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  Terror by Night Jewel Train
Year: 1946
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray, Dennis Hoey, Renee Godfrey, Frederick Worlock, Mary Forbes, Skelton Knaggs, Billy Bevan, Geoffrey Steele
Genre: ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The Star of Rhodesia is a large diamond that has come to enjoy quite the reputation for ill fortune, since it seems everyone who owns it meets with an untimely demise, yet such is its precious value this has not stopped many wishing to possess it and profit from it. Currently it is held by Lady Margaret Carstairs (Mary Forbes) but she is taking it on the train from London to its new home in Edinburgh and has hired the services of a private agent to make sure it survives the journey without being pilfered, for an attempt has been made to steal it already even before she took it on the carriage. The agent is Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone), the finest mind of his generation, and an ideal individual to put trust in, though he has his suspicions – is he correct, and will the would-be thief strike again?

You’d better believe it, in this, the last but one Sherlock Holmes mystery to feature Rathbone and his old sidekick Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson. Rathbone was tiring of the role by this point, especially as after so many entries he had seen the series go from a prestigious A-picture to B-movie filler on the bottom half of double bills across the world, and he felt he was typecast, which given he looked exactly like everyone’s imaginings of what the character should be, was a pretty accurate summation of his stardom. However, ever the professional he was still engaged enough to put in his usual sterling performance, though a hint of testiness was evident when his dialogue took a turn for the sarcastic, not enough to make him unlikeable but enough to make it clear he had only so much patience with the lesser minds surrounding him.

Naturally when Holmes found himself matching wits with a criminal mastermind, in this case an old ally of his nemesis Moriarty named Colonel Sebastian Moran (a name he repeats often, as if turning it over in his brilliant brain), then his intellect was finally challenged to a duel and things got a lot more interesting. Terror by Night was drawn from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle original, updated for the nineteen-forties as most of these were and retooled to fit the personas of the regular actors in the series, such as Bruce’s usually comic relief Watson (here given some medical business to investigate to prove he wasn’t entirely useless, as was often the case) or Dennis Hoey’s confounded Lestrade, offered more to do in this instalment than he would in many of the others he appeared in, and well-used: Hoey was obviously enjoying having the extra scenes and purpose, plus he got to be heroic.

Elsewhere the cast was filled out with some reliables such as Alan Mowbray as an old pal from India of Dr Watson (revealing in their dining carriage chat that Holmes hates curry!), that creepiest of characters Skelton Knaggs well into his own typecasting as up to no good, and the bizarre presence of Renee Godfrey, bizarre because she had apparently been asked to put on a British accent that she as an American was struggling with, to put it mildly. Still, it has made her memorable for this one part as you can’t believe anyone thought that inflection was a good idea – couldn’t the actual Brits have put her right? As for the plot, it was a whodunit set on a train as many thrillers of the day were, and catnip to a certain type of mystery fan who loves this flavour of suspense with its railway setting, if you could forgive the model trains. Holmes even got to dice with death when an attempt was made on his life, and Rathbone was careful to look genuinely rattled afterwards. All in all, with a few twists this wasn’t quite as obvious as it could have been, a satisfying example of Hollywood production line efforts.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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