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The Scarlet Claw

The Scarlet Claw
1944 US Theatrical Poster
Directed by Roy William Neill
Produced by Roy William Neill
Written by Screenplay: Paul Gangelin
Based on characters created 
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Starring Basil Rathbone
Nigel Bruce
Music by Paul Sawtell
Cinematography George Robinson
Edited by Paul Landres
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release dates
  • May 26, 1944 (1944-05-26)
Running time
74 min
Country United States
Language English

The Scarlet Claw is a 1944 Sherlock Holmes movie directed by Roy William Neill, starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. It is the eighth film of the Rathbone/Bruce series. David Stuart Davies notes on the film's DVD audio commentary that it's generally considered by critics and fans of the series to be the best of the twelve Holmes films made by Universal.[1]


  • Plot 1
  • Production 2
  • Cast 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Holmes and Watson are in Canada attending a conference on the occult, when Lord Penrose receives a message that his wife Lady Penrose has been murdered in the small village of La Mort Rouge.[2] Holmes and Watson are about to return to England when Holmes receives a telegram from Lady Penrose, issued before her death, asking for help as she fears for her life. Holmes decides to investigate her death.

Holmes and Watson arrive at the village and discover that the inhabitants are all convinced that the murder is the work of the legendary monster of La Mort Rouge, which roams the marshes around the village. The "monster" is even later seen by Dr. Watson, who describes it as "a ball of fire spitting flames in each direction".

Holmes, however, is skeptical, and recognizes Lady Penrose as Lillian Gentry, a former actress, who was involved in a famous murder case several years before when actor Alistair Ramson killed another actor in a jealous rage over her. Ramson was believed to have been killed in a prison escape two years before, but now Holmes believes that Ramson - a master of disguise - is living in the village, having created a new identity, perhaps several, for himself.

Holmes then turns his attention to Judge Brisson, another inhabitant of the village with a connection to the case, as he passed sentence on Ramson. Despite Holmes' warnings Brisson is murdered. Holmes tracks Ramson down to his hideout and discovers there is a third person that Ramson is preparing to kill. However before Holmes can discover who it is, Watson blunders in and Ramsom escapes.

Holmes learns that the third victim is to be Journet, the local inn-keeper, formerly a prison guard. However Journet has gone into hiding. Ramson then kills Marie, Journet's daughter, for not revealing her father's hideout. Holmes finds Journet and convinces him to spring a trap for the murderer.

Holmes and Watson announce that they are returning to England, and Journet comes out of hiding and lets it be known that he will be going to a church across the marsh to offer a prayer for Marie. Ramson attacks Journet out in the marsh, only to find that Holmes has taken his place. The two men struggle, but Ramson escapes only to be killed by Journet with his own weapon, a five-pronged garden weeder.[3]


The film is not credited as an adaptation of any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes tales, but it bears a significant resemblance to The Hound of the Baskervilles. Alan Barnes, in his book Sherlock Holmes On Screen, describes The Scarlet Claw as "owing much" to Hound, listing their similarities: "a remote marshland setting; a painted-phosphorescent but thought-supernatural terror, an escaped convict on the loose, a cold killer ingratiating himself with everyone in the vicinity; a subplot involving cast-off clothing; plus, of course, Holmes' method of unmasking the murderer, making to return home but actually remaining behind to catch the villain red-handed (or, indeed, scarlet-clawed)."[4]

At the very end of the film, Holmes quotes from Winston Churchill, after which Watson asks, "Churchill say that?" Holmes replies "Yes, Churchill." The music swells and Rathbone's voice drops, but he continues to speak several more words which are not heard, but lip movement indicates that he says, "God bless him."



  1. ^ Audio Commentary, David Stuart Davies, MPI Home Video DVD
  2. ^ Throughout the film, the actors pronounce correctly the name of the village as "La Mort Rouge" (French for "The Red Death"), but in one short moment a map is shown with the name spelled "La Morte Rouge" (French for "The Red Dead Woman") which doesn't make much sense. The map's spelling seems to be a typo.
  3. ^ David Stuart Davies, Holmes of the Movies (New English Library, 1976) ISBN 0-450-03358-9
  4. ^ Alan Barnes, Sherlock Holmes On Screen: The Complete Film and TV History, Titan Books, Third Edition, January 31, 2012, ISBN 978-0-85768-776-0, page 161

External links

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