Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Fictional British detective Sexton Blake is a Sherlock Holmes rip-off, right down to the bumbling sidekick, the matronly housekeeper, and a Baker Street address. He was not nearly as universally popular in the movies as Holmes, but he remained a hero in books, comic strips, and British television through the 70's. This film, which plays out more like a Saturday matinee serial than a Holmes mystery, begins in Shanghai with an attempt on the life of Granite Grant (great character name, played by David Farrar, though he only has a couple minutes of screen time) by an evil organization called the Black Quorum, led by arch-villain The Snake. Grant's friend Duvall goes to London to pass along important information about the group, but he is killed via poisoned blowpipe in Blake's apartment. With help from a French agent (Greta Gynt), Blake (George Curzon) and his roommate Tinker, who is in fact an inept tinkerer in scientific experiments, get on the trail of the Snake, actually a wealthy stamp collector (Tod Slaughter). There are many trappings of the adventure serial: the blowpipe, invisible ink messages, spying TV cameras, a creepy casino which is a front for the bad guys' headquarters, and a death chamber with snakes slithering out of the walls. Best of all is the Black Quorum who, despite knowing each other’s identities, sit around at their meetings wearing hoods (see picture). The relatively fast pace of the proceedings is a big plus here, as most of the actors are just adequate, with Slaughter doing nicely as the baddie. The Snake gets away at the end, but since Blake was only "unofficially" on the case, he doesn’t care (!). Farrar went on to low-level stardom as the male lead in Michael Powell's BLACK NARCISSUS. Good print from the British Cinema Classic B-Film set from VCI. [DVD]

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