Three little Black Boys walking in the zoo; A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
So this film is based on the first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet. However, the film doesn’t follow the book at all. When Hollywood wanted to purchase the film rights, it was cheaper to buy the name versus the actual story. They decided to save money and write their own story.
When I first watched this, on my mystery thriller binge that included Mystery of the 13th Guest, I didn’t like it as it was too similar to And Then There Was None by Agatha Christie. It even uses the same poem about the 10 Little Indians although in this they are 10 Little Black Boys.
But then I found out something that surprised me…
The Agatha Christie book was published six years after the film came out!
Could Agatha Christie have copied a Sherlock Holmes film, that isn’t really written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?
I’d rather not think about that. Moving on.
Reginald Owen stars as Sherlock Holmes. He is one of the few actors to play both roles of Watson and Holmes, so he isn’t the typical form of Sherlock Holmes. He’s a bit rounder in body, less angular in the face, and isn’t as intense about his deductions. In my honest opinion he is a bit wooden and a tad boring.
So some of you might be wondering why I would do a Sherlock Holmes film as you might not think it is horror. On the contrary we have a mysterious force killing people (perhaps a ghost?), and I think that qualifies it. In the future I’ll review some others, like the creepy one where he hunts a serial killer. For now, A Study in Scarlet.
(BTW: There aren’t any pictures online that are good quality, and as I didn’t take any screenshots while watching all images will not be from the film.)
The film begins with some people on a train trying to get the person out of the the bathroom. No one answers so they send for someone to pull a ladder to look in through the high window. What they find is a dead man.
In the next scene we are shown a newspaper advertisement with the following strange code:
692 3 7 13 7
Scarlet 23 4 76
Meanwhile, in a seedy looking area we have the beautiful, blonde, Eileen Forrester and her fiancé, John Stanford. She has been called to a meeting, and John had walked her there.
When we enter the room we see that it is a secret meeting, of what we don’t know. Besides Eileen we have five other men around the table, and one presiding. The man at the head calling the meeting to order is Thaddeus Merrydew.
They discuss business and plan to pay for the late members funeral, the man found dead on the train. Meanwhile, they all dislike the widowed wife, Mrs. Murphy and agree to give her nothing.
Meanwhile, a woman has decided she will go to 221A Baker Street to speak to Sherlock Holmes.
A? A! A?!
How can you do a Sherlock Holmes adaption and get that wrong!!!! That’d be like changing Sherlock’s name to John or Daniel, or something. NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO!!!!
Anyways, inside Sherlock is having a look at that ad.
692 3 7 13 7
Scarlet 23 4 76
Dr. Watson bets Sherlock that he won’t solve it, and you know Sherlock, he can never back down from a challenge.
In fact Sherlock says it is all rather simple. All you need is the right large book, something everyone would have a copy of…like the bible.
But before they can do research they are interrupted by Mrs. Murphy. She is upset because Mr. Merrydew has all her money. They’ve been married for five years, right after they met while both in Thailand. He would go to London to check on finances and was headed there, when he committed suicide.
Sherlock asks if there has been any changes recently, and Mrs. Murphy says the only odd thing she found was a note that contained lines from an old English nursery tale.
Six little Black Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Sherlock Holmes assures Mrs. Murphy he will do his best and then he and Dr. Watson discuss it. Sherlock has tangled with Merrydew before, always trying to trap him and send him to prison, but so far he has managed to escape all his traps.
Back at the meeting, everyone has left except Captain Pyke, Eileen, and Merrydew. While Captain Pyke starts heading out, Merrydew takes Eileen aside and warns her not to share anything going on with anyone, not even her fiancé. In fact she shouldn’t get married until this business is all settled.
Eileen finds that incredibly strange.
But before she can seriously think on it bam! Captain Pyke is shot!
Merrydew tells Eileen to wait while he gets help, he runs down a bit but them stops and waits; checking his watch.
While he is gone, Eileen gets attacked from behind, knocked out.
When she regains consciousness, Merrydew returns and asks what happened. As Eileen tells him of her attack she notices that the body is missing!
