Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in “The Pearl of Death” (1944) – reviewed by George

Giles Conover (Miles Mander) is a master criminal, pulling off successful heists as easily as
indulging expensive tastes. His confederates are Naomi Drake (Evelyn Ankers) and The Hoxton Creeper (Rondo Hatton). Naomi, on a ship docking in England in fifteen minutes, slips into the cabin of a courier for the Royal Regent Museum and steals from its secure hiding place The Borgia Pearl, one of the largest pearls known. She relocks the door and convinces an elderly clergyman with a familiar voice to carry her little package ashore, then drops the key she used overboard. On shore she recovers the package, only to discover later with Giles that she has been fooled – the pearl is not there.
In the museum during normal hours of exhibition the director is showing Holmes (Basil Rathbone), Watson (Nigel Bruce), and Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) his touted security methods. The Borgia Pearl has been placed under a glass bell jar on a bed of satin, and a turned key locks the apparatus. One of the trio suggests this is no defense at all for someone with a brick. The director explains that the locked jar is not the security system, and he unlocks the safety catch and asks Watson to take the pearl. Watson lifts the bell jar – nothing happens. He lifts the pearl and all hell breaks loose – metal walls come down shutting all the doors and windows, and alarms screech with ear-splitting volume. Holmes, however, is monumentally unimpressed, even lip-curlingly contemptuous. “Electricity!” he sneers. “The high priest of false security!”
In the director’s office minutes later, Holmes proves his point by finding and disconnecting the electrical lines to the security system. And Giles, who has been tailing the group around in the guise of a museum worker and listening at the door, takes the pearl and leaves. Embarrassed much?
Now Holmes has to find Conover and retrieve the pearl, and also solve a string of murders where each victim’s back is broken, and the body is found in a room full of broken crockery. Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Six Napoleons” (recently transmogrified as “The Six Thatchers” by the Cumberbatch-Freeman group), this version is made unique by the Hoxton Creeper. Holmes says the Creeper is responsible for the murders, but Lestrade keeps insisting that the man is dead. Holmes counters that the strength required to break a man’s back is unusual enough, but that it is always broken at the third lumbar vertebra, makes a tight case for the Creeper being still alive. Now Holmes must visit “G. Gelder, Ornamental Plasterer” and “Amos Hodder’s Art Shop” on Kensington Road. Harry Cording plays Gelder, and Ian Wolfe plays Hodder.
Mary Gordon appears briefly as Mrs. Hudson, and once again Bertram Millhauser is the screenwriter and Roy William Neill is the director.
Rondo Hatton, who plays the Hoxton Creeper, fought in the First World War and was gassed, which doctors said was the cause of his late-onset acromegaly, a disease which causes growth, frequently unsymmetrical, of the facial bones, and the bones of the hands and feet. The question has been asked, “Who then exploited Hatton’s deformity? Universal Studio or Hatton himself?” I don’t like the question, and I think the answer is unimportant. It’s hard to argue against the fact that everybody benefited. Hatton played The Creeper (not the Hoxton Creeper) two more times, in “The Brute Man” and “House of Horrors”, both released in 1946.

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