HCF may be one of the newest voices on the web for all things Horror and Cult, and while our aim is to bring you our best opinion of all the new and strange that hits the market, we still cannot forget about our old loves, the films that made us want to create the website to spread the word. So, now and again our official critics at the HCF headquarters have an urge to throw aside their new required copies of the week and dust down their old collection and bring them to the fore…. our aim, to make sure that you may have not missed the films that should be stood proud in your collection.
HCF REWIND NO.94. SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE DEADLY NECKLACE AKA THE VALLEY OF FEAR, SHERLOCK HOLMES UND DAS HALSBAND DES TODES [Germany, 1962]
AVAILABLE ON DVD
RUNNING TIME: 84 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
An invaluable necklace, reputed to have belonged to Cleopatra, has gone missing soon after its discovery in an Ancient Egyptian burial chamber. Could the theft be related to a series of homicides, in which Holmes detects the hand of distinguished anthropologist Professor Moriarty? And could it also be connected to the death of a police informer, who expires in Holmes’s abode while making strange fluttering gestures with his hands? Holmes sets out to investigate, despite being warned by Inspector Cooper of Scotland Yard to leave things well alone….
It sounds great, doesn’t it? A Sherlock Holmes movie starring Christopher Lee [who decades later in 1990 played him in two TV movies, but was in his prime here] as the great detective, who, with the aid of a false nose, looks just like the man in the original illustrations of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories by Sidney Paget. Directed by Lee’s co-Hammer stalwart Terence Fisher, who made many of that studio’s timeless horror classics as well as, of course, their wonderful version of The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Written by Curt Siodmak, scribe of many great 40’s chillers such as The Wolfman and I Walked With A Zombie. Sounds like as recipe for a cracking Holmes film, an atmospheric , exciting and clever mystery. Well….um…..no, that’s not what you get. Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace, which despite being called The Valley Of Fear in some countries bears hardly any resemblance to the Doyle novel of that name, isn’t quite an unmitigated disaster, but it’s a serious disappointment and may well try the patience of many a Holmes fan.
The black and white film had numerous production problems, most of them it seems caused by producer Artur Brauner, who felt a need to interfere in everything but never for the better. Terence Fisher lost his temper for the only time in his directorial career and was replaced by the first assistant Frank Winterstein, which explains why the film lacks Fisher’s usual graceful, elegant style. Much of Siodmak’s script was rewritten with elements reminiscent of some Holmes stories cobbled together. The film featured a mostly German crew but was shot silent, with the dubbing done later, but, worse than that, Brauner refused to pay for Lee and his co-star Thorley Walters to dub their own voices. The eventual dubbing sounds awful, with a sound recording worse than most Hong Kong martial arts movies, and it really is a crime to have a star with one of the most distinctive voices in the world, and one perfect for making incredible deductions, and not use his voice. Of course this wasn’t the only time this happened to Lee, who made quite a few films in Europe around this time, but at least Mario Bava’s The Whip And The Body was a near-masterpiece and you can almost forgive not being able to hear Lee. Sherlock Holmes And The Deadly Necklace most certainly isn’t.
The film was made during a time when movies based on the mystery novels of Edgar Wallace were very popular [they would later mutate into the Italian giallos], and has much more the feel of a Wallace-based effort than a Doyle one, right from the opening of a corpse floating in a canal which is almost identical to the opening of a British Wallace adaptation from 1939, The Dark Eyes Of London. The plot lurches from Holmes discovering his arch-enemy Moriarty is up to something, to a country house murder, to much rather dull fighting over the necklace with considerable awkwardness, while Holmes doesn’t do much using of his amazing brain. He is portrayed more as a man of action, and is given a nice scene where he challenges Watson to a mock duel, but the film doesn’t actually give him much action to indulge in. Lee supposedly intended to play Holmes as “intolerant, argumentative and difficult” as originally written, but little of this is apparent on the screen. Walter’s Watson, meanwhile, is very much in the comic relief, Nigel Bruce mode.
It’s not all bad. The setting has been moved forward a couple of decades but 1910-ish London is nicely evoked [it was actually in Dublin]. There are some good barbed dialogue exchanges between Holmes and Moriarty, which hint at the film which could have been, and some priceless moments involving Mrs Hudson, who has to put the dinner she cooked for Holmes back in the oven and is later told by Holmes that he won’t eat the breakfast she has made but that he will be back in time for lunch. Overall, though, this just doesn’t really work, and by the time the open ending comes along, you’ll be glad this didn’t lead to a series. The hint of Jack the Ripper, though, was followed through three years later when co-producer Heinrich von Leipziger had a hand in the far better A Study In Terror.