23. The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)
This film is predominantly a retelling of the Valley of Fear, with elements of the Final Problem, the Five Orange Pips, Thor Bridge, the Blanched Soldier and probably a few more mixed in. Filmed in 1935, there is a distinct noir sensibility to the whole production, which works quite well with the plot of the Valley of Fear. A Greenstreet-like Moriarty, a beguiling lady in distress, a whipsmart Birdy Edwards who casually straddles both sides of the law while undercover, everything works in this adaptation. Even Holmes gets a few good one-liners. When Moriarty comes calling at Baker Street, Homes mutters "another well wisher" as he slips his revolver into his dressing gown pocket. When Lestrade promises to relay everything he knows on the way, Holmes quips, "We're not going far, then." The action moves at a steady pace, even to modern eyes. Director Leslie S. Hiscott does an admirable job of showing several scenes of deduction that make Holmes credible as a brilliant detective. If any criticism can be laid it is that there are a few too many middle aged men with pencil mustaches, and in the transfer available on YouTube it can sometimes be unclear for a moment to which character the scene has changed. All in all, this films checks all of the Sherlock Holmes boxes and all of the noir boxes and I am surprised it is not more highly regarded. Wotner's sanguine Holmes and Fleming's vital Watson have aged as well, if not better, than their silver screen contemporaries. As Ettie Douglas says in the film, "this valley is fierce!" Don't miss it!
Defense by Paul Thomas Miller:
The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes is a film version of The Valley of Fear. And a pretty faithful one at that.
There are a few differences, which is fair enough - adaptations have to adapt to suit their new media, after all. For some reason the story starts with Holmes retiring and the order of events is jumbled up a bit. Birdy Edwards only has the one wife in this version and there are a couple of scenes lifted from different stories. Due to the demands of a movie narrative Moriarty features a good deal more than he did in the Canonical story going so far as to get killed at the end. (As with so many Holmes adaptations, Moriarty pleasingly falls to his death.)
Watson's role is slightly expanded in this film to show us John the womaniser. We see him freshly married, but nevertheless keen to have a crack at seducing Douglas's recently bereaved widow.
As I've said elsewhere, Wontner makes a fantastic Holmes. He's very believable as a version of the Holmes of the books. Unfortunately, the plot demands that he only features in about half the film.
All in all, while it might not stick strictly to the book, this really does capture the spirit of Valley of Fear perfectly. Who can be dissatisfied with that?