Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

For England, Holmes?

- The longevity and effectiveness of Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic Sherlock Holmes character has been proven after 100 years of different adaptations, interpretations and re-imaginings on the big and small screens. One of the most famous screen versions of the Holmes was Basil Rathbone's interpretation of the character, adapted for Hollywood's Golden Era in different Victorian and 1940s settings. Rathbone's fourth Sherlock Holmes film, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943), follows the World War II setting established in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) and is especially notable for being the first of eleven Holmes films directed by Roy William Neill.

In the early 1940s, every sector of society and the economy was used for the war effort - even the movie business. Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon was born out of the film industry's wartime propaganda machine to boost moral for the war effort; however, the propagandist tones are significantly watered down compared to the nearly overbearing nationalist beat of the previous Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.

Arthur Conan Doyle was cold in the ground before the British entrance into World War II but Sherlock Holmes feels oddly at home amidst the blitzkrieged rubble of 1940s wartime Britain. Borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," the plot is not particularly special but it makes for a good MacGuffin to set Holmes' unparalleled powers of deduction in motion for about an hour. In The Secret Weapon, Holmes must find a missing scientist with a secret weapon before his grand nemesis, Professor Moriarty, unlocks the secret first and sells it to the Axis Powers.

The film has its hiccups, including some pretty cliched elements and instances of stupid character decisions (even from our infallible Mr. Holmes!). However, director Roy William Neill begins his Holmes tenure off on a good footing, creating a swift flowing and (with cinematographer Les White) nicely shot wartime mystery thriller. A number of memorable scenes can be found in the film despite the short runtime; especially good is the daring plan in Switzerland and Holmes choosing the method of his own potential demise. Of course, the cast also does not disappoint: a fine group including Nigel Bruce's slightly bumbling but mostly helpful Dr. Watson, Lionel Atwill's cruel Professor Moriarty, Dennis Hoey's enjoyable Inspector Lestrade (pretty much accepting his inferior role as head of Scotland Yard) and Basil Rathbone's confident and intense Sherlock Holmes.

Fourteen Sherlock Holmes films were made by the time Nigel Rathbone was finished playing the legendary character on the big screen and Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon is unfortunately not one of the top-tier films made during this time. However, this film is certainly an entertaining caper that is sure to entertain fans of Arthur Conan Doyle's immortal character.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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