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Legend Films presents
Terror By Night (1946)

Sherlock Holmes: My dear Mr. Carstairs, there was no need for secrecy. I already knew.
Sir Roland Carstairs: You knew that mother insisted on bringing the Star of Rhodesia with her to London?
Sherlock Holmes: And that while here an attempt would be made to steal it.

- Basil Rathbone, Geoffrey Steele

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 16, 2006

Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
Other Stars: Alan Mowbray, Dennis Hoey, Renee Godfrey, Frederic Worlock, Mary Forbes, Skelton Knaggs, Billy Bevan, Jeffrey Steele
Director: Roy William Neill

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:00m:59s
Release Date: September 06, 2005
UPC: 024543203056
Genre: mystery

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Terror By Night was the second to the last entry in the prolific series based on characters created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle that paired Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson, a 14-film catalog from that began strongly in 1939 with The Hound of the Baskervilles and ended rather weakly with Dressed To Kill in late 1946. This particular film also debuted in 1946, directed comfortably by Roy William Neill, who had also done a majority of other Holmes titles, and pleasantly Terror By Night, for its minor faults, has held up quite well as a clever murder mystery set on the confined quarters of a moving train. Released as part of Legend Films colorization collection (see Image Transfer section below for more details), this particular version carries the original black-and-white, as well as a newly restored colorized print.

Holmes and Watson are hired to watch over the safe transport of the valuable diamond The Star of Rhodesia, an apparently cursed 400-carat gem that the voiceover narration during the open tells us "would have been better if it had never been found". The diamond's owner, the wealthy Lady Margaret Carstairs (Mary Forbes) is to travel by train to London, and as to be expected, a murderous thief is also aboard the train and naturally only the brilliant mind of Holmes, aided by the gruff bumbling of Watson, can bring matters to a relatively safe close, much to the chagrin of exasperated Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey).

Terror By Night, which runs barely 60 minutes, was one of the few Universal Holmes' titles not based directly on a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and instead it was penned from scratch by Frank Gruber, whose most well known work was with westerns, such as Pony Express and The Texas Rangers. The Gruber screenplay reflected the small budget this film had to work with, keeping the action restricted largely to train cars, and director Neill managed to work the sometimes claustrophobic sets as a fairly effective tool to build a modicum of suspense.

Even some of the lesser titles in the Holmes series still had the pleasure of the perfect pairing of Rathbone and Bruce, and to a lesser extent Hooey's Lestrade, as the focal points that could carry the weaker elements, such as dawdling propagandizing during the war years films to the what-hell-is-that-accent voice work of Renee Godfrey found in Terror By Night. These films are all about Rathbone and Bruce—certainly one of the great unsung film duos—and their interplay here is enough to salvage the budgetary restrictions that Neill had to work with as the series drew to its eventual end.

As a "locked room" mystery—albeit set on a train—Terror By Night benefits immeasurably from the relaxed teaming of Rathbone and Watson, and the film itself moves along quickly, and remains as an entertaining entry in the Holmes canon.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Legend Films has been issuing colorized versions of older films for a while now, and with the release of Terror By Night the restoration job is just not as impressive as on other titles in their catalog. And I use "impressive" loosely, because I'm not a fan of the process in general, but as long as they issue these budget discs with the original black-and-white prints (as they do here), I'm relatively okay with it.

Both versions on this dual-layer disc are presented in their original full-frame, and though the back cover calls in 1.33:1, it appears to be more along the lines of 1.37:1. The colorization is something of a distraction, appearing far from natural, instead looking like a soft hand-tinting job that keeps all colors oddly muted. There is a general level of consistency throughout, but the limited palette just seems off somehow. The print itself, however, is in very good shape, with a minimum of nicks and debris.

The saving grace here is the inclusion of the original black-and-white print, and the real reason this release merits a B+. With strong black and contrast levels, it represents a dramatic improvement over some of the previous public domain versions (no surprise there), and if you ask me this is the way the Rathbone-as-Holmes films should be viewed. This remarkably sharp, cleaned up print should really be the selling point of this disc.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: Audio is provided in 2.0 Dolby Digital mono, in a fine-sounding transfer that is remarkably free of hiss and crackle for a film pushing 60 years in age. Dialogue is clear, though slightly flat but still more than presentable.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 8 cues and remote access
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon, Dressed To Kill
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: As mentioned above, Legend Films has included the black-and-white version on this disc, but is that an extra? Not in my book.

Included are previews for Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon and Dressed to Kill.

The disc is cut into 8 chapters.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Yet another Holmes titles gets the colorized (and in my opinion unnecessary) treatment from Legend Films, but they've included the original black-and-white release as well, so that levels the playing field a little. Rathbone and Bruce are terrific together here, as usual for the series, and though the color process is decent, it seems to diminish the initial shadowy charm and appeal these films had for me.

A solid Holmes mystery, this one can be had for well under $10, making it an easy recommendation, especially since it includes both colorized and black-and-white prints.


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