Sherlock Holmes vs. the Nazis
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 07/24/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The story opens with a written disclaimer explaining why the famous Victorian-era detective is living and working in London of the 1940s. Sherlock Holmes' appeal is timeless, the producers claim, and he is quite capable of entertaining audiences in stories set during the then-present day. They are, of course, correct, although the real reason for updating him was that it allowed the filmmakers to produce a series of propaganda films wherein the greatest British detective of all time goes head to head with German spies. When the sleuth emerges victorious (as he must always), he can make a patriotic oration that parallels the real world situation (the "there's an East wind coming" speech from "His Last Bow" given here neatly ties in with the WWII theme). The format is a complete success. I love these films, as far removed from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories as they are. They may get many of the details wrong, but they get the heart right, and they have exactly the correct atmosphere.
The beginning film in this Sherlock Holmes series as produced by Universal jumps right into its Sherlock Holmes vs. the Axis Powers motif. The British government is stumped. At regular intervals, a radio signal is beamed into England from somewhere in Germany. A pompous voice (of terror) gloats about terrible acts of sabotage that then simultaneously occur. The British Intelligence agency, unable to locate the source of the broadcasts or prevent the acts of terrorism is forced to call for Sherlock Holmes.
Many of the films in this series were less mysteries, and more straightforward thrillers. This is no exception. In fact, this is one of the weaker entries in the series as far as its plot is concerned. The storyline relies a bit too strongly on leaps of logic and sheer coincidences; the climax is just a bit too silly. If you're looking for a mystery in the style of the original Doyle stories, you'll be disappointed. There's too much that is held away from the audience, meaning that there's not much left for the viewer to figure out before the detective does.
But where this film succeeds is in its style, regardless of its actual substance. A lot of the story takes place in dark rooms, smoky bars and other sinister locales. The direction, lighting and cinematography are great. The scene in the saloon where Holmes (via a widow) turns a den of criminal elements into a force fighting for the Allies is particularly strong. The director plays the visuals for all they're worth; the craggy faces of the outlaws peering out of the dark, raising drinks to their lips, while Basil Rathbone's sharp features gaze out into the light. Scenes like this are what raise the film above the limitations of its plot.
The acting also serves to this film's advantage. Honestly, I could watch Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce reading the phone book. Yes, I realize that Bruce's interpretation of Dr. Watson is totally at odds with the original (in Doyle's stories, Watson, while not the equal of Holmes, is an intelligent and insightful character, capable of logic and independent thought; on the other hand, one wonders how Nigel Bruce's Watson manages to feed himself every day). But I don't care; I think the two of them are great fun and play off each other well. Henry Daniell makes the first of several appearances in the Sherlock Holmes movies here, playing a member of the intelligence council.
The DVD features are rather light (there aren't any), but the restoration that's been done to the print is astounding. The picture couldn't be any sharper and the sound is very crisp.
As the film reaches its conclusion, the plot holes become harder to ignore. It's a pity because the movie has so much going for it. It is worth watching though, just because it is so successfully stylish. The propaganda elements aren't at all distracting and in fact have become rather endearing as time has passed. This probably isn't the place for a newcomer to the series, as there are better films to choose from. But fans of these Sherlock Holmes films will almost certainly enjoy it as much as I did.
Find Out What Christopher Means
laddie5 | 11/07/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This entertaining little melodrama does a decent job of moving Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson from the Victorian comforts of Baker Street into the WWII London of blitzes and blackouts. I have been watching this movie off and on for over 30 years, and it has never looked as crystal clear as it does in UCLA's stunning print. Sound is sharp and clear, too, with some lines of dialogue understandable to my ears for the very first time. Speaking of dialogue, it's quite an indictment of today's Idiots-R-Us culture that a cheap B-movie from 60 years ago sounds like Shakespeare now. For example, when Basil Rathbone's Holmes reminds Thomas Gomez that the English believe every life has value, the sweaty little Nazi sneers "A quaint notion of an even quainter nation." Not bad. The plot purports to be based on Sir Arthur's wonderful endpaper Holmes story "His Last Bow," but it uses nothing beyond the villain's last name and the great closing lines. In its day, the British were outraged at this movie, with its suggestion of treachery and treason at the highest levels of government, and the country owing its salvation to the noble bravery of a prostitute. Doesn't sound so shocking now, does it?"
Worth watching -- a "patriotic" entry
Patrick W. Crabtree | Lucasville, OH USA | 01/20/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First of all, THIS is the copy of this film that you want to obtain. It's a nice clear DVD digitized by the UCLA film lab from a pristine black-and-white 35 mm print. All other copies are inferior to this one.
The stars here are Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Holmes and Watson. We also get to see the great Henry Daniell (as Sir Anthony Lloyd) and Reginald Denny (as Sir Evan Barham). The film was directed by John Rawlins.
The story takes place during WW II as the Nazis have formulated a plan to terrorize all England. The Voice of Terror makes radio broadcasts, informing the public of real-time disasters which their secret operatives have initiated right in the English homeland, ranging from blowing up airplane factories to wrecking trains, usually demolishing secret plans of the British offensive. The 'Inner Council' of British Army and Navy Intelligence seem to be stymied in dealing with the strikes so Sherlock Holmes is called in by the head of the council... but some of the Inner Council members clearly oppose this decision.
One of Holmes' street informants is murdered on the doorstep of 221B Baker Street (Holmes' flat) so Holmes and Watson head for Limehouse to discover the secret of the victim's last word: "Christopher".
In Limehouse, the two fend off attacks before they end up in a sleazy pub where Holmes has to prevail upon the victim's girlfriend ("Kitty") for help in unearthing the Nazi's plans. Kitty, in turn, has to convey an extemporaneous patriotic speech to the Limehouse street criminals in order to engage their help in discovering what "Christopher" means.
At one point, the Limehouse boys save Holmes' bacon but the chief Nazi escapes. It falls to Kitty again to save the day. In the meantime, Holmes is also suspicious of the respective Inner Council members as he is certain that one of them is an enemy agent.
The end is, again, a patriotic salute to the intestinal fortitude of the English, and to the brain of Holmes, in facing down their Third Reich adversaries.
This is a good film, coherently directed, and with good cinematography. While it's not up to the standard of the other series entries, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles," it's still certainly worth watching."
Terror again Watson?
julitta11 | Southborough, MA USA | 08/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are at it again. This time they are trying to figure out a murderous voice (The Voice of Terror). Basil Rathbone is as good as ever as Sherlock Holmes, while Nigel Bruce is still exelent as the bumbling Dr. John H. Watson. This film might feel slow at points but makes up for the fact with some good twist and turns in the plot. After seeing it more then ten times the story gets old, but you start picking up on little thing. Look at Rathbone's face as Nigel Bruce acts like an bafoon...He's smiling!!"