Wednesday, August 17, 2011


(June 1946, U.S.)

Before all of you Brian DePalma fans start losing your minds with excitement, let me be clear and tell that this is NOT his 1980 horror thriller. While I like many of DePalma's films, his DRESSED TO KILL did not do very much for me. I enjoy it right up until Angie Dickinson's famous elevator slashing sequence. After that, the acting goes way down hill and ruins the film. No, what I'm discussing here is a classic black and white Sherlock Holmes film of the same name. It was the last in a long series of films that starred Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. It's a film that I bought on a DVD containing three of the post popular classic films in this series. These films (or most of them) are considered public domain films (look that up), so the picture quality isn't exactly up to today's standards. That's okay, though. I simply turn out the lights and imagine that I'm watching them on late night television back in the 1970s or something, before the words, "digitally remastered" ever existed.

So, in this film, three cheap music boxes (each one playing a subtly different version of the tune "The Swagman") manufactured by prison inmates, are sold at a local auction house. However, a rather sophisticated (and equally dangerous) criminal gang is determined to steal and recover all three of these worthless boxes, even if it means committing murder (which they do). You see, combined tunes of all three boxes is actually a secret code to reveal the location of valuable counterfeit printing plates. The great Sherlock Holmes uses his talented powers of observation and deduction to recover the music boxes and crack the secret code contained in the tune before the gang can get what they want. Basically, the good guys win, the bad guys lose and crime doesn't pay in the end.

Admittedly, I've never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories. However, the exposure I had to the character as a kid and young adult always featured him as the proper, sophisticated English gentleman, complete with the cliche cap and pipe. By this tradition, Basil Rathbone pulls it off perfectly. This traditional character, in fact, made it rather difficult for me to accept Robert Downy Jr's portrayel of Holmes as a rough and rugged action hero type in the 2009 film version. There's also an edge to Rathbone's manner that clearly defines his intelligence and experience. In other words, I don't think I'd want to match wits with this guy. I couldn't stand the humiliation. Regarding Doctor Watson, I can't say that I know too much about what the original character is supposed to be like. I can tell you that Nigel Bruce persistently plays him as a bit of a goofball who can't seem to do anything a dectective, anyway.

Once again, I apologize to any disappointment I may have brought to all Brian DePalma fans.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Doctor Watson (raises window shade and lets in sunlight): "I say, Holmes..."
Sherlock Holmes: "What?"
Watson: "It's morning."
Holmes: "Allow me to congratulate you on a brilliant deduction."


  1. Rathbone is true to the character in the books. This was a pretty clever entry in the series. The dialogue is often sharp if you listen closely as your chosen quote suggests.

  2. There's a lot more of these films that I need to see. To date, I've only seen DRESSED TO KILL, TERROR BY NIGHT and THE WOMAN IN GREEN.