Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The (1939)

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The (1939)

“Moriarty’s as curious about my movements as I am about his.”

The arch-enemy (George Zucco) of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) plots to steal the Crown Jewels, hoping to distract Holmes and his assistant, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce), by enticing them with a case involving a distressed heiress (Ida Lupino).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Basil Rathbone Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Historical Drama
  • Ida Lupino Films
  • Murder Mystery
  • Sherlock Holmes Films

The second of two Sherlock Holmes films made with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce for Fox Studios (and the last to feature them in an “authentically” Victorian-era setting), this finely mounted whodunit was, like the 1932 film Sherlock Holmes, based (albeit loosely) on a stage play by William Gillette rather than an original story by Doyle. It’s an enjoyable, atmospheric outing:

… made all the more interesting by the introduction of Holmes’ sociopathic “arch-enemy”, Moriarty (Zucco):

… who — recognizing Holmes’ desire to alleviate boredom above all else — plays fast and furious with people’s lives by perpetuating a serial murder scheme simply to keep Holmes distracted. It’s a remarkably dastardly thematic element, and definitely adds an intriguing twist to the entire affair.

Note: If you’re at all a Holmes fan, be sure to compare this film with the sixth entry in the modern British mini-series Sherlock, which features a somewhat similar storyline about Moriarty and Holmes’ ongoing “rivalry”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
  • Atmospheric cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly recommended as a most enjoyable Sherlockian yarn.


One thought on “Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The (1939)

  1. Not a must.

    First viewing.

    Rather in agreement with what’s already stated. However, based on my impression from a number of other Holmes stories, this one seems decidedly low-key. The production all-round is competent enough and the film serves to divert. Nice London atmosphere throughout (love that dry ice!). Lupino is a welcome addition here – always a strong female presence, even if she’s called on this time to be more on the submissive side.

    The most impressive element here is the film’s climax – cleverly staged and shot.

    This isn’t exactly edge-of-the-seat suspense, but it holds attention.

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