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Tuesday, October 25, 2022

A 'Delectably Dangerous" Professor Moriarty

Basil Rathbone wrote in his autobiography, In and Out of Character, that “there were other Moriartys, but none so delectably dangerous as was that of Henry Daniell.” After re-watching Daniell in The Woman in Green (1945) at the Tankerville Club’s Moriarty Film Festival on Saturday, I am inclined to agree.

Daniell’s Moriarty, although more personally active in crime than the spider at the center of a web portrayed in the Canon, somehow conveys a quiet menace that is bone-chilling. Watch the film, the 11th of the 14 Rathbone-Bruce outings, and see if you agree.

By comparison Eric Porter, who played the Napoleon of Crime to Jeremy Brett’s Sherlock Holmes in Granada’s “The Final Problem” (1985),  seemed to me too extravagant in his gestures. Nothing subtle there. Plus, he dressed like Mr. Hyde, with a top hat and cape. Nevertheless, he was the overall favorite Moriarty among the other filmgoers on Saturday.

Lyn Harding, the third Moriarty of the day, was even more like a stage villain in The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935), based on The Valley of Fear. Perhaps that’s because Harding was a long-time stage actor who played Dr. Grimesby Rylott (sic) in Conan Doyle’s 1910 production of “The Speckled Band.”

No matter who your favorite Moriarty is, this we know: Sherlock Holmes, the master detective, needed a worthy opponent. He found him in Professor James Moriarty, the world’s first true master criminal. Revisionist scenarios that portray Moriarty as an innocent mathmetician are pure fiction. 


  1. Daniell is my personal favorite here. He gives an understated performance which enhances the mood of evil.

  2. Of Basil Rathbone's Moriartys, my favorite was Lionel Atwill. He was every bit as theatrical as Harding, as personally involved as Daniell, and as non-Canonical as, well, ANY of the villains in the Rathbone-Bruce series of films. The confrontation in which Professor Moriarty offers a choice of deaths to Sherlock Holmes in ...SECRET WEAPON (1942) is a gem, and I'd like to think that it brought a smile to Conan Doyle's face in the Hereafter.
    George Zucco, the Moriarty of THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1939) is my second favorite, as he was certainly the most cerebral of the Moriartys under discussion. But I did think that he was not in Holmes' weight class for the climactic fight above the Tower of London. Nevertheless he started a sort of trend, in that all of the Basil Rathbone Professors Moriarty came to the same, Canonical, ends - death by falling!

    1. You make really excellent points, Baron! Thanks for your comments.