Eileen wants to talk to the police, but Merrydew urges her to head home, saying it is better for her to not be involved. She listens and leaves.
Later Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and the police are looking at the autopsy of the body of Captain Pyke.
Sherlock notices a giant ring on the body. When they look through his personal effects they also find a note:
Five little Black Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
In comes his wife, a beautiful Chinese woman, played by Anna May Wong. The body was so badly destroyed, that she was only able to identify him by a family heirloom, a ring, that she gave him six years ago when they married. He never takes it off.
Sherlock questions her but doesn’t find out much. It does turn out that her lawyer is Merrydew. There’s that man involved once again!
We then see a list of people involved, those who had been originally a part of the deal, three of the names crossed out as they are dead.
Next day one of the men from the group discovers a note at his desk:
Four little Black Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
While the man is thinking of what he means, a man enters the room although we as a viewer only see his shadow.
He shouts out, “No not you” and is then killed, shot in the head.
The police are stumped as to who or what has been doing these killings. They call in Sherlock who starts reviewing the area. He finds the note and also figures out by the way the man was killed was shot in the head, body dragged, rearranged and shot again so that it would like suicide rather than murder.
He also deduces that the victim died from poison and supplies a description of the murderer: six feet tall, disproportionately small feet, florid complexion, square toed boots, and smoking a Trichinopoly cigar.
Sherlock heads out to visit with Merrydew and discuss things. When he reaches his office, Merrydew makes him wait forever.
He finally lets them in, offering a Trichinopoly cigar, but not one to Watson.
Sherlock discusses Mrs. Murphy’s claim of inheritance but gets nowhere with Merrydew. He asks for paper and a pencil, using the time to snoop on his desk. He writes a note and gives it folded to Merrydew.
A note that contains the numbers from the ad in the newspaper. This upsets Merrydew and proves to Sherlock he is on the right track.
As they head out Sherlock reveals to Watson that his snooping found the book from the code, Whitaker’s Almanac. Watson brings up that Merrydew certainly fits the description provided by Sherlock, down to the small feet in square cut shoes. As they head out they also run into Mrs. Pyke.
Merrydew goes to see Eileen to tell her about the new meeting and make sure she comes. As they are talking they are interrupted by her fiancé Stanford.
Stanford feels something is not right and is rather upset over the whole thing.
Eileen decides to spill the story to him. Right before her father died, he asked Eileen to visit him. There he told her she had a great inheritance, tons of money coming her way; but only if she listens to Merrydew and does all that he asks of her.
While they are talking Stanford hears something.
Outside a man is watching Eileen
Stanford scares him off, but is deeply unsettled. He goes to Sherlock Holmes and shares his fears about this strange black bearded man. Sherlock tells him to watch Eileen constantly, her life is in danger.
Sherlock moves on to his next step of research, looking through Whitaker’s Almanac and decoding it.
Meeting of Scarlet Ring Tuesday
Holmes decides to take an even more proactive role and include his own message in the paper asking for info on the Scarlet Ring.
The next day Sherlock travels in disguise to look at the Pyke family home. He hires a cab to get there, liquors up his driver, and pumps him for information. He finds out the Captain hasn’t been there in years. As a child he used to be a real terror, throwing bricks and injuring others.
Sherlock leaves cabbie and heads to the house. He sees that the house is for sale and pretends that he is interested.
Unfortunately, the maid won’t stop following him around trying to help him.
He pretends to have a heart attack and gets her to leave the house to find a doctor. With her out of the way, Sherlock can begin searching for trap doors or secret passages.
He finds a secret passage and a box of cigars the same brand as the one smoked by the assassin.
At the Hotel Savoy, Mrs. Pyke is meeting with Mr. Wilson, a member of the “Scarlet ring”. She invites him for the weekend to “help put her finances in order”. He readily accepts.
That night the Scarlet Ring meeting is in disarray. The remaining members of the ring are scared out of their minds.
