Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes in “The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes’s Greatest Case” (1932) – reviewed by George

One-legged Jonathan Small (Graham Soutten) is serving a life sentence in a military prison in the Andaman Islands. But he appeals to the commanders of the prison, Major Sholto and Captain Morstan (Herbert Lomas and Edgar Norfolk) to give him a chance to escape if he tells them where the jewels he stole are hidden in Agra. The term “A quarter of a million pounds” is bandied about and Small sneers that the pearls alone are worth more than that. Still, he will give them up for a chance to escape. The deal is cut, and when the two officers find the treasure Morstan withdraws a long string of pearls and gold fever hits. They fight and Sholto murders Morstan, who is now listed as “missing”. Sholto reneges on the deal and Small stays in prison.
Years later in London Sholto reads a newspaper story stating that two desperate criminals have escaped from the Andaman Islands prison: Jonathan Small and Meade Bailey. The old man is consumed by fear, and begins to hear the walk of a one-legged man. He sends a servant for his sons and stumbles over to the window to open the curtain. Nothing there. Bartholomew (Kynaston Reeves) and Thaddeus (Miles Malleson) burst in and their father tells them the story: he is a thief and a murderer and restitution must be made. Morstan had a daughter, Mary (Isla Bevan), who now owns a florist’s ship in the West End; give her the pearls which I keep here in this room, and then give her a third of the rest of the remaining treasure, not already spent to put the Sholto family in its current elevated position. Again he hears Small’s characteristic walk; he rushes to the window and opens the curtain. There is Small, completely relaxed and not even snarling, just there. Major Sholto falls dead of s heart attack, having blocked the view of Small from his sons, and not having told them where the remaining treasure is hidden, beyond the house it is in and the fact that it is “upstairs”.
Small and Bailey (Roy Emerton) are holed up, and Small is tattooing Bailey, almost over his entire body. Bailey is wearing a type of underwear that extends from waist to mid-thigh, but every other inch of his body, excepting neck and hands and feet, is decorated. Small dresses nattily to do an errand, and tells Bailey to “Look out for Little Tonga” (Togo).
Mary receives the pearls and a letter promising more of her “rightful heritage”  from “a well-meaning friend”. She has a safe, but it is in the back of her shop, somewhat visible to customers. In her office, however, is a closet containing a built-in lockable drawer, and it is here that she places the pearls. Next she receives another letter which asks her to come to the Sholto home for more information. She is allowed to bring two friends, but no police. She goes to Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner) to ask him to be one of her friends, and of course Dr. Watson (Ian Hunter) will be the other. Ian Hunter is the best Watson so far: good-looking, affable, intelligent (even if he can’t see how Holmes’s deductions are made), and quite attentive to and protective of Mary. At the end of Doyle’s novel Watson marries her. There is also the exchange we know so well: Watson says, “Amazing!” and Homes replies “No, elementary, my dear Watson, elementary”. This happens several times, but at the end of the film the comments are reversed, and it is delightful.
This is an excellent Holmes film, skillfully working the gist of an entire novel into a 71 minute movie. One note: Lestrade is not present, but Holmes calls in a young police officer named Athelney Jones; for some reason in the film he is called “Atherly” Jones (played by Gilbert Davis).
Directed by Graham Cutts from a Screen Play by W.P. Lipscomb, this is a Holmes movie that fully deserves seeking out.

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