The villagers of the tiny hamlet of La Morte Rouge (Canada) are terrified; a legendary glowing monster has reappeared, flitting through the nearby fog shrouded marshes, sheep have been found dead, their throats cut. The body of Lady Penrose is discovered in the village church, her hand clutching the bell-pull, her neck ripped open. Meanwhile Lord Penrose is addressing a meeting of the Royal Canadian Occult Society and to our surprise Holmes and Watson are in attendance, the meeting is called to a halt when Lord Penrose hears of his wife's death, Holmes offers his help which Lord Penrose declines. But a letter delivered to Holmes and Watson written by Lady Penrose before her death, expressing a vague fear for her life and pleading with him to come to the village. Holmes and Watson instantly cancel their plans to return to London. "Consider the tragic irony: we've accepted a commission from a victim to find her murderer. For the first time we've been retained by a corpse".
Spoilers follow ...
- Sherlock Holmes: The Scarlet Claw review by NP
(0) of (0) members found this review helpful.
You rated this film: 4
Opening with mist-shrouded streets and the sound of the church bell mournfully ringing through the night, we are introduced to the character of Potts (Gerald Hamer), who makes his way through a wonderfully atmospheric Inn, full of smoky wide-eyed locals and superstitious townsfolk. When Potts speaks, it is with that familiarly conflicting mixture of Received Pronunciation and cockney, Universal films’ gleeful interpretation of how working class fellows enunciate.
This is directed by Roy William Neil, who oversaw ‘Frankenstein meets the Wolfman’ two years earlier. He was, and would remain, the man behind the Universal Sherlock Holmes series starring the unsurpassable Basil Rathbone as the shrewd investigator, and Nigel Bruce as Watson, whose occasional drifting into the befuddled realms of buffoonery has caused his interpretation to meet with mixed reactions. My views on Bruce are far more favourable – he does what he does exceedingly well, and is a vital identification figure for an audience to whom Holmes is too distant to relate to. If Watson was more the equal of Holmes, then we wouldn’t see the softer more humorous side to the great detective that proved so pivotal to these films’ success. The affection between the two leads is a definite highpoint.
There are a couple of minor oddities about this production. In one scene, Sherlock is putting on his coat, but only manages to get one arm into the sleeve, with the majority of the unfurling scene spent with the coat flapping behind him. Also, the ending features Holmes soliloquising; Watson interrupts to ask whom he is quoting. After replying ‘Churchill,’ Holmes clearly continues his speech, but his words are muted and he quickly fades away as the end credits roll in. Strange.
Of all the films in this series, this is saturated with the Universal horror treatment more than any other. Gruesome murders, rich performances, frightened butlers, and at the heart of it, a good old fashioned whodunit. When we find out who in fact has ‘done it’, the results are mixed – the actor in question isn’t really strong enough to adequately convey the necessary evil relish that befits the nature of his actions. And also, a few cheats have been employed to ensure we would never guess the killer’s identity. However, the whole exercise is carried out with such atmospheric expertise, by a cast and crew now adept at such murky horror trappings (as well as moments of reused music from their Frankenstein/Mummy series), that the results are impossible not to thoroughly enjoy.