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Film / The Baker Street Dozen
aka: The Pearl Of Death

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A crime a dozen!

"Sherlock Holmes, the immortal character of fiction created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible and unchanging. In solving signficant problems of the present day he remains ~ as ever ~ the supreme master of deductive reasoning."
Opening Title Card
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The Baker Street Dozen is the Fan Nickname for the twelve Sherlock Holmes films released by Universal Studios between 1942 and 1946 starring Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. The two had previously played the roles in the 20th Century Fox productions of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes both released in 1939. Fox would lose the rights to the stories due to a dispute with the Conan Doyle Estate (the Estate wanted Fox to do only films based of Conan Doyle's stories, while Fox was willing to do original pastiches). But Rathbone and Bruce were still busy playing the parts on radio and would continue to do while they were making the Universal films.

When Universal picked up the rights they decided to adapt the stories as a series of B-Movies loosely based on Doyle's stories due to the fact that World War II was raging on. And while Fox's films were set during Victorian London with lush production values, Universal set the films during the present day. The first handful of films were propaganda pieces to boost morale with Holmes battling the Nazis and spies, before the films morphed into standard mystery films.

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The film series ended in 1946 because Basil Rathbone after playing Sherlock Holmes in fourteen films and over a hundred radio shows, finally got tired of the role and decided to move on - a major factor was when he lost the role of Lord Henry Wotton to George Sanders for MGM's 1945 production of The Picture of Dorian Gray. Unfortunately for him, he was typecasted for life and nothing he did could escape the shadow of the Great Detective. Nigel Bruce on the other hand was more than happy to continuing playing Dr. Watson and kept playing him on radio a year after Rathbone left with Tom Conway (George Sanders' brother) playing Holmes.

Universal failed to keep ownership of the films and four of them: "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon", "The Woman in Green", "Terror By Night", and "Dressed to Kill" ended up in the Public Domain. The others changed hands several times, resulting in rather poor copies being circulated. In 1993, the UCLA Film and Television Archive with additional funding from Warner Bros. and Hugh Heffner began the long and painstaking process of restoring and preserving all twelve films using the best elements they could find; in some cases 16mm film copies had to be blown up to match missing elements from 35mm film copies. The restoration process was completed in 2001, and the films were all released in a DVD boxset (along with the two Fox films) in 2006 by MPI Home Video.

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These films are favorites of Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss and they heavily influenced their own modern day Holmes adaptation Sherlock.


Films:

  • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) — inspired by "His Last Bow"
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) — inspired by "The Dancing Men"
  • Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
  • Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943) — inspired by "The Musgrave Ritual"
  • The Spider Woman (1944) — inspired by "The Sign of Four" and "The Final Problem"
  • The Scarlet Claw (1944) — inspired by the gothic trappings of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Sussex Vampire"
  • The Pearl of Death (1944) — inspired by of "The Six Napoleons"
  • Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear (1945) — inspired by "The Five Orange Pips"
  • The Woman in Green (1945) — inspired by "The Empty House"
  • Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
  • Terror by Night (1946)
  • Dressed to Kill (1946)

Tropes:

