebecois-Canada — come across as rather timeless; meanwhile, the film itself is reminiscent of The Hound of the Baskervilles in its presentation of a mysterious fiend bounding across mist-shrouded moors. What’s most interesting about The Scarlet Claw (based on an original story) is its decidedly horror-tinged flavor, with one murder scene in particular wonderfully predating Psycho (1960). Watch for some truly startling special effects by John P. Fulton, known for his excellent work on The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Ten Commandments (1957), and Vertigo (1958), among other titles.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some genuinely creepy, horror-infused moments
  • Atmospheric cinematography and sets
  • John P. Fulton’s special effects

Must See?
No, though it’s certainly recommended. Listed as a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.

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One Response to “Scarlet Claw, The (1944)”

  1. A must.

    First time viewing. I’ve always known that there were a number of Sherlock Holmes films (and who knows how many tv versions of stories), but I can’t say I’m a big fan personally. Haven’t read the original stories…though never say never.

    However, I do perk up for a well-made film, regardless.

    What I first noticed about this Holmes pic (having just revisited ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’, a 20th Century Fox release) is that it was made at Universal. The difference in studio styles (each noticeable in their classic way) could easily be of interest to real ffs. I wondered what a Paramount Holmes pic might look like? What would Warner Bros. have done? I don’t know that I’d had such a thought before. At any rate, each pic does well with a different studio style.

    Of the two, ‘The Scarlet Claw’ seems the better film, though. Unlike ‘Hound’, it hasn’t a whiff of silliness – and there’s no love angle, just the murder mystery. ‘Scarlet’ runs about as long as ‘Hound’ but feels much more compact. It’s certainly a bit more complex. And, yes, being a Universal product, it does feel more like a horror film. (That pre-’Psycho’ sequence is indeed scary.)

    I felt on-edge and appropriately thrown-off throughout. Quite enough here for me to make it a must.

    Note: It’s a bit staggering to see how many films director Roy William Neill tended to make in just about any given year of his career. He passed at the relatively young age of 59, two years after making this film.

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