The Sign of Four

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Sherlock Holmes - The Sign of Four

Mystery, Drama | 75 mins | Released: 1932
Director: Graham Cutts
Starring: Ian Hunter, Arthur Wontener, Ilsa Bevin, Graham Soutton, Miles Malleson, Herbert Lomas, Gilbert Davis
Our Rating: 6
Black & White

In The Sign of Four, Jonathan Small, a prisoner serving a lengthy sentence on the Andaman Islands cuts a deal with two army officers, Major Sholto and Captain Morstan, in command of the prison. He reveals the location of a stash of loot in exchange for helping him to escape from jail. The proceeds are to be split equally between the three of them.

Sholto and Morstan go to investigate the treasure which is hidden in an old Indian fortress. When they unearth the valuable trinkets behind a brick wall, it sparks a violent quarrel between the two men with each wanting to take all of the treasure. After a struggle, Sholto kills his accomplice and returns to England without fulfilling his pledge to help Small escape.

A number of years later Sholto is now living in London in great wealth thanks to his theft of the treasure. However, he is disturbed to read of the escape from jail of Small’s escape from jail. He becomes haunted by the sound of Small’s wooden leg and is convinced he will shortly be killed in revenge for his past betrayal of the convict. He calls his sons Bartholomew and Theodore and tells them of his murky past, which, had gained him the wealth that was used to build the family fortune. He reveals that Morstan had a daughter, Mary, and instructs his sons to send her a valuable necklace and split their inheritance with her. Afterwards Sholto is murdered before he can reveal the location of the bulk of his treasure.

The killing has been committed by Small who has broken out of jail with two accomplices, a heavily tattooed convict and a native named Tonga. He reveals himself and menaces Theodore into telling him about Miss Morstan. The gang soon begins threatening Miss Morstan in the hope that she will hand over her share of the treasure to them. Frightened, she calls in Sherlock Holmes to help her protect herself. She is approached by Theodore, who reveals that the secret hiding place of the treasure has been discovered, and offers her the share as instructed by his father, and takes them to the family house.

However, when they arrive there Bartholomew is dead, and the treasure is missing. Holmes has a theory about the murder, but the complacent detective from Scotland Yard arrests Theodore although he is innocent. Holmes and Watson set out to prove Theodore’s innocence and track down the gang who are threatening Miss Morstan. They soon discover that Small and his accomplices are waiting to take the necklace from Mary Morstan to complete their haul, and then flee the country. Watson unwisely takes Mary to investigate, and they forcibly take her. Small’s and gang plan to make their escape by boat up the River Thames, but are pursued by Holmes and Watson. The Sign of Four climaxes in a shoot-out at a deserted warehouse.

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Movie Notes:

The Sign of Four is a 1932 British crime film directed by Graham Cutts and stars Arthur Wontner, Ian Hunter and Graham Soutten. The film is based on Arthur Conan Doyle‘s second Sherlock Holmes story, The Sign of the Four, and was made at Ealing Studios.

The film is also known as The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes’ Greatest Case.

A young woman needs Sherlock Holmes for protection when she is tormented by an escaped killer. However, when the woman is abducted, Holmes and Watson must infiltrate the city’s criminal underworld to track down the young woman.

The Sign of Four has Sholto and Morstan together recovering the Agra Treasure in the old fort, and then has Sholto murdering Morstan. “The Tattoed Man” does not appear in the novel. The book is set in 1887 whereas the film is set in the 1930s.

The Sign of Four was the film debut of Roy Emerton.

In the original Sherlock Holmes stories, Holmes’s residence and consulting room were located at 221B Baker Street in London. However, an early establishing shot in The Sign of Four shows Holmes’ address to be 22A Baker Street.

Notable Quotes from The Sign of Four:

Sherlock Holmes: “An amateur investigator like myself can’t have too many facts of a case to work on.”

Det. Insp. Atherly Jones: “What I always say is, Mr. Holmes: an ounce of practice is worth a tonne of theory.”

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