There shall be no mystery of Sherlock Holmes and the missing titles on Blu-ray when it comes to Basil Rathbone’s depiction of the sleuth. The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection transfers all 14 of his films onto 1080p. Even though dozens of actors have played Holmes in movies and TV shows, Rathbone remains the most iconic portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective. Robert Downey Jr’s bare chested brawling, libido controlled detective in Sherlock Holmes is a character with the same name, but not the same character as written in Conan Doyle’s books. Rathbone brings the proper English manners and the eccentric quirks to his performance. His intense stare could spot a stray foot print in the thickest of London fog, Almost as important is Nigel Bruce in the role of Dr. Watson. As Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson was competent in support, but often confused by criminal subterfuge. The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection starts with the two movies Rathbone and Bruce made at Fox to launch the series.
The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939 – 80 minutes) was Rathbone and Bruce’s first time as Holmes and Watson. The duo are called up to moors of Baskerville Hall to break a family curse by Lionell Atwill (House of Dracula). He doesn’t want the new heir to fall victim to the mysterious menace that killed the last owner. Holmes claims he’s got other business and merely sends Dr. Watson into the cursed land. The house features an extraordinarily creepy John Carradine as the butler. Where is Holmes? Don’t worry, he’s gone deep cover. It’s a good ripping tale involving a true hell hound roaming the moors. But where does it live and who feeds the beast? Holmes must solve that part before his paying client falls victim. This print features the infamous “needle” ending. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939 – 82 minutes) was the last to stick with the turn of the century setting. Professor Moriarty (George Zucco) beats a crime rap when Holmes arrives too late in court to get the verdict overturned. But this second chance at freedom doesn’t turn the Professor into a nice guy. He wants to destroy Holmes with the crime of the century. He plots a major heist and a homicidal distraction involving Ida Lupino. Which plot gets Holmes’ attention? It’s a clever thriller which is even more exciting than The Hound of the Baskerville.
Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942 – 65 minutes) brings Rathbone and Bruce to Universal and the 20th Century. The studio needed a detective for a mystery series that would reflect a bond between America and England during World War II. Why create a new British character when you can just hire the best. How did the studio explain a character that ended at the onset of World War I being flung into the events of World War II? A simple title card declares him and Dr. Watson as ageless. That’s good enough for me. The mystery involves uncovering Nazi saboteurs using the radio to hype their upcoming terror plots. The way the mystery unravels links it to Conan Doyle’s “His Last Bow.” So these updated films aren’t just completely new stories with Holmes and Watson tossed into the script. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943 – 68 minutes) presents a revolutionary bombsight that the Nazis badly want. Holmes smuggles the inventor to the West. Things get nasty since the Germans have enlisted the help of Professor Moriarty (Atwill). Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943 – 71 minutes) takes the English sleuth across the Atlantic to stop Nazi espionage. A British agent takes the train to Washington D.C. to deliver a vital document. His mission has been tipped off to German agents. He gets abducted on the train. Will he cough up his state secrets? Holmes and Watson get flown across the Atlantic to find the agent. He correctly deduces that the Nazi agents haven’t found the document since they keep trashing various places. He also believes that instead of paper, the secrets were encoded on microfilm. This plot device is something that wouldn’t have quite worked itself into a proper Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. Holmes’ investigation puts him on the road of a young woman that unknowingly has the secret speck. There are light comic touches to this spy thriller. During a party the object concealing the microfilm gets passed around by the guests and servants. The most comes from Rathbone’s comb forward hairdo.
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943 – 68 minutes) brings him back to England although he’s still in 20th Century. Dr. Watson lands a gig working on officers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, referred to back as “shell shock,” inside ancient Musgrave Hall. The family seeks to make a few extra dollars out of renting out the unused space to the military. The musty and old place comes with ghosts. Watson finds himself attacked one night. Can it really be a violent spirit? Instead of relying on the authorities, Watson calls in his buddy Holmes. Turns out the Musgrave family might be involved with the bumps in the night. He suspects the family’s odd ritual might disclose the location of the land grant paperwork. There’s billows of fog in this entry to make it feel like a real Holmes movie. Rathbone’s hair gets a proper makeover so you won’t snicker while he battles the real killer in the crypt. This movie is based off “The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual.”
