Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sherlock Holmes in "Pearl of Death" (1944)

I have to say this is one of my favorite films of the series and is based on the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons".  Pearl of Death begins on board a ship with the theft of an expensive jewel, the Borgia Pearl.  The pearl is stolen by a member of a gang of international jewel thieves, Naomi Drake (Evelyn Ankers).  Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) then cleverly acquires possession of the pearl from the thief only to have it stolen again, due to Holmes's carelessness, by another member of the gang Giles Conover (Miles Mander) as it is being displayed at the Royal Regent Museum. 

As Holmes begins to collect evidence and clues as to the whereabouts of the criminals he also connects a string of murders, with smashed china and bric-a-brac at the scenes, to the disappearance of the jewel getting Holmes, Watson (Nigel Bruce), and Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) closer to solving the mystery. 

As the investigation progresses Holmes finds that he is also up against another Scotland Yard foe the Hoxton Creeper (Rondo Hatton), whose signature method of killing is breaking people's backs.  According to MPI's promotional info, Hatton didn't have to spend much time in Universal makeup master Jack Pierce's chair for this film.  That time was reserved for Rathbone who uses two disguises, Mander who also dons two different disguises, and Ankers who sports three different disguises throughout the film, making her a bit more deceptive than our beloved Holmes. 

This was the seventh Sherlock Holmes film released by Universal, but the ninth film in the series, the first two The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) being released by Twentieth Century Fox.  Nigel Bruce is at his grumbling best as Dr John Watson and cleverly, but respectfully, exchanges barbs and wisecracks with Holmes and Lestrade throughout the film to lighten the mood a bit.  In one scene he tests his powers of deduction when he tries to locate a newspaper clipping that mysteriously disappears.  Hatton is as creepy as ever as the Creeper, or as Lestrade calls him "the 'Oxton 'Orror".  Miles Mander appeared in another Holmes film, The Scarlet Claw (1944) as one of the victims "Judge Brisson", as well as other films including Wuthering Heights (1939), Phantom of the Opera (1943), and Murder, My Sweet (1944). 

This film was a bit of a change for Ankers who usually played the victim rather than the villain.  Earlier in 1944 Ankers appeared in one of Universal's Inner Sanctum Thrillers, The Weird Woman, as well as in The Invisible Man's Revenge, and of course The Wolfman in (1941).  She also appeared as Kitty in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942).  Roy William Neill directed The Pearl of Death along with several other films in the series including Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945), Sherlock Holmes in Terror by Night (1946), and Sherlock Holmes in Dressed to Kill (1946).

Great film, one of the best of the series.  A must see for any Sherlock Holmes fan.


  1. "Pearl of Death" is indeed a dandy picture. In my eyes, Roy William Neil could do no wrong.

  2. PEARL OF DEATH is probably my third favorite of the contemporary Holmes pics (#1 is THE SCARLET CLAW). PEARL is quite entertaining, with Hatton a fine addition as well as Ms. Ankers (whom I've always liked). Great choice for a post!

  3. Hi guys -

    Yeah, this film definitely stands out as one of the better films of the lot. If you like Roy William Neill's work checkout TCM on September 21, they're showing "Black Moon" and "Whirlpool" both from 1934.