The House of Fear Film Details
Overview: Sherlock Holmes investigates a series of deaths at a castle with each foretold by the delivery of orange pips to the victims.
Tagline: HORROR stalking its halls!
Review: The “Sherlock Holmes” movie series resumes with its tenth installment of THE HOUSE OF FEAR (Universal, 1945), produced and directed by Roy William Neil. Being the only film in this franchise to lift a title from unrelated Holmes movie (Universal’s own 1939 mystery, “The House of Fear,” starring William Gargan), this entry, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips,” attempts on being different and most stylish from the previous entries, especially when formula tends to mix with that of both Doyle and famed mystery writer, Agatha Christie. Following the traditional opening titles and theme score introducing “Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes” an “Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson” through the lifting fog as the camera captures their footed shadow images walking slowly down the streets of uncertainty, the voice-over narrative reveals what’s about to occur: “The events I’m about to relate began a fortnight ago in a grim old house first high on a cliff on the west coast of Scotland. This singular structure is known as Drearcliff House. Gathered there for dinner were the seven members of the most extraordinary club called the Good Comrades …” The story opens with the gathering of wealthy middle-aged members headed by its jolly old founder, Bruce Alastair (Aubrey Mather), Ralph King (Richard Alexander); Stanley Rayburn (Cyril Develati); Captain John Simpson (Harry Cording); Guy Davies (Wilson Benge); Doctor Simon Merrivale (Paul Cavanaugh); and Alan Cosgrove (Holmes Herbert). Mrs. Monteigh (Sally Shepherd), the melancholy housekeeper who never smiles, passes out an envelope containing orange pips to Ralph King, a retired barrister. The following night, King is killed as his car plunges over a cliff. As the men drink a toast to their dearly departed member, Mrs. Monteigh passes out another envelope, this time to Stanley Rayburn, a distinguished actor in his day. He, too, meets his doom. Because the club members have made each other beneficiaries to their substantial life insurance policies, Mr. Chalmers (Gavin Muir), an insurance underwriter, comes to famed London detective Sherlock Holmes for assistance. When Holmes learns Doctor Merrivale, a famous surgeon acquitted years ago for murder to be one of the members, he immediately takes the case. Assisted by his colleague, Doctor Watson, the two crime solvers come to Scotland via train, The Flying Scotsman. Upon their arrival, more ghastly murders take place, all preceded by a mysteriously slid under- the-door envelope containing orange pips, indicating a symbol of death. Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) and assistant Sergeant Bleeker (Leslie Dennison) of Scotland Yard soon enter the scene, not long after Doctor Watson’s life is threatened and soon abducted when coming close to solving the mystery himself during his frightful stay in the house, or better yet, castle of fear. With an abundance of movie mysteries produced at that time, whether individually or part of a continuing series, the best are the ones that succeed even with overly familiar plots. THE HOUSE OF FEAR happens to be one of them. Witnessing club members being killed off one by one as survivors come fear of their lives, suspecting one another, adding to the suspense. Another added treat is the imaginative mid-camera range of subject matters to appear taller than their actual size as well as capturing certain viewpoints through slant camera focus. Aside from well constructed mystery and fine use of witty exchanges between Watson and Lestrade, the plot formulates well-intentioned humor for one noted scene that would do the comedy team of Abbott and Costello proud set during the midnight hours in a cemetery where Watson is shown doing all the work digging up a grave while Holmes sits around to think. As Holmes temporarily steps out of the picture, Watson finds himself conversing and answering questions to the constant sound of “Who?” turning out to be from an observing owl resting on a tree branch above. Notable quote: “No man goes whole to his grave.” For some trivia: THE HOUSE OF FEAR turns out to be a rare instance in the series to not include Mary Gordon in her recurring role as Mrs. Hudson. It’s also the second time the full name of Holmes’ assistant is indicated, that of Doctor John H. Watson. Harry Cording, usually seen in villainous briefs in other Holmes segments, has a sizable role for a change, while Doris Lloyd (Bessie); David Clyde (MacGregor, the blacksmith); and Alec Craig (Angus) turn up in scene or two. Excluding one brief moment of a plunging car, THE HOUSE OF FEAR could easily pass for Doyle’s original intent with story setting being the 1890s rather than the 1940s. THE HOUSE OF FEAR, distributed to home video and later DVD format, having been broadcast on numerous public television and cable channels, including Turner Classic Movies (TCM premiere: December 26, 2009), may not show preference as the best in the entire series, but certainly as enjoyable from start to finish as Holmes mysteries go. Next installment: THE WOMAN IN GREEN (1945) which features Holmes’ arch enemy, Professor Moriarty. (***)
Duration: 69 min
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir, Mystery, Thriller
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