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The House of Fear back to product details

Sherlock Holmes, as written by Agatha Christie
written by Saroz February 22, 2005 - 11:52 PM PST
...At least, that's certainly how it feels! This, the tenth Holmes/Watson film to feature Rathbone and Bruce, and the eighth by Universal, takes more than a page from the grand dame of mystery. Although ostensibly credited as being based on the Conan Doyle Holmes tale "The Five Orange Pips," the film owes a far greater debt to Christie's "Ten Little Indians" (aka "And Then There Were None"). In fact, it's basically little more than the Christie story retold with a Conan Doyle plot device at its core - and, strangely enough, the ultimate solution seems to have been lifted from a different, equally famous Christie novel! It's a bit odd to watch, a little like experiencing an alternate universe Sherlock Holmes, because this so clearly the territory of a detective more like Christie's own Hercule Poirot - but that doesn't stop it being entertaining.

Yes, the Universal series has started to dip a little bit in quality again (after a string of three excellent entries), but only just. Rathbone and Bruce still keep it fun, as always, and it's one of the very rare films in the series to qualify as a whodunnit murder mystery. Yet you can make a pretty good stab at the solution well before the end, and the curious element to the murders (which, of course, only Holmes notices) is blindingly obvious. At least it all makes a sort of skewed sense.

Unfortunately, we're trapped in yet another pseudo-Gothic situation, in an ancestral home sans any modern luxuries but a sour-faced housekeeper. Delightful, or at least it would be if it hadn't been done several times already. Even more unfortunate is the fact that Nigel Bruce's Watson is called upon to be still more of a dunderhead than usual, and Dennis Hoey's Inspector Lestrade is there to make even Watson look bright.

I am, perhaps, being a little over-critical; don't get me wrong, I certainly enjoyed the movie, and I think it's a good entry in the series. If you just want to see one or two films from the series, however, this is not the title for you. It works best seen in the overall context of the fourteen Rathbone and Bruce films; in other words, it's a film for the fans.

On the point of the odd plot alone, I wouldn't recommend this one to the casual viewer. Sadly, however, this is also the worst-looking of the films yet (having seen the previous nine, including the two Fox entries). I'm sure the UCLA Archive did what it could, but it's clear they didn't have all of the original 35mm elements at their disposal. Several shots are a little soft and grainy, most especially obvious in dissolve transitions, and that sometimes extends as far as whole scenes. The film simply lacks the sharp, crisp look of most of the others ("The Scarlet Claw" has a few problems too), and it's for this reason I've downgraded my rating from a 7 to a 6.

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, or you want to see all of the famous series, you'll definitely want to at least give "The House of Fear" a rent. If you're purchasing, I seriously recommend MPI's "Sherlock Holmes Collection: Volume Two," where you'll also get the three previous, better entries. If you're new to Sherlockiana, though, or even just the Rathbone incarnation, try some of the others first: "The Hound of the Baskervilles," "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," "The Spider Woman," and "The Pearl of Death" are my top choices.


(Average 7.33)
12 Votes
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