A deucedly fiendish tale of murderous greed. Thank goodness we have Sherlock Holmes
Apr 20, 2011
"Murder," says Sherlock Holmes to his friend, Dr. John Watson, "is an insidious thing. Once a man has dipped his fingers in blood, sooner or later he'll feel the urge to kill again."
"Good gracious me," says Watson.
High on the lip of a Scottish cliff overlooking the crashing sea sits Drearcliffe, a grim stone mansion where, says the legend, no man ever goes whole to his grave. Seven more or less elderly men live there, the members of the Good Comrades Club. The host and fellow member, the owner of Drearcliffe and a most cordial, even innocent and trusting man, is Bruce Alistair. He was quite enthusiastic when someone he can't remember, he tells Sherlock Holmes, suggested each member of the club take out an insurance policy with all the other members listed as beneficiaries. The last man alive, of course, will be very wealthy.
When one of the seven men, sitting at dinner, receives an envelope with seven orange seeds, no one thinks twice. Hours later the man is murdered, done to a crisp in a horrible automobile crash. The next night, another member of the club receives another envelope, this time with six seeds. He's found later at the base of the cliff, so mangled that only his cuff links can identify him. Soon Drearcliffe becomes The House of Fear.
At this point, the insurance company calls in Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone). Soon, he and Watson (Nigel Bruce) are in Scotland and have secured invitations to stay at Drearcliffe. As gruesome death stalks the ancient house, there will be only two members of the Good Comrades Club left alive. One is the perpetually agreeable Bruce Alistair. The other is a man Holmes had encountered years earlier, a famous surgeon who was acquitted of the brutal murder of his young bride.
Despite boulders rumbling down the cliff ("Great Scott, Holmes, that was meant for us!"), a suit of armor that trembles, a moldering passageway, the entrance to which is hidden in a great, flaming fireplace, and death that is accompanied by hideous mutilation, Sherlock Holmes is not to be deterred. The secret of the deaths of the Comrades Club will amaze us, but not Holmes, at it's ruthless logic and subtle scheme.
The House of Fear runs slightly more than an hour. It sets a brisk pace that doesn't falter and turns out to be one of the better Rathbone/Bruce entries in the series. The mystery is just clever enough that I doubt too many will figure out what's up until most of the movie is over. Rathbone does his usual serious portrayal of Holmes. Bruce does his usual imitation of a loyal buffoon.