Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Pearl Of Death (1944)

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Evelyn Ankers, Miles Mander
Directed by Roy William Neill
(actor & director credits courtesy IMDB.com)

Holmes tangles with the clever Giles Conover, a skilled thief who's after the famed Borgia Pearl and employs a savage henchman who breaks the backs of his victims.

One of the best of the Universal Holmes pictures, this entry adapts the familiar tale of Conan Doyle's The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons, but adds several winning elements to expand the tale and heighten Mander's villainy, including the idea of masking his crimes by smashing fine china around some crucial clues, and taking advantage of a rare gaffe by Rathbone's Holmes.  Bertram Millhauser's screenplay also works in a number of the more amusing routines Bruce's Watson had to work with in the series.  Although many of the Universal films had fine supporting casts, this one's particularly special, including Mander, Hoey as Inspector Lestrade, Ankers as Mander's adept female accomplice, and Rondo Hatton as the brutish henchman.  Hatton was probably never as well utilized in a film as he is in this one, kept off camera for most of the film, with Virgil Miller's photography building his menace by capturing his fearsome silhouette.  I also shouldn't forget Neill's strong guiding hand here, whose tight focus on the mystery makes it a very entertaining one.

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