Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in this adaptation (a combination, actually) of two Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries. The premise is that there’s a murderer at large all over London; each victim’s a woman whom the murderer marks by cutting off a finger. There doesn’t seem to be a link between any of the victims; is the guy an unhinged Jack the Ripper type, or is something else going on?
Scotland Yard, represented by Inspector Greyson (Matthew Boulton), asks Holmes for assistance. Bad guy Professor Moriarty is played by Henry Daniell. There’s the Fenwicks, Sir George (Paul Cavanaugh) and Maude (Eve Amber). Also, Lydia Marlow (Hilary Brooke), Onslow (Frederick Worlock), and Williams (Coulter Irwin).
We start at Scotland Yard. Grayson’s in a meeting with the commissioner; the police are reminded of the “series of atrocious murders” not seen since the days of Jack the Ripper. Three women have already been killed. That night, a shadow closes in on a woman headed home. Fourth victim.
Greyson consults Holmes. “We’ve nothing to go on, that’s the rub of it” Greyson admits. At a restaurant, they see Sir George with Lydia. Next scene, we see Lydia’s maid looking down from a balcony on the couple emerging from a cab. Lydia gets him to stare at a flower floating in a pool-like vase on the coffee table.
At a recent crime scene, Holmes opines that there’s a “larger purpose” behind the murders. Guess who we find skulking about in such squalid digs? Sir George, appearing somewhat alarmed by the newsboy hawking about the latest “finger murder.” Back at Lydia’s, she has a sort of disdain for this whole murder business.
He left her the night before, then wakes up in a strange place; her reaction? “There is amnesia, you know.” Then, who looks in on Sir George? Moriarty. He knew Sir George’s whereabouts. “You were very busy, bending over something, with a knife.” (Does he mean, something like a woman?). And, across town with the good guys, whom is Holmes’s visitor?
It’s Maude, Sir George’s daughter. Well, it seems late last night, dad was digging in the garden; she found…a finger. Might just be a clue… So, onto the family mansion with the Inspector. Too late: Sir George has been shot dead. They attempt to recreate the crime; Holmes thinks that Sir George was hiding something in his desk. Look! The matchbook he got from the restaurant where he was with Lydia the day before.
Sir George had just liquidated his account the day–blackmail money. Watson considers “If Sir George didn’t commit these murders, what fiend did?” Well, Holmes suddenly suspects that Moriarty is behind it all. Look who lets himself in? Moriarty himself. He’s supposed to be dead, of course.
“I shall not rest until you are hanged for the Finger Murders” Holmes informs his adversary. Out on the street, Watson is nearly stabbed by a psuedo-one-armed man (obviously a Moriarty hireling). Watson comes back in one piece; to be the butt of Holmes’s wry joke. Now, anyway, at least Holmes knows the murderer’s motive. Watson’s dispatched to go to spy on someone across the way; possible assassin.
The mysterious figure shoots at a silhouette of Holmes; actually Holmes is backing up Watson. They nab an ex-serviceman, a sharpshooter, Williams. The guy is obviously under a trance. “She told me…I couldn’t miss.” Ah, so hypnotism is the method. Williams is turned over to Greyson.
The theory is that the hypnotized guy incrimates himself by coming out of his trance with a finger in his pocket. That is, he think he’s the Finger Murderer. The blackmail is the result. Why not just kill the wealthy ones and cut out the middle-man? Williams, meanwhile, has been kidnapped from the police. Somehow, he staggers to Holmes’s door. But he’s dead already.
Holmes and Watson make tracks to the Mesmer Club; Moriarty tells Lydia. “Do you suppose Holmes is onto our method?” She asks. Well, her job is to entice Holmes back to her place. There’s a hypnotism lecture/demonstration going on. Watson is such nay-sayer. That means that he automatically qualifies as the next test subject. I guess he can’t say it’s “poppycock” anymore, though.
Lydia sneaks in. The thing is, Holmes wants to get back to Moriarty too; they adjurn to the restaurant. She goes on about the value of hypnotism. He recreates the exact scene there with herself and Sir George. Can she help? So, he lets her talk him into going under hypnosis back at her place.
He agrees after some thought to take “cannabis japonica.” We can probably surmise that despite the props, and even the weed (turns out he substitutes his own brew), he’s not really going under. At the same time, staring into that pool with the white flower, he can be utterly convincing.
Where Moriarty pops in, they ‘induce’ him to sign a document stating that, since he can’t solve the case, he’s going to kill himself (out of frustration). Then they simply have him walk off the upper-level terrace to his death. Realistically, they suspect he might be faking it; but a poke with a knife doesn’t phase him.
That proves to Moriarity and Lydia that Holmes is truly under hypnosis; we definitely have our doubts. By playing it perfectly he pretends to almost walk off the masonry wall. Just when he’s about to take the fatal step, here’s Watson with the coppers. Saved. “Au revoir, until I see you on the gallows.” He muses to his nemesis. But, breaking free for a bit, it’s Moriarity who plunges to his death. The end.
I figured that this would be good–and it was even better than I thought. It fit together so well; Rathbone and Bruce were excellent, Daniell and Brooke as well. The plot was a bit cumbersome, but that’s to be expected in a Sherlock Holmes venture. We know next to nothing about the victims. Obviously, the focus is the crimes themselves; on the method and purpose.
The atmosphere couldn’t be thicker–it always seems to be night, and shadows accompany many scenes. The pacing is quick (the murders are already happening when we begin), and it never lets up. Holmes’s and Watson’s banter is as much as sign of their curiosity and befuddlement, as it is a relief from the menacing tone. That’s to say, that the ambience makes them sweat a bit (cold sweat, I suppose).
Very entertaining. 8.5/10.