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Category:    Home > Reviews > Mystery > The Sherlock Holmes Collection – Volume Two (1944 – 1945/Rathbone/Universal/UCLA/MPI DVD)

The Sherlock Holmes Collection – Volume Two (1944 – 1945/Rathbone/Universal/UCLA/MPI DVD)



PLEASE NOTE: These films are now available on Blu-ray from MPI in a Sherlock Holmes set with all the Rathbone/Bruce films and you can read all about it at this link:







Pearl Of Death (1944)     B-/C+/D/B

The Scarlet Claw (1944)     C+/C+/B-/B-

The Spider Woman (1944)     C+/C+/D/B-

The House Of Fear (1945)     C+/C+/D/B-



MPI Home Video continues one of the DVD events of the year with the second volume of their Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes Collection.  This second of three sets covers four more of the Universal Pictures-produced B-movies.  At this point, the studio and filmmakers dropped having Holmes directly battling the Nazi’s but the themes of patriotism and justice continued.  Made during 1944 – 45, these films were consistent and even those familiar with the films will be thrilled to see the new prints.


Pearl of Death (1944) is the best of the four, involving a back-breaking killer who smashes bric a brac as a calling card.  Holmes recovers a very valuable stolen pearl, only to loose it again.  This is the most well thought out mystery in this set and has remarkably tight screenplay.  Dennis Hoey’s Lestrade is always a plus, especially here.


The Scarlet Claw (1944) is often considered the best of all the Universal productions, but it does not have the tight, well laid-out mystery of Pearl of Death, but it does dare to do an alternate take on Sussex Vampire and Hound of the Baskervilles.  Too bad it is not consistent, but it is well produced.


The Spider Woman (1944) takes is not a Noir entry, but all the Holmes films were influenced by this greatest of American filmmaking trends.  However, this one simply pits Holmes against a formidable woman, played by Gale Sondergaard.  How is she driving her victims to suicide?  Holmes and Watson are about to find out.


The House of Fear (1945) offers rich men being picked off as each of them gets an envelope with orange seeds.  Each number is one less than the men remaining in the room.  Holmes and Watson need to stop this, before there are no rich men left in The Good Comrades society.

Again, these are exceptionally well-made B-movies up there with the Charlie Chan, Mr. Wong, Thin Man, and the Mystery films that made for the greatest B-films in the Classical Hollywood Studio System era.  20th Century Fox had to realize by now that they let a good series get away, a mistake they would make again with the Chan films.  Now that UCLA has saved these films, generations to come will have them and not have to put up with terrible copies.


The 1.33 X 1, full frame, monochrome films have never looked so good in my lifetime, except in stills.  The cinematographers are as follows:  Virgil Miller (Pearl of Death, The House of Fear); George Robinson (The Scarlet Claw), and Charles Van Enger (The Spider Woman), all A.S.C.  Pearl of Death is the best looking of the four, while The Scarlet Claw is the most remarkably reconstructed of them all.  All of them have great Noir-like moments, solid Video Black, Gray Scale, and often nice detail and depth.  That is even in the face of some of the materials being a few generations down.  This project took 12 years to finish and this is the most impressive debut of any kind of series on DVD since A&E stunned everyone with their Avengers TV boxes.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono is good for its age on all four DVDs, with limited background noise.  Combined, this is a revelation as compared to the dozens of awful, unacceptable copies of these films that have been circulating for decades on VHS, Beta, LaserDisc and other DVDs.


There are no extras on any of the DVDs, except on The Scarlet Claw, which offers a nice montage of posters, lobby cards, and stills from the series, UCLA’s Robert Gitt explaining the painstaking process in which the films had to be fixed in every single detail possible, and David Stuart Davies delivers a great, well informed commentary that is especially Mystery literate.  Too bad he did not do commentaries on every film!


I even love the classy, monochrome DVD package design.  At long last, we have copies of these Roy William Neill-directed gems that challenge the DVD format.  Thanks to UCLA, we will have them in High Definition and great film prints for good. MPI’s releases should bring some real shock and awe to audiences who will see how great these B-movies could be.  The Sherlock Holmes Collection – Volume Two is another set everyone deserves to enjoy, though Blu-ray fans will want to see the set as covered at the link above for even better performance.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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