Sherlock Holmes (Clive Brook) has finally succeeded in placing his ten-year nemesis Professor James Moriarty (Ernest Torrence) behind bars, and now feels his work is done and he can settle down at last. However, at his trial, Moriarty is asked if he has anything to say before the death sentence is passed down upon him, and he certainly does, going into an ominous speech about how the men who have sent him away will each die before he does, for "the noose has not been made that will hang me!" Meanwhile Holmes is preparing to be married to society lady Alice Faulkner (Miriam Jordan), but when word gets out on Moriarty's boasts, he feels the need to put his nuptials on hold...
If you are something of a Sherlock buff then you may be all at sea wondering which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story that plot hails from, but it was not his doing, it was the work of a playwright, William Gillette, who made his name on the stage as the most famous actor to play Holmes in his day, in his self-penned production. This would go on to be the basis for one of the more celebrated Basil Rathbone efforts, but this earlier version, the first sound one (it had been filmed as a silent) is something of an aberration in the earlier Holmes incarnations, for it was clearly the results of Americans getting their hands on the property and having their wicked way with Doyle's sleuth.
No, not like that, but this Holmes was more like a nineteen-thirties pulp adventure of the sort that would fill up the serials on radio and film of the era. The American influence, despite a largely British cast, was too blatant to ignore as the producers had evidently regarded the source as too genteel and instead beefed it up with trappings more akin to the gangster movies James Cagney or Edward G. Robinson were packing out theatres with. Moriarty does escape, of course, but his grand scheme could pass as the machinations of Hollywood on a British classic, the sort of affair The Comic Strip Presents... would take the mickey out of sixty years later, for the villain brings in the Yanks.
The idea is that London will be utterly unprepared for the Chicago ways, and indeed the ways of the other unscrupulous foreigners who make up Moriarty's gang, because the police there do not carry guns. Yes, if you thought Americans' disbelief that British bobbies went without firearms for most of the time was a recent phenomena, you would be mistaken for it was the engine that drove the action here. To be fair to director William K. Howard, he did keep things racing along at a clip, but it was not enough to disguise how ridiculous they had rendered the world's most famous fictional detective, to the point that it would likely raise laughter at precisely how far off the mark they were in their concepts. Should the thought of confirmed bachelor Holmes getting married set of alarm bells, you didn't know the half of it.
We were introduced to Sherlock as he demonstrated his latest invention, an outlandish item of science fiction which consists of a "death ray" for those newfangled automobiles to prevent them getting away from the scene of the crime - this is apparently how our genius believes so few of them are caught these days. But that was not all, as they evidently wanted to put the character's flair for disguise in the plot somewhere, so when his prospective father-in-law is visited by Moriarty to tell him his daughter has been kidnapped (that cliché did not begin with eighties action movies), Holmes is in the room in drag as his elderly aunt! And he smokes the pipe while all dressed up in "petticoats" into the bargain. Doyle was not one to leave his grand finale as a shootout in a warehouse, so naturally that's what happens here, but the damage had been done; the hero holds the record as the most depicted in any medium, so fortunately better representation was just around the corner.