  • An Aesop: In The Pearl of Death, an aesop about the power of money, greed and fear in people. The pearl is not cursed, it's completely mundane; it's just every group who tried to find and steal it ended up fracturing as the individuals double-crossed each other to take the pearl for themselves and killed each other in the process, leaving the pearl lost and unclaimed.
  • And I'm the Queen of Sheba: In Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear, Watson is hustled out by a constable who does not believe he is Dr. Watson. "And I'm Mrs. Miniver!"
  • Auction: The plot of Dressed to Kill is kicked into action when Colonel Cavanagh misses the auction where the three music boxes are being sold, and the gang is forced to track down the other buyers and acquire the boxes by other means.
  • Banging for Help: In Dressed to Kill, Holmes and Watson arrive at the Kilgore home to find it seemingly empty. Once inside, Holmes hears a banging noise and discovers the Kilgores' young daughter Bound and Gagged in the cupboard, kicking on the door to attract attention.
  • Battle Butler: In Dressed to Kill, Mrs. Courtney's chauffeur Hamid doubles as her personal enforcer. And he sometimes takes it upon himself to dispose of men he thinks are getting too close to his mistress.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Watson and Lestrade rescue Holmes twice in The Secret Weapon.
  • Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Inspector Lestrade shots a gun out of Professor Moriarty's hand to save Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.
  • B-Movie: These films were made very cheap very quickly.
  • Bodybag Trick: In Terror by Night, the killer is smuggled on board the train concealed in the false bottom of a coffin.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Professor Moriarty originally intends to kill Holmes off quickly, but Holmes goads him into coming up with something "more creative," giving an example himself of the sort of death trap he would use if he had Moriarty at his mercy. Moriarty decides to prove his superior intelligence and creativity by... using the exact idea that Holmes just came up with! He does at least stick around to watch the death trap in action, and prepares to shoot Holmes when he decides it's taking too long; but he waits a bit longer than he should have, and Watson rescues Holmes Just in Time.
  • Bookcase Passage: Moriarty has one in his hideout in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. It even comes with a trap for anyone who tries to follow him through it.
  • Book Safe: Holmes conceals the parts of Dr. Tobel's bomb sight inside a pair of hollowed out books in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.
  • Boring Insult: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes talks himself out of being shot dead on the spot by telling Professor Moriarty that a man of Moriarty's genius ought to be able to come up with something more creative. He then goads Moriarty into giving him a slow, lingering death that gives The Cavalry time to arrive.
  • Bound and Gagged: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes is bound and gagged by Moriarty before being stuffed into the false bottom of a sea chest for transport.
  • Canada, Eh?: The setting of The Scarlet Claw. Holmes and Watson are in Quebec attending a conference on the occult, before they get roped into solving the murder of the wife of one of the other attendees who lives in the quaint little village of "La Mort Rouge".
  • Captured on Purpose: In The Secret Weapon Holmes deliberately gets himself captured so Moriarty won't get Professor Hoffner, goading Moriarty into using an agonizingly slow death trap with a way for Watson and Lestrade to find him, and setting a trap for Moriarty beforehand.
  • Car Fu: Sgt. Thompson is run down and killed (off-screen) while tailing the criminals in Dressed to Kill.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes has been tied up, gagged and stuffed inside a sea chest to be thrown overboard. Watson and Lestrade chase away the henchmen who were carrying the chest.
    Holmes: You needn't have yelled at them so abruptly. They dropped me on my head. Moriarty would have been delighted.
  • Composite Character: In "Terror by Night", Colonel Moran is given a fondness of mathematics, a trait usually associated with Moriarty who was a professor of mathematics.
  • Conviction by Counterfactual Clue: In The Spider Woman, Holmes deduces that a series of apparent suicides were really murders because "suicides invariably leave notes behind them," and none of these people did. Actually, no more than about 20% of suicides leave a note.
  • Cuffs Off, Rub Wrists: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes is Bound and Gagged and hidden in the false bottom of a sea chest. When he is rescued by Watson and Lestarde, the first thing he does when his hands are untied is rub his wrists.
  • Didn't Think This Through: Moriarty lampshades in The Secret Weapon that Holmes disguising himself as the scientist he wants to kidnap results in him getting captured instead.
  • During the War:
    • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror dealt with a German propaganda station that happened to deliver secret messages to saboteurs within Britain.
    • Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon revolves around an inventor who has developed a new bomb sight which he intends to offer to the British war effort, if German agents assisted by Professor Moriarty don't get him first.
    • In Sherlock Holmes in Washington, a British agent carrying a secret document to the USA is murdered by enemy spies, but manages to hide the document. Holmes and a German spy match wits while searching for the document.
