Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Whodunnit Wednesday - Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) - starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce

Sherlock Holmes Nazi Fighter? Umm... hang on, wasn't his last case set in 1914 when he was an older man who had retired to beekeeping? Well, according to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, yes, but hey... it was World War II - the war after "the war to end all wars", and the allies needed all the help they could get, especially with all those Nazi spies on our (well British, at least) shores. So they had to recruit whomever they could to protect not only their soldiers but their scientists and statesmen who were doing their best to end the threat and the war.

Actually, this, the fourth pairing of the two, was the second of the Rathbone/Bruce Holmes movies to be set in contemporary times, following the previous year's Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, which explained the time shift with a simple title card that described the master detective and his stalwart companion as "timeless". Fair enough, actually, as this particular portrayal has definitely proven to be exactly that. Excluding the recent Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law outing, if asked, most people (assuming they could name one in the first place) would name Rathbone and Bruce as the classic Holmes and Watson. And considering that they teamed for a total of fourteen films plus numerous radio shows and other appearances, obviously they were an incredibly well -known and popular team.

(Personally, I think the most masterful and definitive portrayal of Holmes is that of Jeremy Brett, whether teamed with David Burke or Edward Hardwicke, but Rathbone and Bruce definitely hold a special place in my heart.)

So what exactly is this "Secret Weapon" that draws Holmes' attention? (Along, of course, with that of Scotland Yard inspector Lestrade, government minister Sir Reginald Bailey, and Holmes' ultimate nemesis Professor Moriarty (portrayed by the intriguing Lionel Atwill)? Well, actually it's not so much a weapon in itself as something that will definitely (at least according to pretty much every one in the film) change the course of the war: a new type of bomb sight. Invented by Swiss scientist Franz Tobel, the new sight uses "sonic waves" to apparently allow it to see through the clouds so that planes approaching from great heights can more accurately drop their payload. At least that's the way I understand it - let's be honest, that's actually more explanation for the nature of this "weapon" than we're actually given in the film.

But, of course, the sight itself is merely the MacGuffin - the plot feature that sets everything into motion. And despite its at-the-time-modern setting, that motion is pure Holmes. Incorporating elements of Conan Doyle's "The Dancing Men", the story gives us an incredibly observant and deductive Holmes (who also manages to disguise himself not one, not two, but three times), a good-hearted but slightly bumbling Watson, a dispicable but quite intelligent Moriarty, death traps (well, ok, again, honestly the "stuff holmes in the bottom of a crate, carry him to our ship and toss him overboard" plan could have used a little more thinking through, though it does give Watson a chance to exert his own powers of deduction), 221B Baker Street (and a pop-in from Mrs Hudson), and just enough humor and good-natured sparring between the two leads to make the whole adventure quite entertaining.

So, how about a trailer?

And, look out! Here comes the skinny:

Title: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
Release Date: 1943
Running Time: 80 min.
Black and White
Stars: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce
Director: Roy William Neil
Producer: Howard Benedict
Distributed by: Universal Studios

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is available to watch or download here.
It's also available on DVD from Amazon: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
or for rental from Netflix: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian


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