A bit late, but I finally managed to get around to watching one of the Rathbone films—specifically, The Hound of the Baskervilles, released in 1939.
In hindsight this was not the best decision on my part, mostly because Baskervilles is very much Watson’s case, and Holmes isn’t in the story for long. He sends Watson off at the beginning of the story to investigate the case Doctor Mortimer brings to him, and Watson corresponds with him through-out by writing letters detailing his findings. Little does Watson know (spoilers!) that Holmes actually follows him to Dartmoor incognito, claiming that if he had come as himself, he surely would have been tracked and therefore been unable to work the case.
The first thing I noticed about Rathbone is that he's a much warmer, human Holmes than any of the other adaptations I’ve seen. He seems less like an inhuman entity and instead just your typical, albeit incredibly smart gentlemen. He looks how I imagine Holmes to look, but feels almost more tangible than in other adaptations, which I felt detracted from the character. Although he still had a flair for dramatics, I always imagined Holmes to be more than human, and a bit more obvious in his uniqueness compared to his peers. Despite that, Rathbone’s acting was superb, and had I not already been familiar with the story, I would have been taken by Holmes's disguise as Watson was (though I probably would have been able to guess it was him).
I think what was most surprising to me was Watson, played by Nigel Bruce. Perhaps it was because Bruce was younger than Rathbone, but his Watson also seemed younger than Holmes. I found it a bit unusual, since many of the adaptations I’ve seen had a younger Holmes. Despite that, he fit the usual characteristics for Watson: portly and mustachioed, eager to help, and although not necessarily dim-witted, definitely nowhere near Holmes’s intellectual equal.
Altogether, I found the film enjoyable, charming, and spooky at times, which fits in to the original story well. I haven’t seen many older films, so it was interesting to see a difference in filming, acting, and effects (or lack thereof.) While I’m not sure if Rathbone will be able to win the spot in my heart currently occupied by Brett’s Holmes, I am looking forward to seeing more of his work.