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Sherlock Holmes in Washington

USA 1943
produced by
Universal
directed by Roy William Neill
starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Marjorie Lord, Henry Daniell, George Zucco, John Archer, Gavin Muir, Edmund MacDonald, Don Terry, Bradley Page, Holmes Herbert, Thurston Hall, Mary Gordon, Gilbert Emery, Gerald Hamer, Mary Forbes, Caroline Cooke, Alice Fleming, Margaret Seddon, Regina Wallace
story by Bertram Millhauser, screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, Lynn Riggs, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle, music by Frank Skinner

Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone), Universal's Sherlock Holmes, Sherlock Holmes in World War II, American World War II Propaganda

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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A British agent, Pettibone (Gerald Hamer) was supposed to deliver some top secret but utmost important documents to the US-American gouvernment in (you guessed it) Washington DC. Thing is, he never arrived, and it seems he has fallen prey to enemy agents, who in turn seem to not have found what they've been looking for because they have attacked several of his fellow travellers on the train from New York to Washington ... which suggests that Pettibone has gotten rid of the documents before he was kidnapped and they have to be with one of the people on the train.

Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) is called to Washington to investigate, but instead of going there right away, he first checks out Pettibone's secret agent lab and finds out Pettibone hasn't carried the documents in paper form but copied them on microfilm to carry them in a matchbox. So it's a matchbox Holmes is looking for, and soon enough he finds out that during the journey, Pettibone has lit a cigarette for Nancy Partridge (Marjorie Lord), and in the process he simply must have dropped his matchbox into her purse (he has, as the audience is well aware of).

Problem is, the enemy agents are hot on Holmes' trail, and when they find out he is after Nancy Partridge, they kidnap her and bring her to their hideout, an antique shop. Of course, Holmes has no problems to figure out where they have taken her with only a few seemingly unimportant clues to work with, and before you know it, he has entered the lion's den and faces the main villain of the piece, enemy agent Heinrich Hynkel (George Zucco) ... but is overcome by Hynkel's men, tied up good and readied for his execution - when the police, called by Holmes' trusted sidekick Watson (Nigel Bruce), arrives to put a few wrongs right. Thing is, Hynkel manages to escape, and with the matchbox too, even if he has no idea of its actual content. Holmes though has anticipated as much and has given Hynkel a false clue leading to another of Pettibone's fellow travellers, senator Babcock (Thurston Hall), where Holmes and the police are finally able to apprehend the villain - but not before making him give up the matchbox without knowing he has just given up the object of his desire.

 


So-so entry into Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes-series that goes to quite some length to portray Holmes' clever ways of deduction, but fails to create any real tension or suspense. On top of that, Holmes seems a little out of place not only in the USA but also in a rather formulaic espionage flick. Granted, this film was made as a propaganda effort, and the praise Holmes and Watson heap on the USA at the end of the film leaves no doubt about that, but in that respect it's on the other hand rather surprising how vague the film remains when putting a label on the enemy (it's only a "foreign power", not Germany, not the Nazis), also and especially when compared to other Sherlock Holmes World War II adventures. Plus, George Zucco might be identified as a German in this film but he plays his Heinrich Hynkel just like he played Moriarty in 1939's Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, free of accent or typical German mannerisms (as they were portrayed back in the 1940's that is). That all said, at least Zucco makes a good villain and Rathbone will always be one of the finest Sherlock Holmes-actors, so not all is lost. It's just not a great movie.

 

review © by Mike Haberfelner

 

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