Who will be next? Which one of the group is the killer? In fact, two start wondering if they should spill to Shelock. The waiting and being picked off one by one is torturing them.
Merrydew tries to bring order stating that it will be impossible to go to the police as they will then have to pay for their crime they committed. They’ve been waiting five years for a payout and now the dream of 1 million pounds divided equally among the survivors will be happening. Money is a powerful tool to get people to do things.
That night Stanford calls Holmes with his info. He and Watson head down to meet him. As they watch the door they see the men exit very suspicious, looking every where and trying to watch their back.
While they watch everyone leave, they notice that Eileen has not exited.
They rush in and find her knocked out on the ground, gas filling the room. Someone has tried to kill her too.
Holmes sends her home with Stanford and heads back to Baker Street.
Back on Baker Street, Mr. Wilson heads over to Holmes’ place fearing for his life.
While that is happening the assassin meets with Merrydew. This is the best part of the film as it is revealed to not be Merrydew, but the man never talks or shows his face; all done from his point of view.
Back at Holmes’ place, Mr. Wilson comes and tells Holmes he was almost run down by a black bearded man. Sherlock surmises that the Scarlet Ring has to do with China, and is based on inheritance. He sends Wilson home to hide in the cellar, escorting him with Watson.
Wilson mentions that he will be heading to Mrs. Pyke’s tomorrow for the weekend, and Holmes warns him to plead a headache and hide in his room.
As they are heading out Sherlock finds a dead body on his doorstep.
As he looks at the body, he finds a not addressed to him.
Three little Black Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
The next day, Wilson goes to Mrs. Pyke’s home, with Sherlock and the police following. As they are about to set up the trap, Stanford comes in saying that Eileen has disappeared.
Stanford tells him how he recieved a telegram from Sherlock and tried to follow the instructions, but he didn’t understand them. When he returned to Eileen’s house, he found that she had left with a Chinese woman. After that he hurried to find Sherlock.
Sherlock & co. head out to the Grange, Captain Pike’s home, to head off the action.
Eileen is inside with Mrs. Pyke and Mr. Wilson. Mrs. Pyke got her to come saying that Sherlock needed her here. It is late and they are waiting to hear from him. The door buzzes and a telegram comes for Eileen, Mrs. Pyke reviews it first and sees that it is blank.
This was sent by Sherlock to make sure Eileen was in the house.
Afterwards, Wilson decides that he will go to bed, Eileen agreeing to do likewise. Wilson warns her to be careful and lock her door.
Killer comes into the house and asks Mrs. Pyke about the plan. After he enters, Dr. Watson and Sherlock enter the house through the passage Sherlock found earlier.
Eileen’s room gets broken into and she faints while the man takes her down to the cellar.
Wilson heard Eileen cry out and Mrs. Pyke asks for his help, so he decides to ignore Sherlock’s advice and open the door. Meanwhile she and her manservant are planning on killing him.
Sherlock, Dr. Watson, & the officers come running in and save Eileen and Mr. Wilson. They then reveal who the real killer is.
I had thought it was odd how his wife had to identify him by ring alone. The Captain pretended to be dead, but was really killing everyone with Merrydew’s help. Merrydew comes on the scene and pretends he knows nothing, but is captured as well.
Sherlock knew the body was a fake as the hand had no marks from wearing the ring for six years.
Five years ago a collection of amazing jewels were stolen and have been sold off throughout the years, this was what the Scarlet Ring was. The thieves selling off the jewels, preparing to spilt the proceeds when the last one was gone. Captain Pyke got greedy and didn’t want to share; roping in Merrydew and his wife to assist him.
All is finished and another case solved for Sherlock Holmes
I thought this was an okay film, not as good as the later ones were. I also didn’t care for the actor playing Sherlock. But it wasn’t horrible, just okay.
To start Horrorfest IV from the beginning, go to You Cannot Conquer It. It Has Conquered You!: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931)
For the previous post, go to Someone Has Erased His Memory: Total Recall (1990)
For more on Sherlock Holmes, go to The World’s Greatest Criminal Mind