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A 1933 Holmes film available on DVD--interesting but flawed
on February 21, 2004
This 1933 B&W film, which clocks at 72 minutes, not the 77 stated on the box, is enjoyable as an early example of a Sherlock Holmes movie. However, the video and sound quality are rather iffy. The print is fuzzy and of low contrast, whereas the sound track has a loud continuous background noise that sometimes makes the characters hard to understand.
The movie features Reginald Owen as Holmes, who had starred as Watson in a 1932 film, and who would star as Scrooge in the 1938 film A Christmas Carol. Owen does a decent speaking job as Holmes but visually jars as he is by far the chubbiest Holmes on screen. Warburton Gamble plays a undistinguished, at times whining (due to the cold) Watson. The film is also of interest because of its 1933-vintage costumes and settings. There are two obvious goofs: Holmes's digs are at 221A Baker Street instead of 221B, and the bungling Scotland Yard inspector is Lastrade instead of Lestrade.
The story has nothing to do with the Arthur Conan Doyle study of the same name. Rather, the movie deals with a mysterious secret trust, the Scarlet Ring. Its members progressively die off, accompanied by a nursery rhyme--and then there were five, four, .... Agatha Christie borrowed this motif in her 1939 mystery novel (and later a play), Ten Little Niggers (American titles: Ten Little Indians, And Then There Were None), which, curiously, has a character named Owen.