Director: Roy William Neill. Writers: Leonard Lee, Frank Gruber, based on the characters by Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison, Harry Cording, Edmund Breon, Holmes Herbert, Frederick Worlock, Ian Wolfe, Mary Gordon, Olaf Hytten.
Fourteenth and final film in the Sherlock Holmes series beginning with Hound of the Baskervilles 1939.
Three plain little musical boxes are sold at auction, and before long someone is trying to steal them from their owners, even going so far as to murder one of them. Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone) is intrigued and decides to get to the bottom of the affair.
The last outing for Rathbone’s and Bruce’s Holmes and Watson has a good story, but one that feels cobbled together from the previous movies: a trio of villains, a femme fatale, a perplexing code, a number of objects bought by innocent people and inexplicably desired by the antagonists. It all works rather well, though, and the loot everyone is after is revealed to be rather original and worth all the fuss. The script also offers some cunning behaviour on the part of Holmes and his opponents, which is always fun to see, and there are a few scenes of proper suspense keeping us alert.
There is barely even an attempt at Holmesian atmosphere in Dressed to Kill: it’s squarely set in the modern day, brightly lit and no-nonsense. That it still feels at least a little like a Holmes story is due to the allusions to Conan Doyle’s stories, the interplay between Rathbone and Bruce, and the somewhat familiar plot, which echoes Holmes tales of yore.
The lack of shadowy ambience is disappointing, but at least Dressed to Kill doesn’t look as cheap as Pursuit to Algiers and Terror by Night: here there are numerous locations on display (even though they’re sure to be refurbished pre-existing sets), and there’s a fair bit of running about in London to open up the scope.
You wouldn’t know from Rathbone’s performance that he was tired of Holmes and preparing to move on. He’s as sharp and energetic as ever, going out in style. Bruce, of course, has perfected his befuddled bumbling and is as lovely/annoying (depending on your view of him) as always. The supporting cast makes a good showing of themselves, although it’s really only Morison who has any real material to work with.
With Rathbone having decided to quit and the series’ guiding light Roy William Neill dying at the end of 1946, there was really no likelihood of the franchise going on. It did on radio, where Tom Conway took over as Holmes to Bruce’s Watson, but only for 39 more episodes; Rathbone and Bruce had done about 200.
Dressed to Kill is a decent, workable finale to the series, but considering the slow but palpable downward trend of the last three or so movies, this was perhaps a good place to stop. And what a show they put on: even the weakest entries of the series are worth watching, and the best are close to sublime.
Rating: 6 of 10.