Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A pretty minor Sherlock Holmes outing, Terror by Night offers modest entertainment
from generic whodunnit material. This new DVD from 'Key' video is another combo B&W and colorized
offering from the Legend company, that did
The Great Rupert a couple
of years back and passed it off as a Christmas movie. This release is less offensive.
Terror by Night isn't a horror film, but that misleading title is the fault of the original
producers, not the new packagers.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) are hired
to guard the Star of Rhodesia on a train, in the possession of its owner, Lady Margaret
Carstairs (Mary Forbes). When Holmes sees that Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey) is on board, ostensibly on
holiday, he knows that the diamond's presence is probably known to many, including notorious
lieutenants of the nefarious Professor Moriarity. When it disappears, Holmes must play a cat-and
mouse murder and theft game with a limited number of suspects.
There isn't a lot to be said about Terror by Night, a title that doesn't go well with this
tepid train-bound mystery. The familiar Rathbone and Bruce characterizations are practically the
whole show, with Dennis Hoey's Lestrade even more uselessly incompetent than usual.
The mechanical plot takes place in three or four sets: a coffin shop, a train station and a pair
of railway cars. Plenty of stock shots of trains, model trains and train station platform atmospherics
are cut into the soup; it's a rear-process show all the way.
While juggling various red herring characters, Holmes plays switcheroo with the diamond in question
and figures out the secret of a trap compartment in a coffin being shipped by rail. Most of the
film is made up of interviews with the various suspects, followed by loudly-stated debate over who
could or couldn't be the killer-thief. It's the kind of movie where people discuss things only a
few paces away from other people, and we're all supposed to believe that the conversations aren't
The suspects are such a poor lot -- angry professor (Frederick Worlock), sultry mystery woman
(Renee Godfrey) -- that suspicion immediately
goes to the obvious culprit - a neutral 'pal' character who also gets rather high billing among the
cast. Nobody would eeev-ver guess it's that guy.
There's some okay action, and a surprise appearance by the colorful actor Skelton Knaggs, who had a
pivotal role in Val Lewton's The Ghost Ship. The best scene is when Watson decides to go
sleuthing on his own and proves himself a total imbecile. It's amusing only because
we enjoy his characterization so much. Nigel Bruce also pairs off nicely with Alan Mowbray, an old Army
Terror by Night has a trick ending that might fool those under ten years old. The rest of
us need to remember that these serialized B-thrillers were ground out like TV episodes, and not
expected to be the epitome of sophistication.
Key Video's DVD of Terror by Night has a package designed identically to
Fox discs, so nobody should be fooled here. The B&W transfer is excellent, with a sharp and
well-defined image. The alternate colorized
version is a sloppy mess even by colorized standards. One of the very first shots has a train
worker walking across the screen. His bottom half is the color of the boxes and floor, and his top
half matches the background behind him. The image is soft and lo-con to optimize the colorization, but whatever process they've used, it's poorer than earlier work from the 90s. Faces,
woodwork and food tends to be orangey brown, and everything else blah green or rusty red. Exterior stock shots are often just left B&W.
As with The Great Rupert, Legend gives us a short stack of original 1946 credits (four names)
while reserving a longer list (8 names) of 'color producers', a 'creative director', a 'production
director', 'associate designers' and a 'technical director.' Both that and the lengthy extra credit
role (showing that the real labor was farmed out to India) reveal what a shoddy enterprise this is.
Recopyrighting an old film for profit is one thing, but playing make-believe games with puffed-up
credits is another. Shame on Key, Fox or whoever for encouraging this.
The final verdict is that for a great price Holmes fans and completists will find an excellent
original B&W version of the film. It's a lot more pleasing to watch, even if one doesn't care
about the colorization issue one way or another.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Terror by Night rates:
Video: Excellent (B&W) Poor (Colorized)
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: promos for other Holmes features
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 1, 2005
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson