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Film / The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case

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The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case is a 1932 British crime film directed by Graham Cutts and starring Arthur Wontner, Ian Hunter and Graham Soutten. The film is based on Arthur Conan Doyle's second Sherlock Holmes story The Sign of the Four. The film is also known as simply The Sign of Four.

A young woman turns to Sherlock Holmes for protection when she's menaced by an escaped killer seeking missing treasure. However, when the woman is kidnapped, Holmes and Watson must penetrate the city's criminal underworld to find her.

The Sign of Four was the third in a series of five Sherlock Holmes films starring Wontner. The other instalments consisted of:

The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case provides examples of:

  • Armed Legs: Jonathan Small is an expert at using his wooden leg as a weapon, and bludgeons several characters with it, including Holmes.
  • Artificial Limbs: Jonathan Small has a wooden leg which he is adept at using as a weapon.
  • Blow Gun: Tonga is an expert with the blowgun and uses it to murder Bartholomew Sholto.
  • Bound and Gagged: Mary is bound and gagged when she is kidnapped from the funfair and bundled into a car.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: The Tattooed Man is giving Small a shave when he nicks him with the razor. He then claims that it is the fault of the safety razor and that Small should let him have a go with a straight razor. Small is having none of it.
  • Detectives Follow Footprints: Holmes follows the track of Small's peg-leg across the carpet in the study, and the prints of Tonga's bare feet through the attic.
  • Disney Villain Death: Small plunges the through the trapdoor in the warehouse into the river.
  • Evil Cripple: Jonathan Small has a wooden leg.
  • Feather Boa Constrictor: Tonga wears several snakes round his neck as part of his 'Snake Man' act at the funfair. He seems fond of it and even wears a snake when he is not on stage.
  • Feet-First Introduction: The first shot of the Big Bad Jonathan Small is his wooden leg—making its distinctive clopping sound—striding along the prison corridor towards Major Sholto's office.
  • Fright Deathtrap: Small is able to frighten Major Sholto to death just by leering through the window at him.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Watson proposes to Mary at the end of what has been essentially one very long, eventful day.
  • Greed: It is greed that drives Major Sholto to murder Captain Morstan and keep all of the jewels for himself.
  • Handicapped Badass: The Big Bad Jonathan Small has a wooden leg. This slows him down hardly at all, and he is very adept at using the peg-leg as a weapon.
  • Hellhole Prison: Although not a lot of it is seen on-screen, everything indicates that prison in the Andaman Islands where Small was being held was one of these; especially as he was being kept in solitary confinement.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The distinctive, rhythmic clopping sound of Small's wooden leg is enough to drive Major Sholto to near-insanity.
  • Police Are Useless: Inspector Atherly Jones makes most portrayals of Lestrade look like a member of Mensa. His first solution to the murder would, as Holmes points out, have involved the dead man getting of his chair, locking the door and sitting down again.
  • Ransacked Room: Thaddeus Sholto arrives home to find the house servant Bound and Gagged, and the library ransacked: books thrown off shelves, furniture broken, chairs slashed, etc. Presumably the rest of the house is in a similar state but the library is the only room shown.
  • Red Right Hand: Jonathan Small as a wooden leg, while the Tattooed Man is covered head to toe in tattoos.
  • Tattooed Crook: Small's partner the Tattooed Man escaped from prison with him. He has his entire body covered with tattoos to disguise his appearance and works as a tattooed man at the funfair.
  • Treasure Map: Small gives Sholto and Marston a map indicating where the treasure is hidden in the fortress. After Sholto murders Marston, the map ends up in Marston's personal effects and is eventually passed on to his daughter. She gives it to Holmes who is able to deduce from it what this case is really about.
  • Wardens Are Evil: Major Sholto is the warden of the prison where Jonathan Small is being held. He makes a deal with Small that he and Captain Morstan will retrieve Small's hidden loot, then arrange Small's release and split the loot with him. Instead Sholto murders Marston, steals the loot, and leaves Small to rot in the Hellhole Prison.