Alpha Video released over the past few months onto DVD several Sherlock Holmes films made in the 1930s starring Arthur Wontner—The Sign of Four, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, and Murder at the Baskervilles. I chanced across The Sign of Four at Suncoast Video a few weeks ago, then ordered the other two direct from Oldies.com. (Wontner’s other two Holmes films–The Missing Rembrant and The Sleeping Cardinal are reputedly lost.)
Wontner predated Basil Rathbone in the role of Sherlock Holmes, and in viewing The Sign of Four I noticed that Wontner’s films, like several of Rathbone’s films, brought the era of Sherlock Holmes out of the 1890s and placed it in a contemporaneous setting. (Nothing is more jarring to the mind than the sight of Sherlock Holmes hailing a cab, and a 1930s automobile pulls up to the curb.) Wontner was old for the role–in his fifties when his first film, The Missing Rembrant was made–but he looks very much the part, matching the Sidney Paget and Frederic Dorr Steele drawings of Holmes, far more so than Rathbone did.
At the price–roughly five dollars per DVD–I would recommend these films to any fan of the Sage of Baker Street.