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.
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.
In his book Sherlock Holmes on Screen, Alan Barnes 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).”
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. 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 Doctor Watson, who describes it as “a ball of fire-spitting flames in each direction”.
“Like The Hound of the Baskervilles, this is a deft mixture of atmospheric horror and thriller, stirring up many good suspense sequences … It’s all consistently good stuff, and it’s not hard to see why it is one of the favourites of the Rathbone and Bruce adventures.” The Spinning Image
“With the fog machine working overtime, Neill makes nicely atmospheric use of the old inn and the gloomy marshes where citizens are having their throats bloodily torn out and a revenge-crazed old actor lurks in assorted disguises. Highly enjoyable.” Time Out