AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Pearl of Death
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
Release Date:   22 Sep 1944
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 25 Aug 1944
Production Date:   11 Apr--early May 1944
Duration (in mins):   67 or 69
Duration (in feet):   6,173
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Cast:   Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes)  
    Nigel Bruce (Doctor [John H.] Watson)  
    Dennis Hoey ([Inspector] Lestrade)  
    Evelyn Ankers (Naomi Drake)  
    Miles Mander (Giles Conover)  
    Ian Wolfe (Amos Hodder)  
    Charles Francis ([Francis] Digby)  
    Holmes Herbert (James Goodram)  
    Richard Nugent (Bates)  
    Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson)  
    Rondo Hatton (The [Hoxton] Creeper)  
    J. Welsh Austin (Sgt. Bleeker)  
    Connie Leon (Ellen Carey)  
    Charles Knight (Bearded man)  
    Al Ferguson (Guard)  
    Colin Kenny (Guard)  
    Audrey Manners (Teacher)  
    Billy Bevan (Constable)  
    Lillian Bronson (Housekeeper)  
    Leslie Denison (Murdock)  
    John Merkyl (Dr. Julien Boncourt)  
    Harry Cording (George Gelder)  
    Eric Wilton (Chauffeur)  
    Harold DeBecker (Boss)  
    Arthur Mulliner (Sandeford)  
    Wilson Benge (Steward)  
    Arthur Stenning (Steward)  
    Leland Hodgson (Customs officer)  

Summary: Aboard a ship to Dover, James Goodram of the Royal Regent Museum, is lured away from his stateroom by the beautiful Naomi Drake so that she can steal the item he is transporting, the Borgia Pearl. Naomi conceals the stolen gem inside a camera, which she then convinces an elderly clergyman to carry through customs for her. Later, Naomi gives the camera to her boss, master criminal Giles Conover, only to discover that the pearl has been replaced by a note from the famous private detective, Sherlock Holmes, who was the clergyman in disguise. When the Borgia Pearl is later placed on display at the Royal Regent Museum, Holmes and his physician friend, Dr. John H. Watson, express concern about its safety, as Conover is still on the loose. Museum curator Francis Digby proudly demonstrates the museum's elaborate alarm system, but Holmes exposes a fatal flaw in the system when he simply turns off the electricity. Disguised as a workman, Conover overhears this and takes the opportunity to snatch the pearl while the alarm is off and escapes out a window. Conover is later captured, but as he no longer has the pearl in his possession, he is soon released by the police for lack of evidence. Soon thereafter, London is plagued by a series of murders, each victim of which is found with his back broken and surrounded by smashed china. Holmes quickly deduces that the murders are the work of the Hoxton Creeper, a member of Conover's gang thought killed during a prison escape from Devil's Island. After examining the broken bric-a-brac from the various murder scenes, Holmes and Watson discover that each victim owned a plaster bust of Napoleon. Retracing Conover's steps, Holmes and Watson learn that the criminal went into a plasterer's shop just prior to his capture. George Gelder, the plasterer, tells them that he was working on six Napoleons at that time, and Holmes quickly deduces that Conover placed the stolen pearl in one of the still-wet plaster busts. Upon learning that all the busts were sold to Amos Hodder, Holmes questions the art dealer, who tells the detective that his new assistant broke two of the busts, and that three others were purchased by the recent murder victims. Holmes quickly notices that Hodder's ledger has been altered and deduces that Naomi is his assistant in disguise. Holmes listens in on her phone conversations with Conover, thus acquiring the name of the fourth buyer, Dr. Julien Boncourt. Later, Conover and the Creeper break into the physician's home, where Holmes has disguised himself as Boncourt. After almost falling into the detective's trap, Conover gains the upper hand and orders the Creeper to search the house for the Napoleon bust. In a loud voice, Holmes states that Naomi has been arrested for murder and accuses Conover of allowing it to happen, which causes the lovestruck Creeper to turn on his boss and kill him. When the Creeper refuses to surrender to him, Holmes is then forced to kill the deformed giant. Police inspector Lestrade and his men then arrive on the scene, and Holmes breaks open the final bust and recovers the Borgia Pearl. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
  Ray Kessler (Dial dir)
  Melville Shyer (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Benedict (Exec prod)
  Roy William Neill (Prod)
Writer: Bertram Millhauser (Scr)
Photography: Virgil Miller (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: John B. Goodman (Art dir)
  Martin Obzina (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ray Snyder (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman (Set dec)
  E. R. Robinson (Set dec)
Costumes: Vera West (Gowns)
Music: Paul Sawtell (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Dir of sd)
  Joe Lapis ([Sd] tech)
Country: United States
Series: Sherlock Holmes

Source Text: Based on the short story "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Strand (May 1904).
Authors: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 30/8/1944 dd/mm/yyyy LP12882

PCA NO: 10184
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
Subjects (Major): Jewel thieves
  Private detectives
Subjects (Minor): Art dealers
  Customs officials
  Impersonation and imposture
  London (England)
  Police inspectors
  Scotland Yard (London, England)
  Unrequited love

Note: Modern sources include Diana Beresford in the cast. For additional information on the "Sherlock Holmes" series and other films featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle characters, consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror , and the entries for Sherlock Holmes and The Hounds of the Baskervilles in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.4020 and F3.2009. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   2 Sep 1944.   
Daily Variety   25 Aug 44   p. 3.
Film Daily   28 Aug 44   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   15 Mar 44   p. 1.
Hollywood Reporter   11 Apr 44   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   14 Apr 1944.   
Hollywood Reporter   25 Aug 44   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   8 Jul 44   p. 1983.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   2 Sep 44   p. 2083.
New York Times   26 Aug 44   p. 15.
Variety   30 Aug 44   p. 10.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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