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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)

Back to another classic Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movie where they star as Holmes and Watson. The action kicks of in Switzerland where a disguised Holmes is trying to smuggle a scientist and his new bombsite back to England before the Nazis can take them both to Germany. Yep, this is another one set during World War II. The scientist, Dr. Tobel, is successfully brought back to London, but the Germans haven’t given up yet. The good doctor also seems to be up to no good as he sneaks out of 221 B. Baker Street to visit a beautiful woman named Charlotte.

When he disappears she gives Holmes a strange cipher/code involving a bunch of dancing men. This is how they connect this movie to the classic story The Dancing Men. There are some clues to decipher that eventually lead our hero to his arch enemy Moriarty, who is working with the spies to recover Tobel and his bombsite for Berlin. Though that doesn’t work out too well as the movie ends with British bombers headed there with the sights installed and ready to drop their payloads.

I do really like these movies, but this is yet another that leans more into the adventure and has almost no mystery. In fact the only thing that needs to be solved is the code of the dancing men, which the audience has zero chance of guessing at as we are given no clues. There is no mystery to the identity of the… well I guess the bad guys. I mean there isn’t any killing until the very end where the bad guys get what is coming to them. This is less a Sherlock Holmes mystery and more so just an opportunity to beat up and out smart the Nazis. Don’t get me wrong as they do that very well and this movie is a great example of wartime Hollywood’s efforts. There just isn’t any mystery to solve here.

What we do get is a car chase, an escape by airplane, some creeping around dark streets, and some bad guys doing bad things. Holmes doesn’t solve his issues with fisticuffs, which most of the detective movies from the forties have the protagonist doing, but instead outsmarts his opponents at every step of the way. Here is where having Moriarty as the main antagonist is a bad idea. Holmesian lore has him as an intellectual equal to the great consulting detective so seeing him fall for obvious manipulation is a bit too far for me.

Rathbone and Bruce are good as always. Though I feel as if Bruce’s Dr. Watson isn’t given much to do and goes MIA for much of the movie. Lionel Atwill is back as Moriarty and is solid as well, though again isn’t given much to sink his acting chops into. Honestly the writing here is a bit lacking and unlike other entries this feels tossed together in a rush without much thought. Look out for a very young Whit Bissel (Creature from the Black Lagoon, I Was a Teenage Frankenstein) in an early and uncredited role.

For a quickie formula flick it works just fine. Though had it been any longer than the sixty eight minutes I feel as if this would have been a drag. But it didn’t’ and isn’t. While far from the best of this version of Holmes and nowhere near as fun as other adaptations closer to the original stories Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon isn’t a horrible way to kill an hour. It is available online for free so is just a Google search away


© Copyright 2024 John Shatzer

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