Dressed to Kill

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a Sherlock Holmes mystery

Director: Roy William Neill
Writers: A. Conan Doyle; Frank Gruber, Leonard Lee

  • Basil Rathbone — Sherlock Holmes
  • Nigel Bruce — Dr. John H. Watson
  • Edmund Breon — "Stinky" Emery
  • Patricia Cameron — Evelyn Clifford
  • Harry Cording — Hamid
  • Mary Gordon — Mrs. Hudson
  • Carl Harbord — Inspector Hopkins
  • Holmes Herbert — Ebenezer Crabtree
  • Leyland Hodgson — tour guide
  • Patricia Morison — Hilda Courtney
  • Wallace Scott — Joe Cisto
  • Ian Wolfe — Commissioner of Scotland Yard
  • Frederick Worlock — Colonel Cavanaugh

Universal: 1946
black & white; 76 minutes

September 2008


Compass Rose Stitchery bookmark on Strand bound volume First off, note that the title of this fine Sherlock Holmes movie, Dressed to Kill, is only thinly useful: that is, criminals, even murderers, may dress like toffs rather than thugs. I can't say too much about the plot without giving it away, but the central mystery involves three little music boxes made in Dartmoor Prison and sold along with other notions in curio shops. Someone in London desperately wants those music boxes.

We are told that Dr. Watson's account of "A Scandal in Bohemia" has just appeared in the Strand Magazine, which dates the action to Summer 1891. The script isn't based exactly on any A. Conan Doyle story; its basic idea perhaps starts from Doyle's "The Six Napoleons", but it quickly develops a complex original plot and characters, with an entirely different sort of mystery to decipher.

Basil Rathbone provides an on-the-mark performance as the keen detective Holmes, while Nigel Bruce brings a little more breadth to the lovable bumbler as he too often has to portray Watson. Holmes' musical sideline — herein he plays piano as well as violin, and whistles — is matched for once by Dr. Watson imitating a duck. Patricia Morison is particularly good as the suave society lady Hilda Courtney. And I always appreciate Holmes' Monte Cristo-like odd associations across all strata of London society: epitomized here by Holmes and Watson's descent into a pub to talk with a safecracker (played by Wallace Scott) who is happy to do a favor for Mr. Holmes, and there is more music.

A bonus fitted into the storyline is the brief tour of Dr. Samuel Johnson's one surviving dwelling in London (he lived there from 1748 to 1759), where he compiled his famous A Dictionary of the English Language. The house has some architecturally interesting features, as well as being a thoughtfully maintained small museum, and is well worth a visit.

Dressed to Kill is a quite enjoyable exemplar of the Basil Rathbone - Nigel Bruce films of Sherlock Holmes adventures.


© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson

JMF advised on this.

Samuel Johnson's House

R. W. Franson's review of
The Annotated Sherlock Holmes
by A. Conan Doyle

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