SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (director: Roy William Neill; screenwriters: from a story The Dancing Men by Arthur Conan Doyle/Edmund L. Hartmann/Scott Darling; cinematographer: Les White; editor: Otto Ludwig; music: Frank Skinner; cast: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. John H. Watson), Lionel Atwill (Professor Moriarty), Kaaren Verne (Charlotte Eberli), William Post Jr. (Dr. Franz Tobel), Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade), Holmes Herbert (Sir Reginald Bailey), Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson), Henry Victor (); Runtime: 68; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Benedict; Lions Gate Films Home Entertainment; 1943)
“Not a great Sherlock (too many plot holes), but one that’s entertaining, never dull and has a lot of intrigues going for it.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Roy William Neill directs his first Sherlock film and will direct the last 11 in the series of 14. The B film director improves the series by speeding up the pace; it’s based on the story The Dancing Men by Arthur Conan Doyle and penned by Scott Darling and Edmund L. Hartmann. Basil Rathbone plays Sherlock; he played him 14 times until 1946 when he refused to renew his contract. This solid mystery tale changes locations from the Victorian Age to the WWII era.
It opens in Switzerland as Sherlock disguises himself to two Gestapo agents as an elderly bookseller who will lead them to scientist Dr. Franz Tobel (William Post Jr.). He’s the Swiss genius who invented the “bombsight” and is presenting it to England as the latest in technology to greatly improve the efficiency of its bomb dropping planes. Sherlock fools the Nazis into chasing decoys and has an airplane take the scientist to his London house. There Sherlock leaves Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) in charge to make sure nothing happens to their valuable guest, but the scientist sneaks out as Watson nods off. Tobel visits Charlotte Eberli (Kaaren Verne), who is secretly his wife, and gives her a coded letter and tells her to give it only to Sherlock if harm comes to him. Leaving her apartment Tobel’s attacked, but a cop comes along chasing away the attacker. Next the scientist proves to the military brass his gizmo works and is taken to Scotland Yard, where he refuses to hand over his work and insists on working independently. The Brits have no choice but to agree to his terms. Leaving the police Tobel visits with expatriate Swiss scientist Professor Frederick Hoffner and arranges the bombsight to be divided among four trusted scientists, each not knowing who else is working on the project and not able alone to put it together. When Tobel returns to his lab he’s kidnapped by crime genius Professor Moriarty (Lionel Atwill), Sherlock’s main nemesis.
Sherlock disguises himself as a sailor to meet Moriarty and learns that the evil man plans to sell the weapon to the Nazis. After escaping from Moriarty’s clutches Sherlock races against the clock to break the code of the letter, which he puts together even though it was already stolen by Moriarty. Each genius shows his stuff, in a masterful game of wits. In the film’s most famous scene Moriarty attempts to drain all the blood from Sherlock’s body, drop by drop, and exclaims: “The needle to the last, eh, Holmes?” A snide reference to Holmes’s cocaine addiction. But Sherlock’s backup plan kicks into gear in the nick of time and to the rescue come the harried Watson and seemingly dim-witted Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade (Dennis Hoey).
Not a great Sherlock (too many plot holes), but one that’s entertaining, never dull and has a lot of intrigues going for it.
REVIEWED ON 8/24/2005 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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