Arthur Wontner made five Holmes films and he’s one of my favorite Holmes’. This is part one of a three part series I wrote on Wontner for the Austin (TX) Sherlock Holmes Society. It’s going to be included as part of a longer article in an upcoming HolmesOnScreen edition of The Baker Street Essays.
The Sleeping Cardinal (retitled The Fatal Hour in America) included elements of The Empty House and The Final Problem, though having Moriarty, rather than Colonel Moran, fire from the empty house is certainly a non-Canonical change.
Watson was played by Ian Fleming (no, not the creator of James Bond). He was to play the part in four of Wontner’s five Holmes films. Fleming comes across as rather harmless and lightweight. He doesn’t add any heft to the role. Fleming’s portrayal feels more proper for a Thin Man film than as the good doctor. He did not provide the comic relief seen when Nigel Bruce took on the role, but neither did he contribute much on-screen. There is no real chemistry between he and Wontner.
The film was a success both critically and commercially, not only in Great Britain but America as well. In those pre-Oscar days, it won the New York Critics’ Cinema Prize as the best mystery drama. American reviews included such praise as:
- “…Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour…is one of the best of the English films to be shown this side of the Atlantic.” and
- “Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour is so smooth, so beautifully timed and acted, that there is nothing to criticize adversely.”
It is interesting to note that Twickenham, who could certainly have used the money, did not reap a windfall from the film’s success. Warner Brothers handled the UK distribution for the film. Apparently Twiceknham did not expect much of The Sleeping Cardinal in America and sold the distribution rights to a subsidiary (First Division Pictures) for only 800 pounds.
Picturegoer Weekly said “..Wontner’s rendering of Sherlock Holmes is wholly convincing, even to the smallest mannerisms.”