Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in “Terror by Night” (1946) – reviewed by George

More claustrophobic than “Pursuit to Algiers”, which took place on a small ship, here the audience is pretty much confined with the actors in a single railroad car with a number of cabins.
The movie actually begins with a prologue about The Star of Rhodesia, one of the world’s largest diamonds: 700 carats before it was cut into its present largess: 423 carats. Also, all those who have possessed it have met sudden and violent deaths.
Then we see a business, “Mock and Son, Carpenters and Coffin Makers”. Mock is played by Harry Cording and Son is played by Bobby Wissler. The Narrator: “Our story opens in London within the sound of Bow Bells.” Or, as the caption has it, “within the sound of (unintelligible).”
A beautiful young woman, Vivian Vedder (Renee Godfrey), perhaps a trifle flashy, is approving the finished product: her mother’s coffin. The coffin must be delivered to the undertaker’s in time for the arrangement of the body before it goes by the Scottish Express from Euston Station for burial in Scotland. Or as the caption says, “the Scotch Express from Uston Station”.
Nice touch: “Son”, who is about 13, stares open-mouthed at Vivian for almost the entire scene. She smiles at Mock. “Rather a nuisance, traveling by train. Ain’t it?”
Now we see the young woman in mourning black – but a very sexy, lacy black with rhinestones – on the platform, where Mr Roland Carstairs (Geoffrey Steele) finds Holmes (Rathbone) waiting for Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce). Carstairs says he can explain why he has asked Holmes to be there, but Holmes tells him first. Roland is amazed until Holmes explains his reasoning, namely that Roland’s mother, Lady Margaret Carstairs (Mary Forbes) who owns the Star of Rhodesia, came down from Edinburgh with the jewel in order to wear it at a reception at Buckingham Palace, and an attempt must have been made to steal it, so they want Holmes along on the journey home to protect the stone. Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) shows up laden with fishing gear, and when Holmes greets him, he is quite startled to see Holmes there. Watson arrives with an old friend, Major Duncan-Bleek of the 4th Indian Regiment (Alan Mowbray), and other passengers in the various cabins of the car are: a suspicious middle-aged couple, Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Shallcross (Gerald Hamer and Janet Murdoch), Professor William Kilbane (Frederic Worlock), and of course Vivian.
In the course of the train trip there will be a few murders, the theft of the Star, Holmes’s declaration that Colonel Sebastian Moran is on the train, the introduction of a small and sinister aide to Moran (Billy Bevan), and an attempt on Holme’s life by shoving him off the moving train.
Directed by Roy William Neill, with a Screenplay by Frank Gruber, based on a Doyle story, this is another good entry in the Rathbone-Bruce collection. One question for you to ponder: what (or who) do you think is in the coffin with the dead woman? A duplicate stone for substitution? A gun that fires darts? Or one of the characters?

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