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In 1903 Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a short story called "The Adventure of
the Six Napoleons". In it Inspector Lestrade tells Holmes and Watson of
a strange series of seemingly unrelated crimes in which houses are
burglarized and bric-a-brac smashed. Is it the work of a madman or an
intelligent criminal? Holmes discovers the running link in the crimes -
in each case a cheap bust of Emperor Napoleon I was smashed. Then the
crimes become deadlier - a man is murdered at the site of one of the
smashups (the home of a newspaperman named Harker - a name retained in
the movie by a minor victim). Holmes soon finds out that the busts came
from a store where a man who fits the description of the criminal
worked. This criminal is captured. The final one of the six busts is
found, and broken before Watson and Lestrade by Holmes. And out pops
the world's rarest black pearl, the Borgia Pearl.
Of course the story is more fully fleshed out by Conan Doyle. His
villain is an ethnic type - so there is a little racism (though nothing
like the racism met with in G.K.Chesterton or R.Austin Freeman).
However the story is not totally like that in the film. The villain,
Beppo, is not a criminal mastermind - not a Moriarty type. He has a
clever idea, not one of many clever ideas. And he kills his victim when
he is confronted by an enemy (something totally unplanned). There is no
"creature of the night" figure of dread but just Beppo.
So the film version is (except for the pearl and the busts of Napoleon)
a rewrite. Giles Connover and the Creeper (or, as Lestrade calls him,
"the Oxton 'Orror") are movie innovations, and both are quite
effective, thanks to Miles Manders acting and (unfortunately) Rondo
Hatton's appearance. But they helped make the film better than average.
So does Rathbone. He does a disguise act at the start (as good as his
song and dance act in "THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES"). He also has
a go at imitating the voice of another actor in the film (and he does
it nicely)and a disguise at the end. Nice balance there. Bruce adds
some good comedy, especially when he thinks fast and shows he too can
hide the pearl. Also note his scene where he tries to reassure a
visitor that he is as good at deductions as Holmes was.
Altogether a different story from the Doyle original, but it is a good
film on it's own merits.
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