"Come along, Watson. We haven't a moment to waste. I only hope we shan't be too late!"
Mar 10, 2011
Sherlock Holmes, who was born January 6, 1854, came out of retirement in 1942, at the request of Universal Pictures, to pursue WWII arch criminals who had been threatening Britain and frightening aristocratic young women.
Now 88, Holmes uses a substance much like Botox, with hair dye and a high fiber diet, to maintain that familiar appearance so many have commented on, to his intense irritation, as resembling the actor Basil Rathbone. He is, as always, aided by his companion, Dr. John Watson, now 90, and resembling Nigel Bruce. Watson over the years preferred to inject himself with monkey gland extracts from Switzerland to maintain an active but confused middle age.
In Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, Holmes will confront one of the most dastardly of plots, with murder employed as a careless tool to achieve unspeakably selfish ends. It concerns the Musgrave Manor, a hulking, ancient mansion of hidden passages and dank crypts, where the time is always midnight and the weather is always howling winds and rain. Now the manor is used as a convalescent center for shell-shocked British officers. Watson volunteered to supervise their care.
"What is this Musgrave Manor? A blinkin' prison?" says a sailor near closing time at The Rat and The Raven Pub. It's 1942 in wartime England.
"That ain't the worst it's been called, not that I'm one for speedin' stories, heh, heh, but we knows what we knows," says the publican.
"Where is this Musgrave Manor?"
"Down the road apiece. You'll see it when you pass the old iron gates. Only don't loiter. You won't be welcome, not by the Musgraves. They've been sittin' there, lords of the manor, since time was. If those old walls could speak they'd tell you things that'd raise the ‘airs on yer ‘ead."
And then there is The Musgrave Ritual, the recitation of ancient lines that must be spoken by the next heir of the Musgraves. How does it go? Oh yes…" "Where shall he go? Deep down below. Away from the thunder, let him dig under..." Before long young, attractive Sally Musgrave is reciting the ritual amidst moving shadows and flashing lightening. Outside, the echoing trees are pulled by a howling wind...a wind that slams open shutters and wreaks havoc amongst the drapes.
Sally Musgrave's elder brother has just been murdered. Her other brother has become head of the Musgraves. And Dr. Watson has called on Holmes to come to the manor and solve what appears to be an unsolvable and deadly mystery. Who is the hand behind it all? One of the twitchy officers? The doctor assisting Watson? The irritable housekeeper? The tipsy butler? We know this is far too complex for Inspector Lestrade. And then Holmes discovers that the ritual disguises a chess game only the bravest would want to play, with death or riches as the outcome.
It takes Holmes only 68 minutes in movie time, in this MPI release nicely restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive, to remind ourselves that nostalgia is everything it is cracked up to be and that Sherlock Holmes, even at 88 but looking good, will always be The Great Detective.
And so the ingeniously complex Musgrave Ritual is deciphered, the most ruthless murderer in England is unmasked, and Sally Musgrave is saved from a terrible fate. "Amazing, Holmes!" says John Watson. "Elementary, my dear Watson," says Sherlock Holmes.
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