The Sherlock Holmes Collection – Volume One (1942 – 1943/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:
Voice of Terror (1942) B-/C+/D/B-
The Secret Weapon (1942) C+/C+/D/B-
Sherlock Holmes In Washington (1943) B-/C+/D/C+
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Video has become known as the home of Sherlock Holmes for fans of the Jeremy
Brett TV series, but they have outdone themselves by landing one the restored
Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series. The first two films,
not featured here, were made for 20th Century-Fox, but the 12 films that are
part of the three exceptionally produced and packaged volumes are those
produced by Universal Pictures. The
Sherlock Holmes Collection is the dream-come-true of fans for many, many
years. If there was a dollar for every time someone wished they wanted to
finally have a great looking and sounding set of these films, UCLA would have
had a fortune for which to save these pictures. After twelve years, their
work is complete and these discs are the result. This first of three sets
covers four of the Universal Pictures-produced B-movies. For starters,
the studio and filmmakers decided to have Holmes and Watson directly battle the
Nazi’s, laced with themes of patriotism and justice continued. Made
during 1942 – 43, these films were the biggest hit the studio had since their
monster films and movie serials, along with the rise of Abbott and Costello.
Voice of Terror (1942) is directed by John
Rawlins before Roy William Neill became the series’ regular director, involves
an untraceable series of radio broadcasts on behalf of the Nazi cause, telling
of bombing and murders to be. Holmes and Watson are on the case,
despite objections from the British establishment. Rawlins style differs
in interesting ways form his successor and makes this a one-of-a-kind Holmes
that marks the transition between both studios and time periods.
The Secret Weapon (1942) has the series as we know
it kick in here with Dennis Hoey debut as Inspector Lestrade and Roy William
Neill as its regular director. Immediately, a distinct pick-up in pace
and tighter writing is evident, as Holmes and Watson find themselves protecting
a bomb shelter inventor and eventually facing Lionel Atwill as Professor
Moriarty. Though somewhat dated, not a bad start.
Sherlock Holmes In Washington (1943) has Holmes and Watson going to the United States
to find out about the disappearance of a British Secret Service agent on a
train. More humor and Americanization than usual undermines this
installment enough that the rest of the series retreats from these qualities,
because they realized that this would drive the series into the ground.
It is watchable and somewhat memorable, but nothing great here.
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943) places the British
investigators at Musgrave Manor, where another dead person has turned up in a
wealthy home. One of the relatively weakest films in the series cannot
overcome run-on and cliché atypical of much of the series. It just never
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 did not want to continue
spending the money to recreate the Victorian England, but Universal was bold
enough to relocate the character in then-modern time. It might have
seemed heresy to fans, but it paid off. It is one of the great
restoration stories and successes of all time that UCLA has saved these
films. Sherlock Holmes lives!
X 1 full frame, monochrome films have never looked so good in my lifetime,
except in stills. The cinematographers are as follows: Woody
Bredell (Voice of Terror), Les White
(Secret Weapon, Washington), and Charles Van Enger (Sherlock Holmes Faces Danger) all A.S.C. Voice of Terror is the best looking of the four, while Sherlock Holmes Faces Death 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. 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.
no extras on any of the DVDs, except on Sherlock
Holmes Faces Death, which offers a nice montage of posters, lobby cards,
and stills from these films, and David Stuart Davies delivers a good starters
commentary track that is informative and very good. The Sherlock Holmes Collection – Volume One is a set everyone
deserves to enjoy, as would be the two DVD sets that followed, but we recommend
the Blu-ray set above them all at the link above.