"Murder is an insidious thing, Watson. Once a man has dipped in fingers in blood, sooner or later he'll feel the urge to kill again." (Sherlock Holmes, in
The House of Fear). Basil Rathbone
and Nigel Bruce are together again as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in The
House of Fear — the tenth film in the Sherlock Holmes series.
Atop a craggy cliff top in Scotland sits Drearcliff House, the home of
seven friends who call themselves the "Good Comrades." After two of them die
under mysterious and gory circumstances, Holmes and Watson are invited by the
Good Comrades' insurance agency to investigate, and find out if the deaths are
accidental or murder. It is suspicious because each member in the group named
the others as beneficiaries in case of his death. Each man is worth a great deal
more dead than alive. Holmes is intrigued when insurance agent Chalmers explains
that each of the men who died received an envelope containing orange pips
(seeds) just prior to their deaths. When Holmes sees a photograph of the Good
Comrades, he recognizes Dr. Merrivale in the photo, a man who had been tried for
their arrival in Scotland Holmes and Watson learn of the legend of Drearcliff,
that "No man goes whole to his grave." Shortly thereafter the housekeeper
from Drearcliff comes to the police to report another death at the creepy old
house. The police invite Holmes and Watson to come along. The charred remains of
the third victim are found in the furnace. Since the third death is clearly a
murder, Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard is called. Together Lestrade and
Holmes try to solve the mystery and protect the remaining members of the Good
One by one each of the remaining men receives an envelope with orange
pips, and later his horribly mutilated body is found, until finally only one man
remains. Is he the killer?
Watson and Holmes on their way to the Scottish
village near Drearcliff
McGregor tells Holmes and Watson about the
The House of Fear is supposedly based on "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips," but, as is usually the case when one of the Sherlock Holmes films claims to be based on a Conan Doyle story, only a kernel of an idea has been taken from the story and a completely different story has been written. The only similarity between
The House of Fear and "The Adventure of the Five Orange Pips" is that the intended victim receives an envelope containing the orange pips as a warning that he is about to be murdered. Nevertheless, it's a good yarn, with plenty of suspects and a surprise twist at the end.
Another of the Basil Rathbone—Nigel Bruce Sherlock
Holmes—Dr. Watson mysteries in the light-budget whodunit vein for the duallers, this one is better than average.
Yarn deals with the
disappearance of all members of "The Good Comrades Club" except one,
who supposedly is to inherit the insurance policy covering the group.
Holmes is called in, and with the aid of Dr. Watson finds several
clues which lead to the finding of those who faded from sight in a
secret hiding place in the cellar of a large English mansion.
Rathbone and Bruce go through their paces in the usual
oh-so-British manner, aided by Dennis Hoey, as the police inspector,
and Aubrey Mather, as the surviving member. Settings are substantial,
dialog trite at times but interesting enough. The camera work by
Virgil Miller could have been better.
March 21, 1945
Concerning The House of Fear, the
TV Guide Database states, "After attempting to move Holmes and Watson into the modern WWII era, Universal decided to return the pair to Victorian times for this [film]." This statement is incorrect. As you will observe in the film, one of the "good comrades" dies when his car drives over a cliff. There are also references to telephones and other non-Victorian things.
The story does not, however, involve Nazis or World War II spies.
Holmes and Watson
Holmes questions Mrs. Monteith, the housekeeper.
"Observant viewers will recognize the Drearcliff interiors and exteriors
from the sets. for Hulstone Towers in Sherlock
Holmes Faces Death—that elaborately cluttered living room, the suits
of armor and the checkerboard floor that was key, in the earlier film, to
another secret passage that led to a crypt. The scenes at the inn and
graveyard are the familiar Universal sets used in the Frankenstein and
Wolf Man movies."
Classic Film Freak
LATEST OF THE SHERLOCK HOLMES SERIES IS ACCEPTABLE
Melodramatic entertainment that borders on
the gruesome has been concocted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story
"The Adventures of the Five Orange Pips." The Sherlock Holmes fans
should have themselves a grand time, for the film is among the best of
the series, being loaded with action, suspenses and unalloyed
The scene of the story is a forbidding old house on the Scottish
coast where the members of a club known as "The Good Comrades" keep
disappearing mysteriously, supposedly the victims of foul play. Each
holds a heavy insurance policy naming the club's final survivor as the
beneficiary. By the time Holmes and his trusty Dr. Watson find the
answer to the riddle only one member is left. The missing members are
found in an abandoned tunnel very much alive. Their murders were faked
to enable them to get the insurance money.
The film has capable direction by Roy William Neill, who also
produced, and acting that has much to be said for it. Basil Rathbone
and Nigel Bruce once more are an effective and amusing team.
—The Film Daily, March
On November 4, 1965, Basil Rathbone
attended a gathering of the Maiwand Jezails (a Scion of the Baker Street
Irregulars) and gave a 20-minute presentation. His speech included some comments
about the Sherlock Holmes films:
None of those pictures made at Universal took more
than 17 days. We never started shooting before nine —
today it's 8:30 or even 8 o'clock —
and worked until six. No night work unless required by the script. At
four o'clock there was half an hour for tea. This mood —
the whole of the making of the pictures —
they had a sense of "family." We all got along very well together. We
had our little differences from time to time but the one lovely
character of them all was our dear friend, the director.
We loved Roy Neill. He was mousy, a little guy. A little guy and as
sweet as they come. But a damn good disciplinarian. We didn't disobey
orders on the set. We were always on time and we always knew our lines. It
was thoroughly professional.
