Dressed to Kill (1946)

aka Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code / Prelude to Murder

2015 #200
Roy William Neill | 69 mins | DVD | 4:3 | USA / English | U

Dressed to KillIn the seven-and-a-bit years between 31st March 1939 and 7th June 1946, there were a total of 14 films released starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson. By coincidence rather than design, I’ve spent nearly eight years viewing and reviewing them all for this blog — so yes, it’s taken me a little longer to watch them than it did to make them, which is ridiculous, but there you go.

This final film in the series sees Holmes in pursuit of a criminal gang who are on the trail of three music boxes, and are prepared to kill to acquire them. The boxes were all made by a prisoner and contain coded messages which, when combined and decoded, will reveal the location of stolen Bank of England printing plates — a literal licence to print money. Well, apart from the licence bit, because it would be illegal. But you get what I mean.

The Rathbone Holmes series was only sporadically adapted from the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but this entry takes loose inspiration from several tales. The use of secret codes is reminiscent of The Dancing Men (previously the basis for The Secret Weapon), while the plot device of having to track down multiple identical items that hide something comes from The Six Napoleons (previously the basis for The Pearl of Death). I don’t know if that suggests there are only a few Doyle tales actually worth adapting, or if the makers of the series were running out of fresh ideas by this point.

There are also elements of A Scandal in Bohemia, the story most famous for featuring Irene Adler, aka The Woman, but screenwriters Frank Gruber and Leonard Lee have an unusual method of including it: Dressed for the occasionthe story is explicitly referenced in the film, Watson having just had it published; then the film’s villainess turns up, played by Patricia Morison, functioning effectively as an Adler stand-in — and using some tricks she learnt from reading Watson’s story! The series hasn’t featured Adler before, so why not just name this character Irene Adler, have her devise those tricks from her own imagination, and be done with? Who knows.

Dressed to Kill is an ending to the Rathbone/Bruce films only in the sense that it’s the last one, this not being an era of “series finales” or what have you. It isn’t among the top tier of Holmes adventures starring the pair, but it’s still an entertaining mystery. In some respects that’s a good summation of the series, and why they’ve endured in popularity for over 75 years: even when not at their very best, they remain enjoyable.

3 out of 5

5 thoughts on “Dressed to Kill (1946)

  1. It’s not a bad way to finish off the series. The last few films always left me a little melancholy as I recall them from their TV showings, pre-VHS for me anyway, and when they were gone that was it until… who could say.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I watched it with my partner, it’s the first of the series she’s seen, and she very much enjoyed it and was slightly surprised by my more muted response. So, like you say, not bad at all, and only ‘lesser’ in context of the series’ earlier highs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Other detective series did go on too long – Charlie Chan – and the drop in quality of the later entries is very marked. The Rathbone/Bruce Holmes movies arguably ended at the right time, even if it might have been nice to have gotten a few more, and maintained a pretty good standard as a result.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I agree completely with your feelings on this – it remains great fun but doesn’t quite hit heights some of the others do.

    With the Rathbone Holmes series, the 30s and 40s Saint films and the main series of Falcon movies done, what next in the old detective shorts? Charlie Chan or Mr Moto, maybe? Incidentally, did you ever review the final Louis Hayward Saint film – The Saint’s Girl Friday?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, I’m going to have to find something else to get in to! The others have been ‘presented’ to me by the BBC, but the next one I’ll have to seek out.

      I’m not sure I was even aware of another Louis Hayward before now, so I’ll have to track that down too. Thanks for the tip!


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