Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes (1935)

Retirement Is Murder

- Who would have ever guessed that Sherlock Holmes would retire - let alone retire before obtaining the  crown jewel of his career: taking down Professor Moriarty? Yet the impossible is often proved possible when it comes to Sherlock Holmes, the master sleuth is indeed planning to hang up the 'ol deerstalker cap and calabash pipe to kick it back with his violin, old books and, one can only assume from Arthur Conan Doyle, a little drug experimentation. Holmes is retiring with a chip on his shoulder, however, being quite unhappy that he was unable to catch the man who he believes is at the center of the London crime world: Professor Moriarty (Lyn Harding). Most people, even Watson, think that Holmes' obsession with Professor Moriarty leads nowhere, existing only as an elaborate conspiracy theory that Holmes has dreamed up in his own head - but Holmes knows that Moriarty is the kingpin of crime in London. Holmes' suspicions are vindicated when Moriarty pays a visit, warning Holmes to stay retired. Naturally, this makes Holmes all the more interested in taking down Moriarty - and he gets his chance when a murder is linked to the unwise but deadly Professor.

The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes (1935) is the fourth Sherlock Holmes film to star Arthur Wontner and, like the other Wontner Holmes films, could only be described as slightly above average and marginally entertaining. Arthur Wontner gives a convincing performance as usual and director Leslie S. Hiscott (director of the first Wontner Holmes picture The Sleeping Cardinal (1931)) does a good job with the film's visual presentation (one can easily tell that this film has survived to our time in the greatest condition out of all the Wontner Holmes films). However, the film has a number of problems; some of which are predictable Wontner-era woes (including a bumbling Watson and a messy second half) while others are more unique.

Another problem is the characterization of Professor Moriarty, portrayed by Lyn Harding (who played the villain in The Speckled Band (1931), a big screen Holmes adaptation starring Raymond Massey). Any fair-weather fan of Sherlock Holmes will tell you that Moriarty is supposed to as Sherlock Holmes' intellectual equal - or at the very least be on the same intellectual playing field as Holmes. Unfortunately, the Moriarty portrayed in this film by Harding is nothing more than a snarling gangster. This makes Moriarty a less interesting and less formidable opponent for Holmes to defeat - hardly a "Napoleon of Crime."

However, the worst aspect of this film is the inclusion of a rather lengthy flashback sequence that turns the film, for time, into 1930s gangster pulp. And let's get one thing straight: I love 1930s gangster pulp! Unfortunately, the gangster pulp in The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes is toothless and wobbly and, even though the plot is loosely based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story The Valley Of Fear, does not feel like it belongs in a Sherlock Holmes story. The flashback sequence is so long that it encompasses almost half of the film! That is correct: almost half of this film does not even feature Sherlock Holmes. In the end, with a solid performance from Arthur Wontner and direction from Leslie S. Hiscott, The Triumph Of Sherlock Holmes could have ended up as the best Sherlock Holmes film of the Arthur Wontner era had it not turned into a Holmesless gangster film half-way through.

CBC Rating: 6/10

No comments: