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Roy William Neill
Basil Rathbone , Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Arthur Margetson, Hillary Brooke, Halliwell Hobbes
Writing Credits:
Bertram Millhauser, Arthur Conan Doyle (story)

The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection stars Basil Rathbone as the legendary Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as the venerable Dr. John H. Watson. Comprised of all 14 films on 5 discs in high definition.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 68 min.
Price: $129.98
Release Date: 3/29/2011

Available Only as Part of the 14-Film “Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection”

• Audio Commentary with Author David Stuart Davies
• Introduction from Film Restorationist Robert Gitt
• Photo Galleries
• Trailers
• Footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Sherlock Holmes Faces Death: Sherlock Holmes - The Complete Collection (1943)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 26, 2011)

When it comes to strange movie titles, 1943’s Sherlock Holmes Faces Death deserves some attention. Doesn’t the famous sleuth usually face death in his adventures? It seems to me that mortal threats come with the gig, so what makes this one special?

I guess I’ll have to watch it to figure out what part of Holmes’ tale becomes extra-perilous. Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) helps wartime victims of shell shock at an English convalescent home. This takes place at Musgrave Manor, an abode with a dark, creepy reputation as a haunted location. When one of the doctors suffers a stab wound, Watson passes on the information to Holmes – and sets the detective on an attempt to find out the mystery of Musgrave Manor.

My first experience with World War II-era Sherlock Holmes came via 1942’s Voice of Terror. I thought that one played more like Allied propaganda than a good mystery, so I worried that subsequent efforts would fall into the same trap.

A few Death sequences come across that way, mostly in terms of the way it throws in the soldiers. At times the flick comes across like a public service announcement intended to educate the public on the woes of the shell-shocked vets. These scenes don’t fill much time, but they feel tacked on and gratuitous.

Otherwise, Death works pretty well, and it certainly feels more like a Holmes adventure than the muddled Voice did. Actually, Death delivers an experience that seems a bit more Christie than Doyle, as its structure would fit right in among old Agatha’s oeuvre. The vast majority of the movie takes place within the confines of Musgrave Manor, and we wonder who’ll get knocked off next as Holmes works on the solution.

This doesn’t mean the movie leaves the Holmes realm to a major degree, though, as it still portrays the sleuth in the expected manner. I definitely appreciated the film’s concentration of plot and not extraneous areas. That’s especially good given that it easily could’ve tacked on a romantic subplot ala Hound of the Baskervilles. Death includes a love affair between Sally Musgrave (Hillary Brooke) and American Captain Vickery (Milburn Stone), but this is more of a plot point than a diversion. To my relief, the film spends little time with them, and even then it does so to develop story areas, not to give sop to the ladies in the audience.

Despite the Christie feel, Death gives us a pretty traditional feel to Holmes and the others. He and Watson pair in the manner we expect – and enjoy – and we find delightful sparring between Holmes and Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey); of course, Holmes wins all those battles, but that’s the fun.

Does Death come with the tightest plot? No, but virtually all of the Holmes films suffer from some snarls, and those found here seem minor enough. The movie compensates with a nice creepiness that allows for a certain character not always found in these films; it nearly enters horror/thriller territory with a spooky raven, a clock that strikes 13 and other moody bits.

And yes, the film does live up to its title, as Holmes indeed “faces death” during one scene, so I find it hard to quibble about various areas. I could live without its very WWII-era coda, but that’s an easy flaw to forgive. Most of Death provides an entertaining mystery romp that becomes one of the better Rathbone Holmes flicks.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C-/ Audio C+/ Bonus NA

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Though the film received restoration at UCLA, the results seemed inconsistent and messy.

Print flaws offered the major distraction. From start to finish, quite a few defects became apparent. I saw examples of specks, lines, tears, nicks, scratches, blotches and blemishes across the movie’s 68 minutes. These varied in intensity but rarely vanished, so expect many of them.

Otherwise, this was a decent to good presentation. Sharpness was also somewhat inconsistent, as occasional shots looked a bit soft. Nonetheless, those were minor, and the majority of the movie demonstrated pretty nice delineation. It lacks edge haloes, jaggies or shimmering, and blacks looked good; they seemed dark and tight. Shadows were fairly solid, as they demonstrated generally nice smoothness, with only a few murky images. Without the print flaws, this would’ve been a fine presentation, but all the defects made it a “C-“.

I felt the movie’s monaural audio seemed perfectly fine for its era. Some lines appeared a bit brittle, but they were always intelligible and usually reasonably natural; while they could lean toward a tinny feel, that wasn’t a substantial issue.

Music wasn’t a major factor in the movie, but the score showed reasonable reproduction. While the music lacked much range, it wasn’t shrill or problematic. Effects seemed the same, as they appeared thin but acceptably accurate given their age. No problems with source flaws materialized, so don’t worry about noise or pops. All of this was good enough for a “C+” based on the movie’s age.

Because Death came as part of a 14-film, five-disc set, I didn’t give it a grade for bonus materials. The package spreads these across all of those platters, and only a few are film-specific, so I didn’t think it was fair to issue individual marks for extras.

We do find an audio commentary for Death. Author David Stuart Davies provides a running, screen-specific look at the ongoing series and the film’s place in it, story/script/adaptation issues, cast, characters and performances, sets, music, and props, and some period elements.

Like Davies’ commentary for Hound of the Baskervilles, this one occasionally sags. However, the slow moments occur less frequently, and Davies continues to deliver quite a lot of good information. He ensures an interesting and enjoyable chat.

Found on Disc One of this package, we get an Introduction by Robert Gitt. In this four-minute, 38-second piece, Gitt discusses the efforts that went into the restoration of the Universal Holmes flicks. Gitt gives us a good look at some of the challenges he and his team encountered.

Disc Five offers a few more bonus materials, and we find five Photo Galleries. Each one shows a running montage of stills accompanied by music; they run two minutes, 35 seconds apiece. We see posters and photos from the flicks. These are mildly interesting but not particularly memorable.

Next we discover a compilation of trailers. We locate promos for The Spider Woman, The Scarlet Claw, The Pearl of Death, House of Fear, Terror By Night and Dressed to Kill. They’re in awful shape, but they’re still fun to see.

Footage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes from a newsreel that appeared at the time of his death. This one-minute, 16-second clip gives us a little of Doyle as he talks about his work on the series. He doesn’t tell us much, but it’s nice to have a look at the man behind the legend.

With a spooky setting and a concise mystery plot, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death turns into a winning tale. It comes with the usual fine performances from its leads and a particularly brisk, involving story to keep us with it. The Blu-ray offers flawed visuals and acceptable audio as well as a useful audio commentary. I wish the presentation impressed me more, but at least I like the movie a lot.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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