The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

1939 movie

If you haven’t seen it:

adventures-of-sherlock-holmes-posterThe Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was the second movie to star the legendary Basil Rathbone as Holmes. It is usually regarded as the best of the series.

Do you need to have seen the first one – “The Hound of the Baskervilles” – to enjoy this one? Good question – thank you for asking – no you do not. Despite the fact that this movie begins by referencing an earlier case, this is not a sequel, and the other case was not in the first movie.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes introduces Professor Moriarty, an evil genius who is Holmes’s nemesis. Holmes and Watson engage in a battle of wits with Professor Moriarty, in a story about murder, diamonds, flute players, and albatrosses.

If you have seen it:

Scroll down past the trailer for more.


Click below to watch scenes from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and other movies in the series:
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SPOILER ALERT: The plot summary and comments below contain details that might spoil your enjoyment of the movie if you have not already seen it.



“That’s right Watson, I’ve never had a violin lesson in my life”

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes begins with Holmes’s archenemy, Professor Moriarty, being acquitted on a charge of murder due to lack of evidence. Holmes bursts into the courtroom, with the evidence, just too late. Moriarty is released, and he tells Holmes that he plans to ruin his reputation by committing a crime so devious that Holmes will be unable to solve it.

Later Holmes and Watson are visited at 221b Baker Street by Ann Brandon. She tells them that her brother Lloyd has received a strange note – a drawing of a man with a sea-bird hanging around his neck. It is the same as one received by her father ten years earlier, just before his brutal murder. Holmes visits the Natural History Museum, and identifies the bird as an albatross. This makes him think the drawing is a reference to The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, and is therefore a threat after all. He rushes to find Lloyd Brandon to warn him, but is too late – Lloyd has been murdered.

When Ann herself then receives a similar note, Holmes vows to protect her. He follows her to a garden party disguised as a music-hall entertainer, and he saves her life when she is attacked by a South American using a bolas. This South American turns out to be an old enemy of her father’s, and he reveals that it was in fact Moriarty who persuaded him to seek his revenge in this way.

Holmes realises that the murders are a diversion – Moriarty is actually planning to steal the Crown Jewels. The professor has shaved off his beard and disguised himself as one of the policemen guarding the jewels. Holmes rushes to the Tower of London to prevent the crime, and catches the professor in the act. They fight, and Moriarty falls from the tower to his death.


“What sort of school text-book is it Holmes?” “Elementary my dear Watson”


Steve Sunday Says:

Even if you haven’t seen The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, you probably recognize the image of Basil Rathbone in his deerstalker hat. You also probably know someone who frequently tells you that Rathbone was the definitive Holmes, and if you live in my neighborhood, it is probably me. I used to love these old movies when I was growing up, and every other Holmes movie I have seen since then has never felt quite right. I have mentioned this many times with reference to the recent Guy Richie / Robert Downey Jnr movies – I think RDJ is great, he just doesn’t look like Sherlock Holmes to me.


The final of the 1939 Smug Git of the Year competition was a closely fought contest

So it was with some excitement that, for the purposes of this review, I sat down to watch The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes again, after all those years. I have to say, I was a little disappointed – the plot seemed silly, Moriarty was quite ridiculous, Rathbone seemed wooden, and worst of all Holmes seemed rather stupid and ineffectual. The low point was when Holmes was pratting about in the Natural History Museum excitedly identifying an albatross (why? to determine that his client was being threatened after all!) while the person he was supposed to be protecting was taking a stroll alone in the dark, through a foggy murderer-infested park.

Half way through the movie I was thinking I was going to have to go round everyone I have ever met and apologize to them for banging on about Basil Rathbone for all these years. Luckily for me though, the second half of the movie was a lot better than the first. Moriarty lost the silly beard, the spooky flute player was genuinely creepy, Watson was genuinely funny, and Holmes seemed more like I remembered him – by the end he was fully deerstalkered up, racing through London’s smog, and chasing the villain through the dark corridors of the Tower of London to a dramatic orchestral score.

So maybe I won’t go round and apologize after all. My confidence has been shaken though – I am now starting to wonder if Tom Baker really was the best Doctor Who? Maybe I should watch Genesis of the Daleks again, just to be sure.



Trivia Trish Says:

Basil Rathbone made 14 films as Sherlock Holmes. Most of them did not follow Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. Furthermore, only the first two were set in the correct turn-of-the-century period. The others were set in contemporary London of the 1940s, often against the backdrop of World War II.

Main Cast and Crew:

Basil Rathbone … Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce … Dr. Watson
Ida Lupino … Ann Brandon
George Zucco … Prof. Moriarty

Director: Alfred L. Werker

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