The Spider Woman (1944 – 62 minutes) plagues London with a series of high profile suicides. Holmes doesn’t buy this self-inflicted murder spree as a coincidence. But he becomes one of the victims. Or is this his sneaky way of exposing the plot? The Scarlet Claw (1944 – 74 minutes) brings Holmes and Watson to Canada. The small town of La Mort Rouge is haunted by a phantom that slashes the victims throats. Lady Penrose is the latest victim. The duo investigate after receiving a letter from Lady Penrose begging for protection. The victim knew what was coming. Something non-supernatural is up. They discover strange connections between various townspeople that add up to an excuse to murder. There’s moors and fog for fans of that classic element. The Pearl of Death (1944 – 69 minutes) is the cursed Borgia Pearl that’s stolen. Rondo Hatton creeps into the crime. The House of Fear (1945 – 69 minutes) involves seven men living in a Scottish remote castle being murdered when orange pips arrive in the mail. The Woman in Green (1945 – 68 minutes) involves men turning up dead with their body missing fingers. Is Professor Moriarty behind the ugliness?
Pursuit to Algiers (1945 – 65 minutes) takes Holmes into the future. He’s no longer in 1899. This is a World War II era tale involving Holmes being hired to escort a foreign heir to the throne in his home country. There’s many enemies looking to stop this recent college student from taking the crown. There’s danger at every turn including a plane that crashes while reportedly carrying Holmes and the heir. Dr. Watson is on a cruise ship when he gets the tragic news. He doesn’t have to mourn too long when Holmes’ subterfuge is exposed. Watson and company must pull the veil from the real enemy agents before they get tossed overboard. It’s a tight shipboard mystery. Murder and a jewelry heist merge on a train for Terror by Night (1946 – 60 minutes). Dressed to Kill (1946 – 72 minutes) is the last of the series. Holmes and Watson must investigate why people are dying that own music boxes. Is there a secret code involved?
Rathbone and Bruce are the perfect tandem to portray the duo. Even when they make the time jump from late-19th century England to World War II era Washington D.C. they don’t act like men out of time. They are of their own time. Neither plays a character since they own the roles on The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection.
The video is 1.33:1 full frame that’s pillar boxed for widescreen TVs. The transfers look really sharp for their age. They’ve done a fine job restoring the image. The grain isn’t over powering. The audio is LPCM 2.0. The mix is fine since it’s not from an era known for sound designing. All the movies are subtitled.
Introduction by Robert Gitt (4:38) has him talk about the decade it took to restore the Holmes collection. They did the restoration on film and not video. They were able to go back to the camera negatives on several of the film. They also restored the Universal logo and end titles to the film that other distributors had removed.
Photo Galleries consist of five montages going over posters and production photos.
Footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1:16) is the British Movietone interview with the author. He talks about what inspired him to write the books.
Theatrical Trailers (7:05) are a collection that includes The Spider Woman, The Scarlet Claw, Pearl of Death, The House of Fear, Terror By Night and Dressed to Kill, They are not restored.
Audio Commentaries are on several of the films. David Stuart Davies of Sherlock magazine gives the details behind The Hound of Baskervilles, Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Scarlet Claw and The Woman in Green. Dressed to Kill gives us a conversation between David Gregory, Patricia Morison and Richard Valley. Morison played Hilda Courtney in the film. Valley passed away in 2007. He shares his vast knowledge of the final Holmes film. Valley and Morison discuss how the censorship board had an issue with her wardrobe in the film.
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection brings together all the thrilling adventures of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce in their most popular roles. The series of 14 films has them traveling through time, but they never appear out of place. They’ve come to solve mysteries and expose killers. This collection brings back the joy of rainy Sunday afternoon mystery movies that used to run on TV. This is the perfect way to stay patient while waiting for the arrival of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.
MPI Home Video presents The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection. Directed by: Roy William Neill. Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce and Patricia Morison. Boxset Contents: 14 movies on 5 discs. Rating: G. Released on Blu-ray: March 29, 2011.
Tags: Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows