“When the fabled Star of Rhodesia diamond is stolen on a London to Edinburgh train and the son of its owner is murdered, Sherlock Holmes must discover which of his suspicious fellow passengers is responsible.”
Director: Roy William Neill
Writers: Frank Gruber, Arthur Conan Doyle
Staring: Basil Rothbone, Nigel Bruce, Alan Mowbray
Streaming: Amazon Prime
Release Date: February 1, 1946
Sometimes you just need to watch a good detective story. It is phenomenal that Amazon Prime is now housing numerous Sherlock Holmes movies venturing across decades. The older movies are short, swift, and perfect late night snackable entertainment.
Terror By Night (1946) wastes none of its 55 minute run-time. Basil Rathbone plays a sassy Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce plays a more dim-witted version of Dr John H. Watson than I anticipated, and together they must work to solve a murder and find out who has stole an illustrious jewel by the name of the Star Of Rhodesia.
The duo, also working with the familiar Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey), lock down a car of a moving train and being interrogating the people and the situation. There is Watson’s friend, Major Duncan-Bleek (Alan Mowbray), a young women who was hired to bring a coffin on a train (Renee Godfrey), an odd mathematics professor (Frederick Worlock) and the original owner of the Star Of Rhodesia, the Lady Margaret Carstairs (Mary Forbes).
Terror By Night is not based off of a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book, but it may have drawn inspiration from a popular 1934 Agatha Christie book, Murder On The Orient Express. There are undeniable similarities in terms of a eccentric detective needed to solve a murder case on a locomotive. Unique suspects, witty one-liners and a well monologued description of the solution at the end…the two stories are very similar in nature.
In terms of Terror By Night, the movie is best served when there is simply just…talking. When Rathbone is able to eat up the screenplay and spit out the lines written for Mr. Holmes, the train picks up steam. The Holmes of this story is not outrightly rude to his comrades, but he does thrive in the quiet disapproving and observing glares.
There are twists and turns to the story, some of which are easy enough to pick up on. However, there is one twist at the end of a Terror By Night that withstands the tests of overthinking.
*Spoiler alert for a movie released in 1946*
Throughout the movie, Mr. Holmes mentions a name by the name of Colonel Sebastian Moran, who is one of Moriarty’s henchmen. Based off the context of the story, Holmes and Watson bested Moriarty in a prior tale, but the idea of a big bad is a cloud no hero can step out from under.
In the end, Holmes dictates how Duncan-Bleek is Moran. The presumed friend of Watson was playing possum in order to get close to Holmes and the Star Of Rhodesia. Two two policemen, who inconspicuously arrived on the scene just upon entering the country of Scotland to presumably aid in the solving of the crime. After a quick pull of the emergency break, Holmes and Duncan-Bleek tangle together and the victor is Holmes. Duncan-Bleek is beaten with Holmes jacket laid over him in shame and defeat.
The two policeman escort their jurisdictional victory and escort the captured off the train, but the story can not wrap up neatly there. Holmes realized that there was suspicious activity afoot when the two random policemen entered the train. It is revealed that the man cloaked that was walked off the train by the big men in blue was not actually the Colonel Moran, but rather it was Inspector Lestarde. Moran is still on the train and understandably frustrated, but Holmes gets a final jab into his new archenemies” ego just prior to credits rolling.
I did not predict or notice the late switch with the shady cops. That is a credit to the screenplay. I get the switching the diamonds and the unassuming accomplices. But the last bait and switch had me taking the bait.
*End Of Spoilers*
Terror By Night is wonderfully enjoyable. It is not earth shattering. It is not worthy of utmost praise. Terror By Night is a perfectly acceptable short story that brings everyone together for a quick game of who-done-it. If you enjoy Murder On The Orient Express type stories, then give this Holmes original a shot.
STANKO RATING: C (2.5/5 Stars)
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