Along the foggy streets of Old London Town, Sherlock Holmes must unravel his archival Moriartys challenge of an unsolvable case. It soon becomes clear that all is not what it seems. The game is afoot
The second case for Rathbone’s classic incarnation of Arthur Conan-Doyle’s big-brained detective was still set in the appropriate — if pleasingly clichéd — lamppost lit London of 1894. The following adventures were to fast-forward to the ‘20s, somewhat polluting the formula by replacing the carriages and walking sticks with revolvers and car chases. And here, also, the chiding relationship between an arch Holmes and his dogged sidekick Dr. Watson (Bruce) was less about comic interludes than thoughtfully dismantling what transpires to be two cases for the price of one.
At the opening, Holmes has narrowly missed convicting the dastardly Moriarty (played without the later theatricals by Zucco) and in a taut cab-ride from the court the great foes draw intellectual swords for the ensuing muddle of clues and red herrings. Moriarty’s fiendish plan is to throw the detective off the scent by concocting a false plot, while he attempts to steal an emerald from the Crown Jewels. Thus Holmes becomes embroiled with a murder mystery imperilling a beautiful young woman. Given his tendency to offer assistance foremost to the fairer sex, he is naturally diverted.
A little creaky in its bones, the action is delivered in rash plumes of melodrama, but there is still a definitive air to Rathbone’s swaggering genius and director Werker attends to all the required intricacies with due diligence. It’s a marvel how developed a plot, struck through with comedy and peril, a straight-up entertainment used to be able to muster. Even though it was only based on a stageplay by William Gillette (and not an actual Conan-Doyle story), this still stands as one of the finest Holmes’ incarnations put to screen.
Rathbone is his usual delightfully swaggering Holmesian self and the story, although not one of Conan Doyle's, stands up to cinema requirements