Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes in “Silver Blaze” (1937) – reviewed by George

This is the Holmes case with “the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime”. It is also our final glimpse of Arthur Wontner in the lead role, and so it is sad that the script flails about so wildly and so differently from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle. I suppose the temptation to squeeze Moriarty into the plot was irresistible, but it is not a positive move.
Both the story and this film deal with the theft of the favorite for the Wessex Cup (Silver Blaze, named for the blaze of white down the middle of his face) and the murder of one of his stable boys and his trainer. The original revolves around an adulterous man whose mistress has expensive tastes. This film revolves around Moriarty accepting a client who stands to lose his betting business if Silver Blaze wins.
The basic cast is the one we (or least I) have come to know and appreciate: Wontner as Holmes, Ian Fleming as Dr. Watson, Minnie Rayner as Mrs. Hudson, and Lyn Harding as Moriarty. Inspector Lestrade has been played by a different actor in each Wontner film; here he is played by John Turnbull. But in the story it’s Inspector Gregory.
Story: Holmes has read about the crimes in all the papers and has formed some ideas, so invites Watson to accompany him to Dartmoor to meet with Gregory and discuss the case.
Film: Holmes is invited to spend some time in Dartmoor at the home of Sir Henry Baskerville (Lawrence Grossmith), who reminds Holmes that the matter of the Hound occurred just twenty years ago. Holmes learns of the case after arriving at Baskerville Hall. Sir Henry’s daughter Diana (Judy Gunn) is quite anxious to meet Holmes, and her finance Jack Trevor (Arthur Macrae) is a follower of horse-racing.
The film was produced at Twickenham Studios and the credits begin “Twickenham Film Distribution Presents”. There is an American cut of the film called “Murder at the Baskervilles”, which opens “Astor Pictures Corp. Presents”. I watched the British version which is approximately 4 minutes longer, even though I did check out the beginning of the American version, and there are clips there that do not appear in the British version. Okay, the film is not that bad; I just wasn’t very happy with it. The direction by Thomas Bentley is fine, it’s the adaptation by H. Fowler Mear that left me definitely underwhelmed. After all, Doyle’s story is really well-thought-out and enjoyable, and it doesn’t need Moriarty, even in the fine portrayal of Lyn Harding.
Just read the story.
Addendum: I am always more ready to believe the film than reference works which describe it, and I apparently have fallen prey to my prejudices. Both cuts I saw said “Copyright 1941”, and while the film “Murder at the Baskervilles” was released in America in January of 1941, the original film “Silver Blaze” was released in England in 1937, which is how I had identified it in my chronological listing of Holmes cinema. Nice to know at least that I did not place Basil Rathbone (first S.H. film 1939) in the wrong order. Next week his debut Holmes film “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. And I have changed the date above from 1941 to 1937.

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