Hoping to boost business in the United Kingdom, and fearful of the inroads made by Hollywood, the British established a quota system in 1928. Feature film exhibitors and distributors were required by law to devote a certain percentage of playing time to domestically made pictures,
thereby supporting their local production facilities. Responding to the nationalistic trend in Blighty, Warner Bros. and other American film companies began financing movies across the water. This Twickenham Studios feature was made entirely with English talent and proved to be equal to the best
the U.S. could offer in its genre. Wontner's Sherlock Holmes was animated and excellent, giving life and character to the famed sleuth. Fleming (no relation to the author of the James Bond series), whose name was misspelled as "Jan Fleming" in studio releases, was harshly criticized in the Dr.
Watson role; nevertheless, he continued to play the character against Wontner's Holmes in four more films. Based on two of the Conan Doyle stories, the film covers a litany of crimes from counterfeiting to killing, with a little treason thrown in, all orchestrated by Holmes' evil nemesis, the
mysterious Moriarty (played for the first and only time by McKinnell). A silent sequence in silhouette opens the film, with dim, scuffling figures robbing the Bank of England and committing a murder in the process. Despite the skepticism of the inept inspector, Hewland, the great detective
suspects the involvement of that doyen of disguises, the prolific professor of crime, McKinnell, whom "none have ever seen..." Young Perrins, a Foreign Office bureaucrat, is blackmailed by the unseen McKinnell--who knows of the youth's card cheating--after transporting him to a secret room
blindfolded. The professor speaks from behind a painting--significantly, a likeness of famed plotter Cardinal Richelieu--inveigling the imperiled Perrins to smuggle some contraband out of the country in his diplomat's pouch. Refusing, Perrins is left with a pistol and a little time to consider the
only honorable out, suicide. The egocentric professor then visits Wontner in his Baker Street flat, swathed in a muffler and wearing dark glasses, to offer the detective a deal: you leave my enterprises alone and I'll leave you alone. The visit proves perilous to the professor, since the sleuth is
able to identify the criminal's bootmaker from the cut of his footwear. The resulting raid reveals the rascal's lair, replete with printing press and counterfeit banknotes, but the professor and his minions have fled the premises.
That same evening, Perrins' body is discovered with a bullet wound in the head; his sister Welsh is accused of his murder by the idiotic inspector. Exploring the dead youth's rooms, Wontner runs into a gambling acquaintance of Perrins, a retired colonel, who lost an arm to a ravenous tiger in
India years before. The colonel, we later discover, is the professor in disguise. Realizing that an attempt is to be made on his own life, the sleuth enlists the services of his motherly housekeeper, Rayner, having the woman crawl on the floor moving a plaster bust before his windows. An impact
shatters the bust; McKinnell has fired a powerful air rifle from across the street. He is apprehended, of course. Having taken the most dangerous criminal in Europe, Wontner settles back to his violin and his pipe, his happy housekeeper hovering, proud of her part in the case. Rayner was to
continue to play Mrs. Hudson in the series. Wontner's portrayal of the detective makes an interesting contrast to that of Basil Rathbone; the latter, almost neurotically incisive, is perhaps closer to Conan Doyle's character as written than is Wontner's glib, kindly banterer.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Hoping to boost business in the United Kingdom, and fearful of the inroads made by Hollywood, the British established a quota system in 1928. Feature film exhibitors and distributors were required by law to devote a certain percentage of playing time to do… (more)