  • Eureka Moment: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes and Watson easily break the first three lines of Dr. Tobel's secret message after making a slide of it (long story), but cannot break the fourth line. Moriarty, who had kidnapped Tobel and intercepted the message, is also unable to break the fourth line, as shown by him torturing Tobel to get him to reveal what it says. Watson says to Holmes, "I can't think anymore. All these letters and figures running through my brain all twisted around." Holmes remarks, "Twisted around. That's it!" and reverses the slide - Tobel had mirrored the fourth line as a precaution in case the message found its way into the wrong hands. Meanwhile, one of Moriarty's henchmen accidentally knocks over a glass of water onto the turned-over message, allowing the ink to bleed through and Moriarty to break the fourth line.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • Played straight in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, in which a Bad-Guy Bar full of crooks decides to help find a network of Nazi saboteurs led by the titular broadcaster after the Femme Fatale Girl of the Week gives them a Rousing Speech about how the Germans hate them all and they should be declaring Enemy Mine for the sake of victory.
    • Averted in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon: Moriarty has no problem working with the Nazis if it suits him.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The events of Terror by Night unfold on an overnight train trip from London to Edinburgh, and the movie ends before the train reaches Edinburgh.
  • Flanderization:
    • Watson was comic relief in the Fox films but still competent. Here he's a complete buffoon.
    • Inspector Lestrade is almost totally useless without Holmes, a far cry from the competent but unimaginative inspector of Doyle's writings.
  • Follow That Car: While tailing the suspects from the toy store in Dressed to Kill, Sgt. Thompson hails a cab and says "Follow that cab" to the driver, who gives him a dubious look and starts to object until Thompson shows him his warrant card, at which point the cabbie complies.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The reference to Holmes' drug habit in Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon. Holmes, captured by Moriarty and stalling for time, suggests to Moriarty that instead of just shooting him, he should try something "more creative" —like inserting a needle into his vein and slowly drawing out all of his blood. In response to this suggestion, Moriarty snidely quips:
    Moriarty: The needle to the last, eh, Holmes?
  • Going by the Matchbook:
    • An important clue in Sherlock Holmes in Washington is that the microfilm that the Nazi agents had been hunting all over the place for was concealed within a matchbook that the British agent they killed was carrying.
    • In The Woman in Green, Sir George uses his dying strength to grab and firmly grasp a matchbook from Bancroft House as a Dying Clue.
  • Hastily Hidden MacGuffin: In The Pearl of Death, a stolen pearl is hastily hidden in a plaster bust of Napoleon — one of a set of six, which are then sold to various customers. The Creeper is sent to kill the owners of the busts, then break all the owner's dishware to disguise the fact that they're just interested in the Napoleon.
  • Human Chess: In Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, Holmes sets up a human chess game to decipher a clue.
  • High-Class Glass: In Dressed to Kill, 'Stinky' Emery, an old school friend of Watson (and an Upper-Class Twit), sports a monocle.
  • Hypno Fool: In The Woman in Green, Watson is hypnotized after declaring the whole thing to be fraud. He comes out of it wondering why he's no longer wearing shoes or socks. Later on the trope is subverted by Sherlock Holmes after the same hypnosis fails to do anything to him.
  • Institutional Apparel: In Dressed to Kill, the prisoners in Dartmoor are shown wearing the old-style 'broad arrow' prison uniforms: a style that had gone out of use about 25 years before the film was made.
  • Invincible Hero: Sherlock Holmes himself. Invoked on the opening title card before each film — and an understandable invocation because of the fact that various of the films were done as propaganda pieces during the early stages of the second World War, when the Germans felt invincible.
  • Jack the Ripoff: The main plot of The Woman in Green.
  • Joker Immunity: Moriarty. He has a habit of dying off screen, before popping up in a later film. His death in "The Woman in Green" seems to be permanent though.
  • Kansas City Shuffle: The Voice Of Terror climaxes with Holmes figuring out that the campaign of terror orchestrated by the titular propaganda station is a ruse to make British intelligence and military unable to ignore its messages and eventually drive them all away from the coast in the hunt for saboteurs, leaving Britain wide open to a full-blown German invasion.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The twist at the end of Pursuit to Algiers is that Holmes has disguised the about-to-be-crowned-king prince as a ship's deckhand and a cop as the prince to throw the prince's enemies off the trail. He doesn't tell Watson because he fears that Watson would give it away by treating the "deckhand" with the sort of respect he would normally show royalty.
  • Mysterious Note: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes receives an envelope that is supposed to contain a coded message from Dr. Tobel, containing vital information regarding the bomb sight. However, when he opens the envelope, he finds the coded message has been replaced by a taunting note from Professor Moriarty.
  • Mythology Gag: In a Gag that borders on blatant Trolling of Holmes fanatics, Pursuit To Algiers has Watson tell a long-winded anecdote about the Giant Rat of Sumatra - a Noodle Incident reference from the original stories that Holmes buffs have been speculating about for generations - but the only portions of his story that viewers actually hear are so ambiguous that they don't answer a single question about what, exactly, the Giant Rat was or why it was dangerous.
