Stoll Picture Productions Ltd. made these two half-hour films and others under the umbrella title “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes from the Stories of Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle”. William J. Elliott wrote both scenarios, and Eille Norwood and Hubert Willis play Holmes and Watson in both. And Mdme. D’Esterre is Mrs. Hudson in both.
“The Dying Detective” opens with Watson hurriedly packing to catch a train and Sherlock left to ponder a note he has written to himself: “The Case of Victor Savage – Died of an obscure Asiatic fever (Doyle called it a “coolie disease from Sumatra”). How did he contact this in London? Culverton Smith is an expert on Asiatic poisons and comes into 10,000 pounds when Savage dies (very suspicious). NB Adopt disguise and…”
Culverton Smith (Cecil Humphreys) sends Holmes an anonymous package, which Holmes opens, to find an ornamental box inside. He then plays with the box using tweezers and other tools. When the box opens, a needle is suddenly projected right where your finger should be. Holmes samples the material on the needle for analysis. Then Holmes sets a trap for Smith, but Smith, after falling in, springs one last surprise on Holmes. How Holmes still wins is the best part of the story.
Willis, Humphreys, and J.R. Tozer as Smith’s manservant, are all good, and while Norwood seems to have been considered an especially good Holmes in the nineteen-twenties, to me, despite his slight resemblance to the illustrations of Holmes by Frederic Dorr Steele, he is only acceptable. The best acting here is by Mdme. D’Esterre, who makes a wonderfully fluttery Mrs. Hudson. Of course I might be forced to change my mind about Norwood if his voice could be heard.
Also the title cards within the film are very hard to read at the edges; in one case the word “to”, which is in the upper right-hand corner, has to be imagined by context. And overall the words blink like dying neon. The score is very good and features a gamut of types of music: British, Asian, marches, sprightly dance tunes, and even a waltz or two.
“The Man with the Twisted Lip” deals with the misadventures of a married couple, the St. Clairs, who live in suburban London (SW). But it starts with a letter to Dr. Watson from a Kate Witney, who pleads with Watson to rescue her husband from that terrible den once again. Watson goes to the opium den, finds Mr Witney, and then is told by a stranger to send Witney home alone – so they can talk. It is Holmes in disguise. Back at Baker Street Holmes removes his elaborate disguise in full closeup, and then settles down to tell Watson what he was doing at an opium den. Holmes tells of a beggar in Piccadilly Circus who is deformed and called the Man with the Twisted Lip (we see a man with an arm stuck fast against his body, a crippled leg, and a deformed face), and of a Mr. Neville St. Clair, a most respectable gentleman who is “something in the city” (we see a happy suburban family at breakfast: father, mother, young daughter, younger son. As daddy leaves. a kiss for the girl, a hug for the boy, a wave for the wife), and Holmes says, “Yesterday Mr. St. Clair left his suburban home to go to business as usual. He promised his son that he would have his toy tram repaired.” We see more goodbyes: a hug for the girl, a kiss for the boy, and a kiss for the wife. Holmes: “During the day Mrs. St. Clair received a telegram.” The telegram is from the Aberdeen Steam Ship Comp. saying that a small parcel intrusted (sic) to one of our Captains awaits you in this office. And she is instructed to “Please call in person”. Holmes: “Late in the afternoon Mrs. St. Clair went to the docks in answer to the wire.” Now we see her from inside an entry room as she stands outside and checks the address. She enters and looks up. Through a dirty window on the second floor she sees a curtain with a hole in it and the Man with the Twisted Lip looking through. Then another man stands up beside him, and they both (I thought) sit down. However, Mrs. St. Clair has seen her husband being murdered by Mr. Twisted Lip. She screams out and rushes upstairs where two women seem to be sitting where the men were. I think the men had actually been further along in the room where another window seems to be located. At any rate she is grabbed and taken downstairs and then shoved away from the stairs. She sees two coppers who have been attracted by the noise and gets them to take her back upstairs where they find 1) the parcel, which contains the toy tram!, 2) St. Clair’s clothes, 3) a finger mark in blood on the window sill (Mr. Twisted Lip shows the cut on his thumb, in an effort to prove it is his finger mark and blood). Then outside they find 4) St. Clair’s overcoat in the river mud behind the street (a better throw would have cleared the mud and got the coat into the water), with the pockets weighted down with coppers (pennies). Considering that the large amount of pennies had to come from the beggar, Holmes concludes that he killed St. Clair and tried to get rid of the coat. Holmes ends by telling Watson that the beggar was arrested for the murder, and the building where the murder took place also houses the opium den where the story started, so that is why Holmes was there, looking for clues to what became of Mr. St. Clair’s body since its disappearance yesterday, all because he has accepted a commission from Mrs. St. Clair to find her husband’s body.
At this point I was sure Holmes was just stringing Watson along, since I (and I’m sure you as well, dear reader) had another, much better solution. As Holmes begins to play the violin he says that the only thing he cannot elucidate is the motive. Then Mrs. St. Clair arrives, elated at a letter she has received from her husband….
This is a better tale than “The Dying Detective” and the print is also superior. The best acting is by the St. Clairs (Robert Vallis and Paulette del Baye), del Baye particularly. She plays distraught very well, without ever overplaying it. About Mr. Twisted Lip the best that can be said is that he grimaces well.
There are still some unanswered question here, even after my multiple viewings and close attention to the cards. So maybe instead of trying to find this DVD you should look for the book that contains the story: “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”.
At this point in our journey through “Sherlock on Film” I think the best Sherlock has been Spot the Dog. And that my most enjoyable Sherlock has been Douglas Fairbanks in his parody role. But then we still have 95 years-worth to look at and either love or hate. Here’s to a good trip!