Cast & Crew
Roy William Neill
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.
Roy William Neill
Harold De Becker
Bernard B. Brown
R. A. Gausman
John B. Goodman
Roy William Neill
E. R. Robinson
H. J. Salter
Charles Van Enger
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death was directed by Roy William Neill, who had also taken over producing duties from Howard Benedict, just as the film went into production. Benedict had overseen the weaker Holmes films and Neill's influence can be seen on the screen. As David Stuart Davies wrote, "[H]e returned Holmes and Watson to the kind of complex problem and rich atmosphere that make Doyle's tales so satisfying. A happy side effect of this revitalization was the demise of Rathbone's 'windswept' hairstyle, leaving his sharp, refined features properly emphasized and Paget-like once again."
In the cast along with Rathbone and Bruce was Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade; Hillary Brooke, Universal's all-purpose leading lady; Peter Lawford in the small role of a sailor in a pub scene; and Milburn Stone (known best to audiences as Doc on the television series Gunsmoke) as Captain Vickery, the love interest for Sally Musgrave (Brooke). Stone's short stature caused minor difficulties on the set. "Everybody in the picture was taller than me," the actor recalled. "There was this shot where Basil and I had to walk across the room together. He walked on the floor, but they built a special platform for me, so I'd look taller. I had a love scene with Hillary Brooke which was even worse. We were sitting on the sofa and I looked almost like a midget next to her. The property man supplied me with some pillows to prop me up."
The film was released on September 17, 1943, with The New York Times reporting, "Universal, which likes to shoot the works on a bloody tale, has done just that in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death...Corpses and clues accumulate. Secret panels open and close, butlers and housekeepers lurk at keyholes, carrion ravens pluck at rumble-seat coverings, old family rituals are read amid thunder-and-lightning effects, unsteady old men knit in rockers and pretend to sleep, and because the camera apparently must have been quite heavy, it quite often catches only feet, not the person on them, creeping through the hallways. But through it all, Mr. Holmes moves with absolutely mathematical precision and the clipped peremptory tones of Basil Rathbone; and Dr. Watson, or rather Nigel Bruce, less brainy than brave, carries on nobly. Dr. Watson, when it's all over, can't understand why the heroine tore up the old land-grant with all its town's and poor workmen's homes. 'The days of grab and greed are over,' remarks that remarkable man, Mr. Holmes. It gives one new confidence that he should think so."
A few months after Sherlock Holmes Faces Death was released, Rathbone and Bruce would reprise their roles as Holmes and Watson, this time for the traditional Hollywood Christmas Parade. Dressed in all their Victorian finery, Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson faced not death but fans lined up along Hollywood Boulevard as the pair waved to the crowd while riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Once again, Holmes and Watson met the modern age.
Producer: Roy William Neill
Director: Roy William Neill
Screenplay: Bertram Millhauser; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (story)
Cinematography: Charles Van Enger
Art Direction: John B. Goodman, Harold McArthur
Film Editing: Fred Feitshans
Cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Doctor Watson), Dennis Hoey (Lestrade), Arthur Margetson (Doctor Sexton), Hillary Brooke (Sally Musgrave), Halliwell Hobbes (Brunton), Minna Phillips (Mrs. Howells), Milburn Stone (Captain Vickery), Gavin Muir (Phillip Musgrave), Gerald Hamer (Langford), Vernon Downing (Clavering), Olaf Hytten (Captain MacIntosh), Frederic Worlock (Geoffrey Musgrave).
by Lorraine LoBianco
Davies, David Stuart, Starring Sherlock Holmes
Haydock, Ron, Deerstalker!: Holmes and Watson on Screen
T.S. "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943): At the Palace." The New York Times, 8 Oct. 1943.
Sherlock Holmes Faces Death
I'm lost! I'm all turned around!- Inspector Lestrad
You've been like that for years. Get him out of there, will you, Mrs. Howells, a get him a saucer of milk.- Sherlock Holmes
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.