Rathbone's speech to the Maiwand Jezails was printed in The Woods
Runner (May 1979, vol. VII, No. 31). Roy Neill was the director of 11
of the 12 Sherlock Holmes films made at Universal. (Sherlock Holmes and
the Voice of Terror was directed by John Rawlins.)
Alastair and Cosgrave persuade Holmes to stay at Drearcliff
Holmes notices Simpson's tattoo.
The film was shot in May 1944, but not released until March 1945. Universal
gave the film the same title as a 1939 Universal film starring William Gargan
and Irene Hervey, but the two films are unrelated.
Basil Rathbone was paid $20,000 for making The House of Fear; Nigel Bruce was
paid $12,000. The budget for the film was $192,250.
Audience Slant: (Adult) Another Sherlock
Holmes mystery with enough killings to satisfy the most rabid mystery
Box-Office Slant: A satisfactory program offering.
Plot: A unique club known as "The Good Comrades" meets at a
mysterious Scottish mansion. Each member must carry a large insurance
policy upon himself made out to the last surviving member. Deaths and
queer occurrences bring in Basil Rathbone and he solves these
mysterious happenings in an unexpected way.
Comment: Again Sherlock Holmes goes forth to solve a mystery
that hasn't much suspense but an over-abundance of killings. It's the
kind of a picture that should make a satisfactory program offering in
situations where patrons aren't too critical. For armchair detectives
there's a challenge in the solution, for the story has a surprise
ending. Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce are very satisfactory in the
roles of the famous detective and his assistant, respectively. Others
in the cast whose appearances are worthy of mention are Sally
Shepherd, Paul Cavanagh and Aubrey Mather. Roy William Neill produced
—Showmen's Trade Review,
March 24, 1945
The House of Fear is one of the best of the 12 Universal Sherlock
Holmes films. It has a great cast of suspicious characters and an appropriately sinister atmosphere.
Not all film critics agree, however. Reviews were mixed, with most stating that the film was at least entertaining
and satisfactory. The New York Times was decidedly negative: "Neither the
mystery nor the solution are anything to get nervous about, and Mr. Rathbone's
performance of the detective is as pedestrian as a cop's on patrol. Sherlock
Holmes has certainly gone to the bow-wows in the clutches of Hollywood." Bosley Crowther,
New York Times, March 17, 1945
"The Master hasn't lost his old, exasperating touch." The New Yorker, March 31, 1945
Dr. Merrivale, Holmes and Watson
Holmes checks on Merrivale.
"This is a classic whodunit, based on Doyle's story 'The Five Orange Pips,'
and it features lots of delicious tension of the sort featured in
countless other films—like John Carpenter's The
the killer could be any of the characters. The ending is definitely a
shocker." Casey Broadwater,
Basil Rathbone, again playing that master of
deductive reasoning, Sherlock Holmes, is not called upon to display
his full powers in this direction in "The House of Fear," latest of
the superior series by Universal, because a superfluity of clues and
suspects baffles even this 'human bloodhound'; nevertheless, it
emerges as another interesting, and at times exciting detective film.
When individual members of a club known as 'The Good Comrades,' who
gather at the dreary Scottish mansion owned by Aubrey Mather, meet
their deaths, each one foreshadowed by delivery of a letter containing
orange pits, the master is called in on the case with Dr. Watson. As
the murders, for such it seems they are, proceed in a veritable
procession, Rathbone is powerless to prevent them. When only Mather
remains alive, Scotland Yard Inspector Dennis Hoey arrests him as the
murderer, but Rathbone, scornful of the obvious, finds an old
smuggler's tunnel which leads him to the 'murdered victims,' all very
much alive. It seems that each of the band has had a large insurance
policy placed on his life, the proceeds of which they had caused to be
Rathbone delivers his usual urbane performance as the master
detective; Nigel Bruce lends solid support, and a group of able
character actors also register creditably. Roy William Neill produced
and directed, stressing mystery and suspense, while Roy Chansler did
the screenplay from a Conan Doyle story.
—Motion Picture Daily,
March 20, 1945
"The tenth film in the franchise is loosely based on a Sir Arthur Conan
Doyle story, but this new twist still delivers the goods. ... Watching Holmes, Watson and later on Lestrade try to avoid
more murders inside an old Scottish mansion is a lot of fun; the three of
them are a humorous contrast to the agitated potential victims." Stefan
Thrill Me Softly
Holmes, Lestrade, and Alastair
Watson, Holmes, Lestrade and Simpson
" ... charming, with the skillful interplay of the leads set neatly off once
again by Neill’s off-noir lighting and intelligent pace." Dan Stumpf,
Go to Page Two for more reviews and pictures from The House of Fear. See Page Three for pictures of posters,
lobby cards and promo photos.
Basil Rathbone ...
Nigel Bruce ...
Aubrey Mather ...
Dennis Hoey ...
Harry Cording ...
Wilson Benge ...
Richard Alexander ...
Leslie Denison ...
Alec Craig ...
David Thursby ...
Bobbie Hale ...
Roy William Neill
Roy William Neill
Asst. Director ...
Film Editing ...
Dialogue Director ...
John B. Goodman, Eugene Lourie
Musical Director ...
Stock Music Composers ...
Hans J. Salter, Frank Skinner
Writer (story) ...
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ("The Adventure of the
Five Orange Pips")