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Film / The Sleeping Cardinal

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The Sleeping Cardinal (a.k.a. Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour), is a 1931 British mystery film directed by Leslie S. Hiscott and starring Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming (the actor, not the James Bond creator). the story is loosely based on the Sherlock Holmes short stories "The Empty House" and "The Final Problem".

There’s a murder of a guard in a bank’s strongroom, but no money is stolen. Holmes immediately suspects diabolical mastermind criminal Prof. Moriarity of plotting something deeper than a mere robbery. Meanwhile Dr. Watson’s old family friend, Kathleen Adair, asks his advice about her brother Ronald, a young unimportant diplomat with the Foreign Office, who she believes has been cheating his friends at high-stakes bridge games ever since their trustee died and left them the estate but no money. Ronald is called to the HQ of Prof. Moriarity but never sees him, as he’s addressed through a framed picture of The Sleeping Cardinal. Moriarity blackmails him to smuggle counterfeit bank notes in a suitcase to Paris by using his diplomatic immunity. Or else, he threatens to expose him as a cheat to his society friends.

The Sleeping Cardinal was the first in a series of five Sherlock Holmes films starring Wontner. The other instalments consisted of:


  • Adaptation Name Change: Holmes refers Moriarty as 'Professor Robert Moriarty'. In the original Sherlock Holmes canon his first name was James (same as his two brothers).
  • Blackmail: Moriarty uses his knowledge of Roland Adair's cheating at cards to blackmail him into acting as courier to smuggle the stolen currency out of the country.
  • Blindfolded Trip: Roland Adair is blindfolded when he is brought to Moriarty's headquarters to receive his instructions.
  • Bound and Gagged: After Watson is snatched from Godfrey's cellar, Holmes and Lestrade find him gagged bound to chair under a rug in the house next door.
  • Couldn't Find a Lighter: Holmes uses tongs to lift a burning coal from the fireplace and uses it to light his pipe: an act borrowed from the short story "The Adventure of the Copper Beeches".
  • Counterfeit Cash: Moriarty's scheme involves breaking into banks, stealing large sums of cash, and leaving behind an identical amount of counterfeit cash.
  • Fixing the Game: Roland Adair has been cheating in high-stakes bridge games. Moriarty uses this to blackmail Adair, and explains how he has been doing it to show that he knows everything and is not guessing. Adair is a skilled amateur conjurer, and can palm an entire deck of cards. He uses this skill to place a pre-loaded half deck on top every time he cuts the cards.
  • Leave Behind a Pistol: After Moriarty issues his ultimatum to Roland Adair, Adair asks what happens if he refuses to comply. Moriarty replies that his alternative is in the box on the table. When he opens the box, he finds a pistol inside.
  • Locked Room Mystery: Roland Adair is found shot through the head in his locked study in what appears to be a suicide, except there is no gun.
  • Master of Disguise: Moriarty is given this ability in this adaptation: with Holmes saying he has a 100 aliases and 100 identities.
  • No One Sees the Boss: Holmes explains that none of Moriarty's underlings know what he looks like, meaning none of them can implicate him if they are caught. He is shown delivering his threats to Roland Adair from behind a portrait of "The Sleeping Cardinal" and giving orders to the forger Godfrey through a speaker in the ventilator.
  • Never Suicide: Watson is certain that Roland Adair's is a case of suicide, but Holmes is able to prove it is murder.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Col. Henslowe is missing his left arm as a result of a tiger attack. However, Henslowe is another of Moriarty's disguises and his left arm is strapped to his side.
  • Title Drop: Roland Adair starts writing a confession that begins "The Sleeping Cardinal made me...", but is killed before he gets any further, leaving what appeals to a baffling suicide note.