Anthony's Film Review
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
The world of Sherlock Holmes comes to stunning life in this masterpiece film...
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a great example of a film that you already know is going to be very good once it starts. All you have to do is pay attention to the scene where, after a trial in court, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (George Zucco), are having a brief conversation during a carriage ride. In less than a minute, you can see that these are two equally cunning and clever men who will not give up in outwitting one another and yet, interestingly enough, share a mutual respect for each other's abilities. With superb performances by the actors, this moment with Holmes and Moriarty essentially foreshadows another duel between the two.
In fact, let's look at each character a bit more closely. In another early scene, Moriarty is in his study as he plans the crime of the century. All we know is that this involves sending out two different pieces of paper to lure Holmes in the exact desired direction. What's notable is how Moriarty speaks about the scheme as an intellectual would with his favorite subject, with neutral but keen interest. This is followed by a surprising revelation of Moriarty's evil personality when he expresses impatience and anger, not to his associate who will help carry out the plan but to his butler for not keeping his favorite plant adequately watered.
Meanwhile, Holmes and his good-natured partner, Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce), are discussing two things that have just come in. One is a note from a woman named Ann Brandon (Ida Lupino). The other is a request involving protection of an emerald that will be stored with England's crown jewels. But when Ann herself comes visit Holmes and describes a desperate and frightening situation, Holmes immediately decides that her case has higher priority. Here, you can see how Holmes is very quick and confident in thinking several steps ahead. As for Watson and Ann, their personalities also come alive thanks to the actors' performances.
From there, it's what you expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Holmes takes any clue that comes his way and makes deductions that an ordinary inspector, who is more likely to believe the most obvious explanation for a crime, may overlook. Watson does what he can to assist Holmes but can never reach the same level of proficiency as Holmes. As for Moriarty, the character doesn't quite appear again until late in the film, but when he does, his brilliance inspires nothing but awe and presents a real challenge for Holmes.
The reason I give high marks for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes isn't so much the story, which is straightforward and simple with only a few surprises, but rather the cast. There is no doubt that Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are excellent choices to play Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, respectively, and I do love George Zucco as Professor Moriarty. The same is true for the supporting cast. As a result, the characters come alive and help make the film an engaging one, not to mention a cinematic masterpiece.
For more information about The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, visit the Internet Movie Database.