Holmes and Watson are about to embark on a much needed fishing holiday. But the criminal type never takes time off and their plans are cut short when they are hired by representatives of the country of Rovenia. They explain that the recent tragic death of their King was no accident and, fearing that his son and heir will also be murdered, employ Holmes to safely escort him to his homeland. Whilst Holmes takes a plane Watson, as a decoy, travels by sea and when he learns that the plane has crashed fears the worst.
This, the twelfth in the series of Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, is not one of the best. Things start entertainingly enough with a deliberately convoluted method devised to recruit Holmes set amidst the foggy backstreets of London. However, once the action relocates to the high seas things take a downward turn. The unique setting of the ship could have been a beneficial plot device. A single location with no way for those involved to escape might have added a new twist and sense of urgency to proceedings but the film plays out like a rather run of the mill thriller, and most importantly doesn't feel like a Sherlock Holmes film. There is no mystery or set of intriguing clues to decipher just a cast of characters that offer red herrings and little else. The crime-fighting duo engage in what amounts to a waiting game as they protect the important Royal Rovenian. Not the most involving of scenarios for an audience.
With the two leads initially separated Watson takes centre stage to begin with, which is no bad thing when taking into account the talents of Nigel Bruce. He gives another entertaining performance here, contributing to what little watchability the film has. Its fun to see him interact with his fellow passengers, not least musical entertainer Sheila Woodbury (Marjorie Riordan) with whom he has become somewhat smitten. Bruce even gets a chance to flex his vocal chords with a stirring rendition of Loch Lomond towards the end of the film. Doyle aficionados will also delight in a dinner party scene in which Watson regales the guests with the adventure of the giant rat of Sumatra, probably the most notorious of the unrecorded cases of the great detective. Alas only miniscule snippets of the tale are given screen time as he employs cutlery and condiments to bring the case to life.
Rathbone, the definitive Sherlock Holmes, gives a rather lacklustre performance in stark contrast to his regular co-star. He appears to be bored with proceedings, coasting along on autopilot; although he does deliver a couple of witty lines, most appealingly during a breakfast scene in which he informs the young Royal heir that “ it’s tea that has made the British Empire, and Watson, what they are today”. The script doesn’t help, as it gives him very little to do. He engages in a few conversations with the other passengers but crucially never gets to fully display his deductive talents.
Pursuit To Algiers is an indication of the drop in quality that was starting to creep into the franchise during its final years. The misty decks of the ship are not really a fitting substitute for foggy London streets and there seems to be little attempt to maintain the tone of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. The whole affair feels more like a case for one of Agatha Christie’s creations rather than the resident of 221b Baker Street. There is a final twist which adds something but is really nothing to do with any investigations on the part of Holmes. The uninitiated are better advised to seek out superior entries in the series such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or The Scarlet Claw and give this particular episode a wide berth.