Sir Christopher Lee would star in five Sherlock Holmes films during his career. In 1959, he starred as Sir Henry Baskerville alongside Peter Cushing’s Sherlock in the Hammer Films production The Hound of the Baskervilles. In 1970, he would appear as Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the Billy Wilder production The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Finally, in 1991 and 1992, he would star as the master detective himself in two made-for-television films, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady and Incident at Victoria Falls. However, those two films were not his first time appearing as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation. In 1962, he would have the lead role in the international production, Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace.
On the surface, the movie appears to have had everything in place for a cinematic masterpiece. The screenplay was written by Curt Siodmak, responsible for such Universal Horror classics as The Wolf Man (1941), Son of Dracula (1943) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943). Siodmak initially intended the film to be an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s final Sherlock Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. However, very little from that novel ever made it to the final film version. Hammer Films director Terence Fisher (Curse of Frankenstein, The Mummy) was set to bring his style to the master detective.
The cast seemed perfect as well. Christopher Lee simply looked the part of Sherlock, especially after the placement of a prosthetic nose. Thorley Walters would appear as Dr. Watson, a role he would play again three more times in his career. Both seemed to be channeling the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce interpretations, especially Walters. The rest of the cast did a fine job as well, especially Hans Sohnker as Professor Moriarty. The plot was simple enough as Sherlock Holmes attempts to recover a stolen necklace, previously worn by Cleopatra. He goes head-to-head with his old foe Moriarty. So, with everything in place for success, what happened?
For starters, the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle estate was not happy with the dailies and, as they had final approval, they required constant reshoots. They weren’t happy with the decision to place the story in modern times, so it was set somewhat in the past but cars were still present. I have to agree, I always prefer my Holmes to be in the 1800s. Second, a jazz score was chosen to accompany the film. It seems out-of-place and very anachronistic, even annoying at times.
But the biggest failure of the film is the audio. Apparently, the original audio track was unusable. So, rather than reuniting the cast to redub their lines, different actors were brought in. It’s hard to really judge Lee’s performance when the actor doing his voice is simply not Sir Christopher Lee. Lee looks the part and, from what we can tell, acts the part as good as some of the best Sherlock Holmes interpretations ever. Lee acknowledged as such, claiming the role to be one of his best. However, he and most of the cast agree that the movie is a disaster. Being an international production, the main fault seems to be on the German side. Even with all the correct pieces in place, the poor production ultimately kills the film.
Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace was released throughout Europe in 1962 and 1963 but wouldn’t be seen in the UK until 1968. It was never released theatrically in the United States, where it went directly to television. Retromedia Entertainment released it on DVD in 2005, copies of which can still be found for less than $10. Alpha Video also released it in as a double feature alongside another lesser known Sherlock Holmes film, The Speckled Band (1931). A cheaper option may be to just watch it on YouTube. However you watch it, the print is in need of restoration, which will most likely never happen. It’s worth checking out for Christopher Lee alone, but go in with low expectations as it will ultimately disappoint.