  • Nice Hat: Ironically not the deerstalker. Holmes grabs for it in The Voice of Terror but Watson protests so he instead grabs a fedora which he wears for the rest of the series.
  • Noodle Incident: Moriarty supposedly got himself hanged in Montevideo. Holmes doesn't buy it for a second.
  • Numbers Station: In The Voice of Terror, the titular German propaganda station broadcasts praise to attacks that are seemingly unstoppable. Holmes is able to deduce fairly quickly that there are details within the transmission that translate into a code for German sleepers to where to strike next, and that while the broadcasts come from Germany, the titular Voice records them in Britain — he's able to be so precise with his messages' predictions because he's one of the saboteurs that make sure they happen, and is The Mole within British Intelligence, to boot.
  • Obfuscating Disability: In The Woman in Green, Watson is tailed by a seemingly one-armed street hawker. With his concealed arm, he produces a flick knife and is about to stab Watson when Moriarty reappears and indicates for him not to.
  • Oddball in the Series: Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is the only film in the series not to be directed by Roy William Neill. Instead it was directed by John Rawlins.
  • Person with the Clothing: The Woman in Green.
  • Police are Useless: Scotland Yard only exists in these films to make Watson look smart.
  • Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Courtney wears a gorgeous floor-length white fur stole when she arrives at Emery's apartment to seduce him and steal his music box in Dressed to Kill.
  • Ransacked Room: In Dressed to Kill, Holmes and Watson return to their rooms in Baker Street only to discover they have been ransacked by the gang searching for the music box.
  • Satchel Switcheroo: Happens with a matchbook containing a secret message in Sherlock Holmes in Washington.
  • Sequel Goes Foreign: Sherlock Holmes in Washington has him and Watson going to the United States to solve the mystery of the disappearance of a British citizen.
  • Serial Killings, Specific Target:
    • A variant is done in The Pearl of Death: Bad guys are looking for a pearl which was hidden in one of six china busts of Napoleon. They track down the owners of the busts and hire the Creeper to kill them, and then break open the bust to see if it's the right one. To cover their tracks, the Creeper breaks all of the victim's china, to disguise the fact that they're only really interested in the Napoleon busts.
  • Setting Update: Holmes and Watson aren't in Victorian London anymore. In fact the first couple of films had a title card explaining that Holmes and Watson were "timeless characters" to justify them being in the modern day.
  • Smug Snake: There is not a single villain in this series that doesn't delights in gloating when it looks like he'll win — the titular Voice of Terror goes all the way with him boasting that the Reich is invincible and, oh, why are the British so determined to force the Germans to demonstrate this with their resistance and get people killed unnecessarily?
  • Strapped to an Operating Table: In Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon, Holmes is strapped to an operating table by Moriarty. Turns out to be Holmes's Batman Gambit.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: The villain of "The Pearl of Death", Giles Conover is basically Professor Moriarty in all but name. Heck, Holmes' description of him is taken out word for word from his description of Moriarty from "The Final Problem".
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Holmes's enemy in the first handful of films.
  • Thriller on the Express: Terror By Night has Holmes solving a case of murder and a theft of an priceless diamond in a train.
  • Torture Technician: Dr. Simnell, Moriarty's pet murderer in The Woman in Green. He insists that his implements are 'instruments' not 'tools', and takes a sadistic glee in murdering and dismembering young women.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: The Scarlet Claw is set in the Canadian village of "La Mort Rouge" (French for The Red Death) and is haunted by a local monster.
  • Trail of Blood: The Woman in Green has a variation. Holmes and Watson walk into a police detective's office to discover the man has been shot dead. Instead of following the trail of blood to the body, Holmes analyzes the trail of blood the dying detective left to determine the probable sequence of events during the murder.
  • Unwilling Suspension: In Dressed to Kill, Holmes suspended by his wrists from a hook in the ceiling of a garage, and then left there to asphyxiate.
  • What Did I Do Last Night?: Sir George (and presumably the other blackmail victims) in The Woman in Green. He is hypnotized into forgetting the events of the night before, and then wakes up in a cheap flophouse with a dead woman's finger in his pocket, and is led to believe that he is the Jack the Ripoff murderer who is terrorizing London.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: In The Woman in Green, Lydia tells Moriarty he is taking too much time in drawing out Holmes' demise, but he dismisses her. It turns out she's right, as Holmes is playing for time till the police arrive.

Alternative Title(s): Sherlock Holmes And The Voice Of Terror, Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon, Sherlock Holmes In Washington, Sherlock Holmes Faces Death, The Spider Woman, The Scarlet Claw, The Pearl Of Death, Sherlock Holmes And The House Of Fear, The Woman In Green, Pursuit To Algiers, Terror By Night, Dressed To Kill 1946

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