DRESSED TO KILL (1946) Reviews and overview


Dressed to Kill is a 1946 American mystery thriller feature film about the theft of seemingly unassuming and inexpensive music boxes.

Produced and directed by Roy William Neill (The Pearl of Death; The Scarlet Claw; The Spider Woman; Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man; et al) from a screenplay co-written by Leonard Lee and Frank Gruber, loosely based on stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, the Universal Pictures production stars Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Patricia Morison and Edmund Breon.


Sherlock Holmes sets out to discover why a trio of murderous villains, including a very attractive woman, are desperate to obtain three unassuming and inexpensive little music boxes…


“That’s a danger with any long-running series, and here it seems as if the writers and director Roy William Neill were simply connecting the dots and coloring by numbers rather than trying to create something special and sparkling. This is especially true with the cavalier manner Holmes displays in regard to the safety of the music box in his possession and in the way in which the detective is so easily tricked…” All Movie

“Well-paced and neatly plotted, this mystery thriller B-movie must-see brings things to a sleek and satisfying conclusion. Rathbone and Bruce are as impeccable and definitive as ever.” Derek Winnert

“This is a fairly entertaining one in the series, largely because the puzzle of the music box is a good one, and the movie makes good use of it. Patricia Morison’s villainess makes a good match for Holmes, as she too uses disguises…” Fantastic Movie Musings and Ramblings

” …it’s refreshing to see a strong female villain in Mrs Hilda Courtney (Patricia Morison), very much in the Irene Adler mode. Directors like Roy William Neill brought timeless characters to life with great acting, no-nonsense direction and crisp scripting; the lack of visual jazz makes each of the Rathbone Holmes films a pleasure to watch.” Film Authority

” …fairly mediocre in comparison with the adventures of the last two films. The mystery of the music boxes, loosely based on an original Conan Doyle story, doesn’t hold much tension, even if Patricia Morison turns out to be an alluring and resourceful opponent to Holmes.” Hedmark

“As we should expect, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce do their usual workmanlike best, and at the end of the film there’s a lighthearted spirit that seems to come from the knowledge that this is the last of the series.” The Horror Incorporated Project

Dressed to Kill is far from an underrated picture, but its few agreeable qualities are usually glossed over by reviewers. The film is small–scale and ungimmicky; in fact, it is the most rudimentary of the last group of Sherlock Holmes thrillers […] In Dressed to Kill, Holmes rarely strays from his old, familiar environs, picking up obscure clues from musical boxes and half-forgotten dance hall ditties. The mystery is commonplace and unspectacular, but there is a certain appeal in the film’s simplicity…” Universal Horrors: The Studio’s Classic Films, 1931 – 1946

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Dressed to Kill offers up a good balance of everything that makes the Rathbone films fun. There’s a solid mystery, fast pacing, and great performances by Rathbone and Bruce. Plus, the cryptogram Holmes has to solve is pretty inventive.” The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Sherlock Holmes: “The truth is only arrived at by the painstaking process of eliminating the untrue.”

Doctor Watson: “Seems to me we’re up against a bunch of lunatics.”

Cast and characters:

Basil Rathbone … Sherlock Holmes
Nigel Bruce … Doctor Watson
Patricia Morison … Mrs Hilda Courtney
Edmund Breon … Julian ‘Stinky’ Emery (as Edmond Breon)
Frederick Worlock … Colonel Cavanaugh (as Frederic Worlock)
Carl Harbord … Inspector Hopkins
Patricia Cameron … Evelyn Clifford
Holmes Herbert … Ebenezer Crabtree
Harry Cording … Hamid
Leyland Hodgson … Tour Guide
Mary Gordon … Mrs Hudson
Ian Wolfe … Commissioner of Scotland Yard

Filming locations:

Universal Studios – 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California

Technical details:

72 minutes
Black and white (a colour version was created later)
Aspect ratio: 1.37: 1
Audio: Mono (Western Electric Recording)

Working title:

Prelude to Murder

Alternate title:

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code (British release title)


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