The Black Room
A place for killing, Poe’s or Frost’s pit.
The Latin motto is an arrangement of “in my end is my beginning.”
The twin noble brothers, one irretrievably bad, the other limply good, die at each other’s hands over a span of time, one apes the other and is sniffed out by a dog.
“Solid rather than distinguished,” said one a bit too-too himself, Tom Milne (Time Out).
Halliwell’s Film Guide has “rather splendid”, citing Variety and Graham Greene at cross-purposes.
A film full of feints and mysteries, which opens with a careful apology for pressing Holmes into wartime service (“One must use the tools at hand”), then fabulates a conception of Holmes that is the real subject of the story. He is made to appear in four guises, an old bookseller, a “wharf rat”, Dr. Hoffner, and something of a bleeder. He himself avows the parentage of Edgar Allan Poe, and displays his virtuosic powers of observation and ratiocination, but his actions are those of the antithetical type, Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade (the influence of Huston’s The Maltese Falcon is evident), who blunders his way through to the solution of the case. This “felix culpa” is in a way the theme of Robbe-Grillet’s Trans Europ Express, for example.
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
There’s no use in writing about this film, Ken Russell made the correct analysis in Lisztomania.
Talbot under a full moon in Cardiff is directly imitated in Altered States, q.v.
Sherlock Holmes in Washington
A tenuous strand of thought is strung throughout the film, a vital document in a “V” for Victory matchbook cover by microfilm, flown over the Atlantic and delivered into the hands of a young woman about to marry a Navy flier. Enemy agents using a faux antique shop as a front want it and don’t know that “the man who has it doesn’t know he has it.”
Sir Henry Marchmont is a decoy sent by the British Government, Senator Babcock is a decoy used by Holmes.
The comedy of the porter at the crime scene is a beacon amid Holmes’ jests and the comic persona of Dr. Watson, who has unprecedented test scores in his mind as the critical wartime investigation gets underway.
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Professor Butley spouts the formula, you’ll remember.
“Failing Americans is a ritual, and that’s what they come here for, the ritual.”
Very funny, indeed. They come here for an education, and that’s what they get, by way of the crypt in Mrs. Miniver, who is a constable in this film.
An astounding film, by any reckoning.
“The events don’t make a lot of sense,” says ‘Alliwell.
The Scarlet Claw
It is only a garden implement in the hands of a paranoiac, but the villagers and boatmen of La Morte Rouge outside Quebec are motionless with fear in the opening scene, it’s evening and the church bell is ringing, only the priest is brave enough to enter the church.
This opening, much magnified, goes into Freddie Francis’ Dracula Has Risen from the Grave.
There is another kind of fear that besets three persons in the village, it’s the proximity of the murderer, unbeknownst to them.
He is a master of disguise out to kill the woman he loves for marrying another man, and the judge who sent him to prison, and a guard there.
Sheep have had their throats ripped open, people begin dying the same way, it’s an ancient monstrosity the town was rechristened for, come again to assail the living.
Holmes and Watson have sailed to attend a meeting of the Royal Canadian Occult Society, which finds the supernatural at work.
Holmes solves the case, a wartime emergency.
The House of Fear
The Good Comrades repair to a castle in Scotland and die one by one, each well-insured enriching the others.
A capital joke, stunningly realized, and (as Time Out Film Guide accurately reports) Dr. Watson makes the clinching observation, which is prepared right at the start when Holmes can’t find any tobacco in their Baker Street lodgings, and later when Alec MacGregor the helpful tobacconist is murdered.
“A knotty problem for Sherlock Holmes, but rather tediously unravelled,” says ‘Alliwell in the very voice and mien of Moriarty.
The Woman in Green
“An act of floral presence on the water” (Beckett) is the ground of her profound hypnosis, tested with the knife, that leaves the victim in Professor Moriarty’s power with a dead girl on the streets of London and her finger in the pocket of the blackmailed.
The clever, witty opening shows the influence of Hitchcock. The next scene was significantly borrowed for Richard Tuggle’s Tightrope.
Neill’s spectacular art is ideally perfected here, it’s a mode of filmmaking in which every detail of every scene is telling, complete attention is amply repaid. The especial adroitness of the first bar sequence at Pembroke House forms the source and root of Ken Hughes’ Wide Boy and Dennis Potter’s Karaoke with its deep focus and changing angles.
Pursuit to Algiers
En route to Baker Street from Stimson’s, where they have just bought guns for a holiday in Scotland hunting grouse and fishing for salmon, Holmes and Watson are fished up most ingeniously by a foreign government for a secret mission.
Democracy is the theme, they are to transport a king to his throne despite attempts on his life by men “out for personal gain” who have assassinated his father, reportedly the victim of an automobile accident.
A work abstruse to a poetic principle, even. A duchess’s jewels, a health fanatic, shady characters, a Brooklyn chanteuse and members of the crew share the dream and danger by air and sea.
Terror by Night
An intricate puppet show, the essential structure of which is very similar to the famous Hirshfeld cartoon of Eliza Doolittle manipulated on strings by Professor Higgins manipulated on strings by Bernard Shaw. Technically, a Hitchcockian exercise in style, brought by Neill into high escapades of comedy, as well as bizarrerie in the manner of Sherlock Holmes Faces Death.
Laurence Olivier, who in his early years prized the narcissism of Rudolph Valentino, seems later to have modeled certain aspects of his style on the performance given here by Alan Mowbray, for example.
Basil Rathbone deduces Holmes from the famous image in the deerstalker cap (“The game’s afoot!”), and portrays him as a hunter pursuing his prey amid the suspensory mêlée of suspects.
A brief opening sequence shows the acquirement of the Star of Rhodesia to be unlucky. There follows a film of striking imagery diffused by strong rhythm.
Lady Margaret and her murdered son are mirrored by the dead old lady in the coffin with the secret compartment hiding the killer (Skelton Knaggs at his eeriest). The faux MacDonald finds he has arrested none other than Lestrade of Scotland Yard.
Neill doesn’t strain his actors, but they are required to toe the mark in some precision shots set up like a sketch for Bogdanovich’s Noises Off...
Dressed to Kill
Samuel Johnson is the subject of a most thorough roiling, he is extricated from the imbroglios of history, several histories, and put to various circus acts precisely à la Ken Russell, with reference largely to la Piozzi.
That is sufficient to be said. The noble efficacy of Neill, which always contrives to have every detail telling in the utmost, here finds perhaps its greatest expression in the equivoque that pays homage to Conan Doyle’s original Holmes and Watson.
Songwriter’s estranged wife sets herself up in Wilshire House as a blackmailer, one of the victims is arrested for her murder.
Neill achieves a perfect representation of Los Angeles on a Universal sound stage for a Sunset Strip nightclub and the home of the accused (this is comparable to Sekely’s Hollow Triumph, Rogell’s The Admiral Was a Lady, and Beck’s Behave Yourself!).