A Big Country, Watson, and a Small Match Folder
laddie5 | 11/08/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
"When I was a wee lad steeped in Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes stories, this movie struck me as plain awful. It was painful to see Sherlock as a tourist in a wildly inappropriate DC milieu (the back-projected crazy quilt of Washington monuments on his drive around town makes it seem the chauffeur is on crack), spouting pax Americana patriotism and even paying tribute to the crime-fighting superiority of the FBI (??!!). Nigel Bruce was a particular affront as a doddering Dr. Watson, noisily sucking down ice cream sodas and struggling to read 30 pages on a 10-hour transatlantic flight. But time has been kind to "SH in Washington." This was the first of these movies written by Bertram Millhauser, who always came up with witty dialogue for Rathbone and Bruce and snarky bits of malice for the supporting cast. Basil Rathbone gives a hopped-up performance as Holmes, barking out ludicrously improbable deductions and even reprising his Louis XI imitation as a limp-wristed "eccentric" collector. There is a small gem of a performance from Gerald Hamer (unbilled, sadly) as the master spy who sets the plot in motion -- he gives the movie a few whiffs of danger, intrigue and poignance. And it's hard to dislike a movie with two Moriartys: silky sadist Henry Daniell and glittery-eyed psycho George Zucco. By the way, the suspense hinges on the fate of a fast-dwindling book of matches, so if you're trying to quit smoking, this is not the movie for you."
B. W. Fairbanks | Lakewood, OH United States | 01/06/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Other than "Dressed to Kill," the last entry in Universal's 12 film Sherlock Holmes series, "Sherlock Holmes in Washington" may be the weakest effort but it remains an enjoyable curio. In this third film, the attempt to update Holmes for the 20th century reached its zenith as the producers sent the great detective into the very center of the New World, Washington D.C., in another episode devoted to espionage and criminal activity related to World War II. The novelty is tolerable if only because we know there are less gimmicky, superior entries to come, but anyone whose love of Holmes came from the original Conan Doyle stories rather than the film adaptations will wince at this film more than any other. Basil Rathbone entertainingly overplays the role this time, and with his eccentric hairstyle and wardrobe looks less like Sherlock Holmes than my tenth grade high-school English teacher, the one everyone suspected of being gay (not that there's anything wrong with that).What makes this entry worthwhile, aside from the always entertaining emoting of Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (more bumbling than ever as he discovers the Sunday newspaper comics and chewing gum) is the supporting cast. The superb George Zucco, whose Satanic presence enlivened many a B horror movie and who already appeared as Professor Moriarty in 20th Century Fox's "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," comes slithering back, not as Moriarty but as another demented creature, and Henry Daniell, who would be the best Moriarty of all (in Basil Rathbone's opinion, as well as mine) in "Woman in Green," is also on hand with his share of villainy. This film may have greatest value for history buffs and sociologists than for Holmes fans, however. It remains fascinating to see how a major Hollywood film studio converted a beloved literary figure into a special agent as a way to contribute to the United States' propaganda campaign during WWII."
"It's so old it's new."
Andrew McCaffrey | Satellite of Love, Maryland | 08/16/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I'd rank as SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON as the weakest of the three "Sherlock Holmes vs. the Germans" films Universal produced during WWII with Basil Rathbone in the starring role. The storyline is clumsy (and contains a notable plot inconsistency), alternating between the completely obvious and the maddeningly obtuse. So, to judge this, I'm just going to talk about its pure entertainment value. In those terms, the movie isn't bad. It's not the greatest thriller ever made, but it's fun enough.
Given that the first three in this line of movies from Universal were thinly veiled propaganda films, it was only a matter of time before the Americans would become involved. (Bringing Holmes and Watson into the then-present day worked quite well all things considered, though it seems appropriate that Watson reading a newspaper ignores the main headlines recounting world events and instead focuses on the cricket scores.) A large deal of time is spent showing that, hey, the Americans are great, and, hey, the British are great, and hey, isn't it great that we're all such great friends. Numerous scenes involve Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce staring at back-screen projections of various Washington, DC landmarks ("Magnificent!" declares Holmes of the Capitol Building). A photograph of FDR hangs in the background of one scene.
Watson gets the bulk of the pro-American lines. He's overjoyed at the possibility of taking in a baseball game. He reads a thin book on American customs and phrases which he takes delight in repeating at inappropriate moments. And, of course, he is suitably impressed with the comic strip adventures of Flash Gordon. Pure Holmes scholars might be horrified that the intelligent and sensitive Dr. James Watson of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories reduced to a bubbling buffoon kicking back milkshakes and being gently pushed off to eat his breakfast. Personally, I was giggling too much to be outraged.
Rewatching this in the background while I type up my review really highlights the film's flaws. Take SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR as an example. It also has a few storyline problems, but succeeds as a thriller because it successfully places style over substance. It just looks good, even when it isn't entirely making sense. WASHINGTON just doesn't have the same confidence. The pacing is a bit too slow, taking far too long to get from the revelation as to what exactly Holmes is looking for to the inevitable recovery.
Although this is a film with problems and one which is vastly inferior to other movies in the same series, I can't say that I was actually unhappy while viewing it. Sure, it's sillier (deliberately so) than was the norm, but it still has a lot of entertainment value. I wouldn't recommend this if you've never seen any of this series before, but if you're already a fan, you may find this one at least amusing. The Holmes and Watson double-team just manages to save it."
Pretty good -- a decent Rathbone-Bruce entry
Patrick W. Crabtree | Lucasville, OH USA | 01/20/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"First, I want to point out that THIS is the copy of this film that you want. It's been re-worked by the UCLA film lab and was digitized from a very pristine black-and-white 35 mm print. All other copies are inferior to this one. The aspect is full-screen.
In the story, A British courier is dispatched to Washington as a decoy for the real carrier of a secret WW II document which is imperative to the Allied offensive. The real courier is one Alfred Pettibone, traveling under the alias of John Gregson (played by Gerald Hamer, astonishingly, uncredited in this film! We also saw Hamer play the postman in "Sherlock Holmes and The Scarlet Claw"; and other characters in "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" ; in "Pursuit to Algiers," and in; "Terror by Night").
Pettibone/Gregson manages to surreptitiously hand off the document, which he had reduced to microfilm and imbedded in a matchbook, to the fiance of an American Navy Lieutenant -- she doesn't know that she has it until she suddenly recalls that Pettibone/Gregson dropped the matchbook into her purse just after he lit her cigarette. Still, she plays dumb to Zucco's threatened tortures. Before the girl's actual abduction, Pettibone/Gregson is kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by these same Nazi agents, (one of whom is played by Daniell).
Holmes and Pettibone had worked together before on important cases so Holmes is ready to take on the task and travel with Watson to Washington when the British authorities tell him that his associate has disappeared, along with the document. Subsequent to attempts on his own life and that of Watson's, the pair travel to America where the Washington D.C. police are at their beck and call.
It's soon discovered by both Holmes and the Nazis that the young fiance has the document, or at least a knowledge of its whereabouts, so the bad guys kidnap her just before Holmes can get to her. Then, Holmes has to dredge up some quick clues to locate the Nazi agents' (the boss of whom is played by the great and sinister George Zucco!) base of operations.
Will Holmes be in time to save the girl and recover the document?!? What do YOU think *.* Still, it's a good suspenseful film with plenty of action. Definitely worth watching."