Movie Review: Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)

by StevenHelmer

A review of the 1943 murder mystery starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

Synopsis: At Dr. Watson's request, Sherlock Holmes travels to an ancient but land-poor estate to look into an assault of one of the doctors taking care of a group of battle-fatigued soldiers who are resting there. However, when he arrives, he instead finds himself investigating the murder of the estate's landlord and the younger brother who was to be his heir. His only clue about the killer's motives is a confusing verse that is read every time the head of the household dies.


I originally started watching this movie earlier this week, when I was attempting to use our treadmill while home at lunch. My workout didn't turn out to be as productive as I intended (my cat kept interfering). But, I saw enough of the movie to catch my interest and eventually sat down to watch it later.

I've seen several Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies and have had a wide range of mixed opinions about them. This one, however, proved to be one of my favorites.

I think the thing I really liked best about this film was it had a very solid mystery. The film quickly rules out the two most obvious killers (one is killed and the other is in prison at the time of the second murder). And, once that happens, there's no clear suspect.

The only potential exception to this would be their sister, Sally (Brooke), because she is also an heir. But, since the inheritance comes with no money, that motive is a pretty weak one. Plus, the killer framed her fiance.

The house also is full of plenty of other potential suspects, including a suspicious-acting butler (Halliwell Hobbes) and soldiers who could be mentally unstable enough to do it. But, again, none of the house guest have any apparent motive (financial or otherwise) and it still doesn't explain why the doctor (Margetson) was also attacked.

When the movie first introduced the very puzzling "Musgrave Ritual" poem, I wasn't really sure what to think. I thought, correctly, it would prove to be a clue. However, at least at first, it just seemed to be gibberish, making the long-time family tradition of having the next in line memorize and recite it seem almost pointless. And, I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised when Holmes figured it out.

Probably my only real complaint about this movie is, while it does a good job with the overall mystery, it kind  of ruins that effort later on by inexplicably having the killer give himself away through his actions. As a result, when Holmes sets his final trap, there's really not as much of a surprise as there probably could have been (even though the killer's motive, admittedly, were still a little vague). Fortunately, the rest of the movie does make up for that.

Sherlock Holmes Faces Death

SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH Digitally Restored in 35mm The master detective Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and his faithful cohort Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) are back, preserved...

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Final Opinion

As I said before, this is one of the better Rathbone/Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. There's a good mystery with plenty of suspects and, because the motive behind the murders remains unclear until the very end, it's entertaining even when the killer reveals himself. I do recommend the movie as a result of that.

My Grade: A

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Updated: 01/13/2017, StevenHelmer
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DerdriuMarriner on 02/17/2022

StevenHelmer, Thank you for practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
Surveys typically conclude that people generally prefer the book to the film upon which the story is based. Have you read The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual? If so, which format, film or story, is the one that you like better? Also, would the film have fared as well with the story's title, or would part of the appeal have been viewers wondering whether Holmes would make it out alive?

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