Sunday, 15 March 2015
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
Writers: W Scott Darling, Edward T Lowe, Edmund L Hartmann
Producer: Howard Benedict
Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill
Year of release: 1943
Reviewed from: UK DVD
This was the fourth pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson and the first of eleven such films directed by Roy William Neill (Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man). It is ostensibly based on 'The Adventure of the Dancing Men', one of the stories in The Return of Sherlock Holmes, but apart from the central problem being a substitution cypher which uses little stick figures, there is no connection. There is no Moriarty in 'The Adventure of the Dancing Men', no Inspector Lestrade and certainly no secret weapon.
Transposed to wartime present day, the film starts in Switzerland where a disguised Holmes successfully spirits away scientist Franz Tobel (William Post Jr) from under the noses of some Nazi officers. Tobel has invented a new type of bomb-sight which not only needs to be kept away from the Germans but could greatly benefit the RAF. It is a moot point whether a bomb-sight, strictly speaking, counts as a 'weapon' but I suppose Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Aiming Device just wouldn't have pulled in the crowds.
Professor Moriarty (the wonderful Lionel Atwill) abducts Tobel and takes the coded message but Holmes retrieves the writing from indentations in the paper underneath. Three of the scientists have already been fingered by Moriarty and it becomes a race to see who can decypher the fourth line of the message first. It proves particularly troublesome because it appears to be gibberish. There is an absurdly simple explanation for this, but it's all rather arbitrary.
The appeal of a film like this lies not in its fidelity to the Holmes canon or the character himself, but in the glorious 1940s earnestness of it all (offset by Bruce's bumbling teddy bear of a Watson). Dennis Hoey (The Mystery of the Marie Celeste, She-Wolf of London) makes the first of six appearances in the Rathbone/Bruce series as Lestrade and Mary Gordon (Hans' wife in Bride of Frankenstein) makes the fourth of ten appearances as Mrs Hudson. Also in the cast are that great (and appropriately named) character actor Holmes Herbert (who played different roles in six of these films as well as appearing in The Mummy's Curse, The Ghost of Frankenstein and British Intelligence), Universal regular Michael Mark (The Black Cat, The Mummy's Hand, Son..., Ghost... and House of Frankenstein but best known as little Maria's father in Frankenstein), George Burr Macannan (White Zombie, Supernatural) and a bunch of busy supporting players.
Writer Edward T Lowe also wrote House of Frankenstein, House of Dracula, Tarzan's Desert Mystery, The Vampire Bat, three Charlie Chans (...in Paris, ...in Shanghai and ...at the Race Track) and three Bulldog Drummonds (...Escapes, ...Comes Back and ...'s Revenge). W Scott Darling wrote The Ghost of Frankenstein and Edmund T Hartmann wrote the Olsen and Johnson comedy Ghost Chasers and one other Rathbone/Bruce/Neill picture, The Scarlet Claw. Cinematographer Les White's other credits include Sherlock Holmes in Washington, Invisible Agent and The Monster That Challenged the World.
As it is a long time since I have watched any of the other Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes pictures, I can't say how this one compares with the others so the MJS rating simply reflects the movie in its own right. The quality on this Classic Entertainment triple bill (which also has two later adventures, Terror by Night and Dressed to Kill) is pretty good with no major problems.
MJS rating: B+
Review originally posted 16th June 2005.