Late Night Fun!
Bobby Underwood | Manly NSW, Australia | 05/03/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just about every film lover agrees that Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are the definitive Holmes and Watson. The moviegoing audience loved them, and we still do. After Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes the series moved to Universal and Holmes moved forward in time, to the present day. Often compared unfairly to the first two top quality productions, the "B" series delighted fans for years. All of them were entertaining, and have to be judged as "B" films. Based on a Conan Doyle story, The Dancing Men, yet updated to modern England during wartime, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is fun to watch. While it doesn't sparkle to the degree of some entries in the series, a dash of patriotism and Kaaren Verne's lovely presence make it worthwhile. Terror by Night is one of the very best of the bunch, and the real gem of this double feature, however.
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon begins with Holmes sneaking top scientist Franz Tobler out of Switzerland. His design for a new bomb delivery device has been offered to England and must not fall into German hands. Back in London, Tobler unwisely ditches Watson while he's asleep in favor of his love, Charlotte Eberly. Since beautiful and down to earth Karren Verne portrays her, it's easy to see his reasoning. Yet it is a mistake, putting Holmes' old nemesis, Moriarty, onto the little bugger, and the device.
Lionel Atwill has a turn in this outing as Moriarty, and while he does a nice job, it must be said that Henry Daniell is sorely missed in this one. Dennis Hoey is Lestrade this time and also performs admirably. It isn't long before Tobler is in the hands of Moriarty, but a secret code given to Charlotte holds the key to the device. Holmes has it but, unfortunately, so does Moriarty! Three men will die before Holmes breaks the code of the fourth man and sets a trap for Moriarty, who is setting a trap for Holmes.
Rathbone dons many disguises in this one and Roy William Neill's direction keeps it moving along nicely. A secret exit and a trap door of death will decide who is the superior mind in this one. A nice bit about England Holmes steals from the Bard wraps things up in tidy fashion as R.A.F. planes leave for Germany equipped with the new device. All in all, though not quite the gem of some episodes in the "B" series, a fun entry for fans.
Terror by Night is quite a splendid entry in the "B" series. This pleasant and extremely atmospheric and fun outing for Holmes and Watson grabs the viewer right from the start. Though made in 1946, there is almost a 1930's feel to it, as the film opens with shots of an archeological dig, and the uncovering of the Star of Rhodesia. There is a curse upon the diamond, however, as the voiceover reminds us that it would have been better left undiscovered, a sudden and violent death coming to all who have owned it since. Margaret Carstairs (Mary Gordon) is in possession of it now, her son Roland (Geoffrey Steeele) meeting Holmes at the train station, having hired him to protect it aboard the train. The fun has begun!
A bumbling Watson (Nigel Bruce) barely makes the train, along with his old chum Major Duncan Bleek (Alan Mowbray). Holmes (Rathbone) is quite amused to discover Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) is along for the ride as well; supposedly on vacation. It isn't long before young Carstairs is found in his cabin, murdered, the precious diamond missing! Frank Gruber's screenplay, based on a Doyle story and updated, gives our cast some great moments, with fun and humor mingling with the mystery. Director William Roy Neill must have been delighted here, using stock outdoor train footage to heighten the fun for the viewer, as Holmes and Lestrade search for a killer.
Holmes senses the henchman of his old nemesis Moriarty may be close at hand. Could it be Colonel Moran, who has nearly been the architect of the detective's demise more than once is behind it all? There are many suspects, however, including the sultry and beautiful Vivian Vedder (Renee Godfrey). She is accompanying her mother's body to Scotland for burial. Is there another reason she is onboard? Having Renee Godfrey on the train is a real treat for the viewer. A great friend of Barbara Stanwyck, she was Miss New York State in 1935, and won the swim suit competition in the Miss America Pageant in 1937. Easy on the eyes in the extreme, she put her career aside to raise a family with Peter Godfrey, 20 years her senior, who she fell in love with. On the comeback trail, appearing on television's Perry Mason and The Loretta Young Show, she was struck down with cancer and died young at 44. Stanwyck was such a close friend she watched after her two girls when Peter became ill later.
But there are lots of suspects besides the mysterious and beautiful Vivian. There will be an exciting attempt onboard to murder Holmes himself, and some fancy moves when Holmes uncovers the real killer and gets back the diamond--well, sort of. Mysteries are always fun onboard a train, and this one with Holmes and Watson is no different. Watson has one particularly funny moment playing detective you'll quite enjoy, as does Holmes himself. Atmospheric and tons of fun, Terror by Night is one delightful ride in the Rathbone-Bruce canon, and one fans can't miss! A fun way to view two enjoyable "B" mysteries with our favorite Holmes and Watson."