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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, May 31, 2023

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

This is the third installment of the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and the first that moved the action to “current” time aka. the forties when it was made. This also means it is set during the Second World War, so we of course have some Nazi spies running around. Here we are introduced to the Voice of Terror aka. a broadcast from Nazi Europe taunting the British populace over the radio. The voice warns them of sabotage seemingly while it is about to happen. The government is frustrated by their inability to stop the disasters before they happen so call in Holmes to root out those responsible.

Here is where it gets good. Holmes with Watson in tow starts to poke around the criminal underground of London looking for help. See those folks know everything that happens in the city so might have information they don’t even know they have. Sadly, this leads to a man falling dead on the doorstep of 221b Baker Street. Undeterred Holmes goes to the bad part of town to speak to the dead man’s girlfriend, Kitty. She ends up convincing the local ruffians to help fight the Nazis out of self-preservation and maybe a little bit of patriotism. With the clues they provide Holmes does in fact root out the Voice of Terror as well as stopping a planned invasion of England. Though not before the Nazis show themselves to be evil by murdering Kitty out of spite!

As I’ve just said with my recent review of Charlie Chan in the Secret Service, I love these movies set during World War II. They have a fun nostalgic charm to them that makes me want to go right into the lobby and buy some war bonds. Okay that might be a bit too much of a deep dive for you guys but trust me that is a good thing. Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is more of an adventure flick with a healthy dose of action and spy craft then it is a mystery story. Though there is the obvious hidden identity of the Voice as well as their plans that needs to be figured out, so I feel like it still belongs here in the marathon. Plus, it is Sherlock Holmes so where else would it fit?

Between the forementioned action and spy shenanigans the sixty-six minute runtime flies by. Seriously the pacing here is excellent without a single wasted scene. It seems that every line of dialogue and character action is leading us to the big finale. This is what I think they would have called a “programmer” back in the day. Made for a matinee or as the bottom half of a double bill it wastes little time getting to good stuff and entertains the audience before quickly wrapping things up. Eighty plus years later it still manages to entertain and be a good way to kill an hour or so. That is impressive.

If I had a complaint about the movie, I would say that it does show the lower budget. Shot during the war there was an obvious limit to the money available to be spent on the production. This leads to a lot of stock footage standing in for the acts of sabotage with buildings burning and trains wrecking. Pre and post war I’d imagine they would have done some miniature work but here they are clearly using recycled footage from other flicks. The big finale with the German invasion force being met in the English Channel is mostly hinted at with radio broadcasts rather than showing us in ships or planes in combat. The fact that the script was ambitious enough to include this as the payoff to the story but couldn’t afford to show us any of it is a bit disappointing. I would have preferred a simpler story that could have had the payoff onscreen.

The cast is solid. As always Basil Rathbone is great as Sherlock Holmes, and I still think Nigel Bruce is my favorite Dr. Watson. Along with them we get a solid performance in supporting roles from Evelyn Ankers (Son of Dracula, Hold That Ghost) as Kitty and Henry Daniels. Notably Daniels would return in a later Holmes movie playing arch villain Moriarty.

In the end I still really liked Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror. The pacing, great cast, and war time storyline all appeal to me. I’m not sure that this is the first of the fourteen Rathbone outings as Holmes that I would suggest sitting down to watch as others are more mysteries and therefore inline with the character, but it isn’t a bad way to kill an hour. If you get the chance check this one out.


© Copyright 2023 John Shatzer

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