Respected expert on Egyptian antiquities, Professor Moriarty is desperate to get his greedy hands on Cleopatra’s necklace, which disappeared some years previously. But Sherlock Holmes is drawing his nets tighter around the criminal mastermind and is determined to bring him to justice.
German production from the early 1960s, which imports some British talent from Hammer Studios; namely Christopher Lee as Holmes, Thorley Walters in the role of Watson and director Terence Fisher (‘The Curse of Frankenstein’ (1956), ‘Dracula’ (1958)). The screenplay was in the hands of Curt Siodmak, a Polish Jew who fled the Nazis regime before the war and ended up in Hollywood, via the U.K. He’s most famous for creating much of the now accepted werewolf folklore for the Lon Chaney Jr vehicle ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941).
Proceedings start with a dead sailor being fished out of the river down by the docks and Holmes taking an interest in the shipping news, especially in ‘The Times’! After an extended bit of product placement on behalf of that publication, we’re off to the races when one of Holmes’ agents turns up croaked. So far so little connection with Conan Doyle (he doesn’t even get a credit!), but about half an hour in and were suddenly taking a trip to ‘The Valley of Fear’. Siodmak weaves the murder mystery of that novel into the wider tale of Moriarty’s designs on the necklace quite skilfully. This echoes the approach of Bertram Milhauser (and others) who worked on the Rathbone-Bruce series at Universal in the 1940s, which often incorporated elements of the original tales into the great detective’s struggles with spies and pyjama suicides.
At first glance it seems like perfect casting too – the tall, imposing, charismatic Lee as Holmes and bumbling old Throrley Walters channeling Nigel Bruce as Watson. But it doesn’t work out like that. Walters obviously hadn’t perfected his silly old duffer schtick at this point and instead delivers a relentlessly sensible – and fairly dull – supporting turn. Lee makes a physically impressive and dynamic Holmes of course, but his performance is seriously diluted by a familiar problem with the films he was making in Europe at this point in his career; he’s dubbed by another actor! Apparently, it was common practice in the continental movie industry at the time so Lee and Walters were never asked back to loop their dialogue. In Lee’s case this is unforgivable of course; fortunately he got to reprise the role in a couple of TV movies in the early 1990s with his vocal delivery intact.
Elsewhere in the cast, we have Hans Söhnker giving good menace as Moriarty and Senta Berger in one of her usual early career roles as the beautiful girlfriend/wife. The score is intrusive at times, which doesn’t help and, although Berlin fills in just about adequately as Victorian London, those glasses in the pub look suspiciously like German steins, rather than pints or halves, and those motor cars look a little bit 20th Century. Lee and the rest of the cast complained about the smell when shooting scenes in the sewers and no wonder – the Nazis had been making poison gas down there!
This was undoubtedly a missed opportunity. Production values are little better than television of the time and Siodmak’s script simply does not give Lee enough detecting to do. It’s an adequate time passer but rather flat and more than a little disappointing.
And Holmes’ seeming obsession with ‘The Times’ newspaper is a little odd!