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Leslie S. Hiscotte
Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming, Minnie Rayner
Writing Credits:
Cyril Twyford

A card cheat is threatened with exposure into joining a criminal enterprise that Holmes believes is controlled by Professor Moriarty.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English Dolby Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 81 min.
Price: $59.95
Release Date: 12/21/2021
Available Only As Part of 4-Movie “Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection”

• Audio Commentary with Film Scholar Jennifer Churchill
• Radio Broadcast Recreation
• “The Adventures of Sam Sherman Part One” Featurette
• Bonus Shorts
• Booklet


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Sherlock Holes' Fatal Hour [Blu-Ray] (1931)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 26, 2021)

If Wikipedia offers correct information, Sherlock Holmes stands as the single literary character most depicted in movies and TV. We go back 90 years for one of these many adaptations via 1931’s Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour.

Based on two separate Arthur Conan Doyle novels, Hour introduces us to Ronald Adair (Leslie Perrins), a man who routinely cheats at cards for financial gain. A mysterious voice tells him he must join a counterfeit money scheme or else his illicit dealings will get exposed.

Adair reluctantly agrees and this leads to complications. Super sleuth Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Wontner) hops onto the case and soon finds himself in pursuit of Professor Moriarty (Norman McKinnel), his eternal foe and the possible mastermind behind this crime.

The Holmes movies tend to be identified by the actor who plays the lead. In 1939, Basil Rathbone would take over the part and become the first to become identified with the character for the long-term.

Hour offered Wontner’s first of five stabs at the part. Given that Rathbone made 14 Holmes movies, this seems like an awfully brief run.

Based on Hour, I can’t claim that audiences missed out on greatness via the brevity of Wontner’s time in the role. He provides a dull, fussy Holmes with little of the charisma or cleverness we expect of the character.

Granted, I don’t know if I can blame Wontner for the movie’s failings, given the rest of the production follows suit. As far as murder mysteries go, this feels bland and totally free from suspense.

Admittedly, Hour doesn’t stray from the era’s cinematic style and momentum, as plenty of early 1930s movies lack particularly tight pacing. Still, better flicks from that period managed a reasonable sense of drama and movement, whereas this one just seems stagnant.

Scenes tend to run far too long and often go nowhere. Even with a brief 81-minute length, Hour feels padded.

Shouldn’t a murder mystery feel a bit more thrilling and urgent? That doesn’t happen here, as the story feels stuck in place too much of the time.

Themes and plot points take forever to develop, and even when they do, they never become especially intriguing. In general, we find ourselves stuck with dull scenes about bookbinding and other fairly pointless minutiae.

As noted, Wontner offers a flat, milquetoast Holmes, and no one else compensates. The most excitement here comes from the presence of Ian Fleming as Dr. Watson, but even that sizzle dissipates when we find out it’s not that Ian Fleming.

As a fairly early Holmes feature, Hour offers some historical value. Unfortunately, the end product bores.

The Disc Grades: Picture D+/ Audio D+/ Bonus B-

Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Even for a movie from 1933, this image seemed problematic.

Sharpness seemed up and down. Most of the movie felt rather soft and it rarely displayed appealing delineation.

I saw no signs of jaggies or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. Grain abounded and tended to seem overly heavy. I also saw occasional specks, streaks and lines, though these didn’t abound.

The image did tend to wobble a little, though, and I saw a fair amount of flickering. The frame seemed slightly cropped at the top, so we lost parts of heads at times.

Blacks tended to be inky and wan, and low-light shots usually looked too bright. This wound up as an unattractive presentation.

The movie’s Dolby monaural soundtrack didn’t fare much better. Speech tended to seem shrill and harsh.

Music played a small role, as movies from 1931 usually lacked much use of score. When music did appear, though, these elements came across as trebly and tinny.

Effects fell into the same range, as these sounded rough and distorted. Some background pops occurred, but the obvious use of noise reduction removed hiss. Like the visuals, the audio felt sub-par even for a 90-year-old movie.

We find a mix of extras here, and these start with an audio commentary from film historian Jennifer Churchill. She offers a running, screen-specific look at the source and its adaptation, cast and crew, genre domains and related topics.

Though Churchill gives us a passable overview of subjects connected to Hour, she provides a pretty lackluster chat as a whole. Even with a short movie to cover, she goes silent too often, and she occasionally digresses into dull tangents. This never becomes a poor commentary, but it fails to tell us a lot of value.

Another audio-only piece, we find a radio broadcast recreation entitled Sherlock Holmes and the Blue Carbuncle. It runs 39 minutes, 47 seconds and attempts to emulate a period radio dramatization. This offers mild entertainment value but feels somewhat campy and unconvincing.

A featurette entitled The Adventures of Sam Sherman Part One spans seven minutes, 40 seconds. It brings notes from filmmaker Sherman as he gives us some production notes as well as his experiences with Hour and the other Holmes movies of its era.

While Sherman offers some decent notes, this feels like an odd program because it lacks much focus. Also, the package never identifies Sherman’s role in the proceedings.

This seems really strange, as we normally get “film historian” or whatever to let us know why we should listen to a commentator. Maybe it’s not formally necessary to slap some title on Sherman, but it remains perplexing, as the package leaves the impression we should know who Sherman is without any introduction.

Some silent shorts follow: A Black Sherlock Holmes (1918) and Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900). The first time Holmes appeared in a film, Baffled runs a whopping 38 seconds.

Baffled uses trick photography to show a criminal who magically disappears in front of Holmes and leaves him…baffled. It’s utterly useless as entertainment 121 years after its creation, but it’s great to see as a piece of history.

We also get A Black Sherlock Holmes, which appears in both “Cut” (14:38) and “Uncut” (13:24) versions. The “Cut” one claims to edit the film to make it “family friendly”, though it seems strange that the “Cut” film runs longer than “Uncut”.

After I watched both, I also couldn’t figure out what “Cut” did to make “Uncut” supposedly “family friendly”. I assumed “Uncut” would come with some crass racial elements, but if it did, I couldn’t find these.

That said, “Uncut” looks so terrible that it becomes literally unwatchable. Only occasionally can the viewer actually discern the action, as the print suffers from such severe damage that it usually seems impossible to figure out the story or scenes. Maybe something racist occurs and I can’t see it due to the miserable nature of the source.

“Cut” looks awful as well, but it provides a more watchable experience. While it suffers from plenty of damage too, at least the viewer can probably tell what’s going on most of the time.

I appreciate the inclusion of the short for historical reasons. However, it offers no entertainment value simply because it looks so awful.

The package also includes a booklet. It gives us an essay called “Arthur Wontner: True Brit Part 1”, and it adds some value.

As one of the earliest of the character’s feature films, Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour possesses some curiosity value. Unfortunately, it fizzles as a movie, for it brings no suspense or drama. The Blu-ray suffers from weak picture and audio along with a mix of bonus features. Leave this dud for Holmes completists.

Note that this release of Fatal Hour appears only as part of a four-movie “Sherlock Holmes Vault Collection”. It also includes 1933’s A Study in Scarlet, 1935’s The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes and 1937’s Silver Blaze.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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