AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Dressed to Kill
Alternate Title: Prelude to Murder
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
Release Date:   7 Jun 1946
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 24 May 1946
Production Date:   22 Jan--mid-Feb 1946
Duration (in mins):   72
Duration (in feet):   6,864
Duration (in reels):   8
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes)  
    Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson)  
    Patricia Morison (Hilda Courtney)  
    Edmond Breon (Julian "Stinky" Emery)  
    Frederic Worlock (Colonel Cavanaugh)  
    Carl Harbord (Inspector Hopkins)  
    Patricia Cameron (Evelyn Clifford)  
    Holmes Herbert (Ebenezer Crabtree)  
    Harry Cording (Hamid)  
    Leyland Hodgson (Tour guide)  
    Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson)  
    Ian Wolfe (Scotland Yard commissioner)  
    Tom P. Dillon (Sergeant Thompson)  
    Topsy Glyn (Kilgour child)  
    Delos Jewkes (Singer, Joe Cisto)  

Summary: At an auction in London, identical music boxes made at a local prison are sold to patrons Julian "Stinky" Emery, William Kilgour and Evelyn Clifford. Immediately after the sales, the underhanded Colonel Cavanaugh bribes Ebenezer Crabtree, the auctioneer, to give him the purchasers' addresses. The next night, Stinky visits his old friend, Dr. Watson, at the home of detective Sherlock Holmes, and tells them how he was robbed of a music box which resembled the cheaper one he bought at the auction. Intrigued, Holmes asks to see the cheaper box at Stinky's, and there admires the unusual tune it plays. After they leave Stinky's, Hilda Courtney, a beautiful acquaintance of Stinky, visits and asks him for his music box as a gift. When Stinky refuses, Hamid, the driver for Cavanaugh and Hilda, enters and kills him. Holmes soon investigates the crime scene, and, seeing the music box is gone, questions Crabtree, who reveals the addresses of the purchasers and describes Cavanaugh. Holmes and Watson hurry to Kilgour's to examine his music box, and after the housekeeper reluctantly lets them in and then leaves, they find a young girl tied up in the closet, who tells them the housekeeper, whom they realize was really Hilda, attacked her and stole her music box. The next day, Hilda and Cavanaugh follow Evelyn to the toy store at which she works, only to discover that Holmes has already purchased her music box. Outside, Hilda realizes that a Scotland Yard man, Sergeant Thompson, is following them, and they kill him. Meanwhile, Holmes deduces that the three boxes must work together to form a coded message, and learns that they were crafted by a prisoner named John Davidson, who years earlier stole and hid a set of five-pound note engraving plates from the Bank of England, from which counterfeit money could be made. When Holmes notices that Evelyn's music box plays a slightly different tune than Stinky's, he rushes to find Joe Cisto, an entertainer who can identify any song. After Joe affirms that the tune, an Australian folk song, is a few notes off and writes the correct notes for him, Holmes struggles throughout the night to decode it. Finally, due to a remark of Watson's about numbering the keys of a piano, Holmes understands that the off notes correspond to numbers which correspond to letters. He decodes the message: "Behind books third shelf secretary Dr. S," but knows that this is only one third of the statement. Soon after, his study is ransacked, but Holmes discovers that one of the criminals left behind an exotic cigarette, which he traces back to Hilda. He visits her, only to be ambushed by Cavanaugh and Hamid, who take him to a warehouse, handcuff him, set off a deadly chemical smoke bomb and hang him by the cuffs. As Holmes struggles to escape, Hilda visits Watson and, after tricking him into revealing the location of the box, steals it. When Holmes returns, Watson happens to recite a Samuel Johnson quote, which tips off Holmes as to the identity of "Dr. S." They rush to the Samuel Johnson memorial museum, in which the bookcase is located, and arrest the three thieves just as they are retrieving the plates. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
  Raymond Kessler (Dial dir)
  Melville Shyer (Asst dir)
  Judson Cox (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Benedict (Exec prod)
  Roy William Neill (Prod)
Writer: Leonard Lee (Scr)
  Frank Gruber (Adpt)
Photography: Maury Gertsman (Dir of photog)
  John Martin (2d cam)
Art Direction: Jack Otterson (Art dir)
  Martin Obzina (Art dir)
Film Editor: Saul A. Goodkind (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Russell A. Gausman (Set dec)
  Edward R. Robinson (Set dec)
Costumes: Vera Ward (Gowns)
Music: Milton Rosen (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Dir of sd)
  Glenn E. Anderson ([Sd] tech)
  Ronald K. Pierce (Re-rec and eff mixer)
Special Effects: Russell Lawson (Matte paintings)
Make Up: Carmen Dirigo (Hairstylist)
  Jack P. Pierce (Dir of makeup)
Country: United States
Series: Sherlock Holmes

Songs: "Ya Never Know Just 'Oo You're Gonna Meet," words and music by Jack Brooks; "The Swagman," Australian folk song.
Composer: Jack Brooks
Source Text: Based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
Authors: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 13/5/1946 dd/mm/yyyy LP360

PCA NO: 11512
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

Genre: Mystery
Sub-Genre: with songs
Subjects (Major): Codes
  Counterfeiters and counterfeiting
  Music boxes
Subjects (Minor): Abduction
  Samuel Johnson
  London (England)
  Scotland Yard (London, England)
  Toy stores

Note: The working title of this film was Prelude to Murder . Five months after the film's release, producer-director Roy William Neill died of a heart attack in England. Dressed to Kill was the twelfth and last film in Universal's "Sherlock Holmes" series. According to modern sources, by the time of the picture's release, star Basil Rathbone had tired of the role and refused to continue it. Rathbone did, however, continue to play Holmes on radio, stage and television at various times throughout the rest of his career. Modern sources include Lillian Bronson, Olaf Hytten and Charlie Hall in the cast. For additional information on the series and other films featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle characters, please 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 Hound of the Baskervilles in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.4020 and F3.2009. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   25 May 1946.   
Daily Variety   16 May 46   p. 3.
Film Daily   20 May 46   p. 10.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jan 46   p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 46   p. 8.
Hollywood Reporter   8 Feb 46   p. 18.
Hollywood Reporter   16 May 46   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   11 May 46   p. 2987.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   25 May 46   p. 3007.
New York Times   25 May 46   p. 12.
Variety   22 May 46   p. 10.

Display Movie Summary
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.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.