SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH. Universal, 1943. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Dennis Hoey, Hillary Brooke, Milburn Stone and Vernon Downing. Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, based on the story “The Musgrave Ritual” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Roy William Neill.

   A turning point in Universal’s Sherlock Holmes series, as Director Roy William Neill took the Producer’s reins, weaned the stories away from Wartime propaganda, and told Basil Rathbone to go comb his hair.

   Fans know this as the one set in creepy Musgrave Manor, with the scene where the characters move about the checkered floor of the great hall like chess pieces, then descend into a crypt set left over from Dracula. It’s also the one where Neill began consolidating his stock company: cementing Dennis Hoey firmly in place as Lestrade (a cop thick enough to make Nigel Bruce’s charmingly comic Dr. Watson look brilliant by comparison) and bringing back Gavin Muir, Gerald Hamer, Olaf Hytten, and other capable bit-players, including Mary Gordon as Mrs. Hudson.

   So we get the usual cast of sidelong-glancing suspects, beleaguered heroine, and the wrongly-accused nice-guy. There’s something else, though: the cast of suspects poking and sneaking about the gloomy corridors and secret passages includes some recuperating soldiers, obviously mentally disturbed by some trauma in combat, trying to keep a grip on sanity. Just how they were expected to recover in The Haunted Mansion is never made clear, (“Every house has a personality,” Holmes intones, “This one is positively ghoulish.”) but the film portrays these souls with surprising insight and compassion.

   And as such, this “B” picture may have been the first to address, however tangentially, the psychological problems of returning heroes — this at a time when most “A” war films were glossing over any unpleasantness.

   Or maybe not. Whatever the case, I shall remember a brief moment with a soldier afraid to open a pack of cigarettes in Sherlock Holmes Faces Death when I have forgotten much more “important” films and not missed them a bit.