With Robert Downey Jr.’s “Sherlock Holmes” hitting it big, it’s my hope that moviegoers would be interested in seeking out the great detective’s other adventures, across all media. While bookstores haven’t done much to capitalize on the blockbuster, MPI Home Video smartly has reissued the original, landmark Basil Rathbone films from 1939 to 1946.
Twice, actually. Although eight of the original 14 were made available late last year in four double-feature DVDs, your best bet is to spring for the whole lot in “The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection.” In short, it is a delight, and an absolute must for the Holmes enthusiast. Each film relies on a formula of sorts, but it’s one that comforts, time and time again, especially with running times that barely pass the hour mark.
The five-disc set presents the films in chronological order. Although none are bad, the first two are bona fide cinema classics, both from 1939: “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” Each firmly establishes Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Dr. Watson: the former, buttoned-up and brainy; the latter, aloof and goofy. Production values are excellent and hold up today, in the same manner as the Universal monster franchise of the same era.
Following are the three World War II films from 1942 and 1943: “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror,” “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” and “Sherlock Holmes in Washington.” These are fine, but Holmes’ best days were yet to come, primarily in the more horror-oriented entries such as 1944’s “The Pearl of Death” and “The Scarlet Claw,” and 1945’s “The House of Fear.” A personal favorite is 1944’s “The Spider Woman,” a simple-to-solve mystery, but one that is heavy on elements of the bizarre, particularly a carnival climax that plays like a trap out of “Saw.”
From 1945 and 1946, the later flicks include such whodunits as “The Woman in Green,” “Terror by Night” and “Dressed to Kill.” If you’ve only seen these pictures on any of a kajillion public-domain releases, you haven’t seen them. MPI’s restoration via the UCLA Film & Television Archive makes them look as crisp as ever. The difference is amazing and makes, well, all the difference.
In a short segment on the first disc, Robert Gitt talks about those restorative efforts, while the last disc contains seven minutes’ worth of select trailers, plus lots and lots of archival still photos and a British Movietone marking Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s passing. Commentaries are scattered throughout, appealing to the most ardent of fans.
Whatever previous releases you have of any of these 14 movies, ditch ’em. This is the one to own and treasure. “Rod Lott