AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
Release Date:   17 Sep 1943
Production Date:   12 Apr--late Apr 1943
Duration (in mins):   68
Duration (in feet):   6,119
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Cast:   Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes)  
    Nigel Bruce (Doctor [John] Watson)  
    Dennis Hoey ([Inspector] Lestrade)  
    Arthur Margetson (Doctor [Bob] Sexton)  
    Hillary Brooke (Sally Musgrave)  
    Halliwell Hobbes ([Alfred] Brunton)  
    Minna Phillips (Mrs. Howells [also known as Mrs. Brunton])  
    Milburn Stone (Captain [Pat] Vickery)  
    Gavin Muir (Phillip Musgrave)  
    Gerald Hamer ([Major] Langford)  
    Vernon Downing ([Lt.] Clavering)  
    Olaf Hytten (Captain MacIntosh)  
    Frederic Worlock (Geoffrey Musgrave)  
    Heather Wilde (Jenny)  
    Harold De Becker (Pub proprietor)  
    Norma Varden (Gracie)  
    Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson)  
    Joan Blair (Nora)  
    Charles Coleman (Constable)  
    Dick Rush (Constable)  
    Eric Snowden (Sailor)  
    Peter Lawford (Sailor)  
    Martin Ashe (Slinking figure)  

Summary: A family squabble breaks out at the mysterious Hulstone Towers in Northumberland, England, when brothers Geoffrey and Phillip Musgrave voice disapproval of their sister Sally's affections toward Captain Pat Vickery, an American flyer who is one of a number of military officers convalescing at the estate. Soon thereafter, an attending physician, Dr. Bob Sexton, is seemingly assaulted while walking the grounds. The physician in charge of the facility, Dr. John Watson, then travels to London and asks his good friend, Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective, to investigate the attack. As soon as they arrive at the manor, Holmes and Watson discover Geoffrey's murdered body, a crime which has happened right under the eyes of Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard. The police inspector soon arrests Pat for the murder, but Holmes doubts his guilt. The next day, Sally performs the "Musgrave Ritual," a ceremony by which Phillip is anointed the new head of the estate. Later, Holmes questions a drunken Alfred Brunton about the Musgraves, and the old butler is soon thereafter dismissed by Phillip. The next morning, Phillip's dead body is found in the trunk of the family car, and Lestrade immediately suspects Brunton. Realizing the key to the murders may be found in the "Musgrave Ritual," Holmes and Watson search Sally's room, finding the words to the ceremony hidden in a clock. The two then enact a giant chess game on the tiled floor of the manor's main hall, using members of the household as pieces and the ritual as a guide. Holmes then uncovers the ancient Musgrave burial crypt underneath the cellar, with the murdered Brunton inside. Claiming that Musgrave had written his murderer's name in blood by his body, Holmes pretends to go into town in order to procure the chemicals necessary to read the message, but actually waits in the crypt for the murderer to arrive and incriminate himself. Holmes then captures Sexton, arguing that the physician had discovered an old land grant making the Musgrave estate worth millions, killed the two brothers and incriminated Vickery in hopes of marrying Sally, thus inheriting the riches himself. After a brief skirmish, Sexton disarms the detective and confesses all, including murdering the butler, only to discover that Holmes's revolver is filled with blanks. He is then recaptured and arrested by Lestrade and Watson. Afterward, Sally burns the grant, stating that she is not willing to become rich by taking land from innocent farmers and workers. As they drive back to London, Holmes tells Watson that Sally's unselfishness is representative of a new spirit sweeping across England. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
  Melville Shyer (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Benedict (Exec prod)
  Roy William Neill (Prod)
Writer: Bertram Millhauser (Scr)
Photography: Charles Van Enger (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: John B. Goodman (Art dir)
  Harold MacArthur (Art dir)
Film Editor: Fred Feitshans (Film ed)
Set Decoration: R. A. Gausman (Set dec)
  E. R. Robinson (Set dec)
Costumes: Vera West (Gowns)
Music: H. J. Salter (Mus dir)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Sd dir)
  Paul Neal ([Sd] tech)
Country: United States
Series: Sherlock Holmes

Source Text: Based on the novelette The Musgrave Ritual by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Strand (May 1893).
Authors: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 13/9/1943 dd/mm/yyyy LP12274

PCA NO: 9405
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
 
Subjects (Major): Brothers and sisters
  Manors
  Murder
  Physicians
  Private detectives
  Police inspectors
  Rites and ceremonies
 
Subjects (Minor): Americans in foreign countries
  Birds
  Butlers
  Chess
  Confession (Law)
  Convalescence
  Crypts
  Dismissal (Employment)
  Drunkenness
  Eavesdropping
  Fights
  Housekeepers
  Inheritance
  Lightning
  Marriage--Secret
  Officers (Military)
  Pubs
  Scotland Yard (London, England)
  Secret passageways
  United States. Army Air Corps
  Wine cellars

Note: Onscreen credits misspell art director Harold MacArthur's surname as "McArthur." Modern sources credit Kenneth Strickfaden with lightning effects. For additional information on the 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 AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   18 Sep 1943.   
Daily Variety   2 Sep 43   p. 3.
Film Daily   16 Sep 43   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Apr 43   p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter   16 Apr 43   p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter   30 Apr 43   p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter   2 Sep 43   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   11 Sep 43   p. 1529.
New York Times   8 Oct 43   p. 15.
Variety   8 Sep 43   p. 16.

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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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