Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942)

 Run Time: 68 min. | b/w
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: w. Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Lionel Atwill
 Genres: Adventure | Crime | Drama
An imaginative, Holmesian exercise is beefed up here by the intense competition between Holmes and archrival Moriarty. Lots of excitement!


  1. tfsadmin

    August 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

    In the midst of WWII, Holmes is involved in the protection of a scientist working on a secret weapon that may prove to be a turning point against the Nazi’s. When the scientist and his formulae goes missing, Holmes becomes involved in a rush to rescue the man and prevent nemesis Professor Moriarty getting hold of the rest of the formulae.

    Although I’m not a major fan of the Holmes films where he finds himself in the modern day world, this is one of the better ones I have seen thus far. The plot is a little thick at the start but really gets going when the scientist goes missing. The investigation by Holmes is very engaging and the climax has a nice couple of scenes where Holmes and Moriarty match wits.

    Rathbone makes a good Holmes as always and here he happily hasn’t as bad a haircut as he did in some of the modern films. Bruce is much better than usual – he is less of a mug and is made less fun of by Holmes, he actually shows a bit of sense about him. Indeed so does Lestrade (Hoey), so often a comedy figure, it’s nice to see him involved a bit more than usual! Atwill’s Moriarty is good but I always saw him as a leaner, meaner man – Atwill looks more like Watson than Sherlock, even though their battle of wits is good I never felt that he was any match for Holmes, never mind being a nemesis.

    Overall I enjoyed this film. It does have a small bit of propaganda at the very end but, unlike some of the other films, doesn’t ram it down your throat – by making it about Moriarty rather than Nazi goons, the film works better. It has a slow start but it opens up to be very enjoyable.

  2. tfsadmin

    August 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

    It was an interesting enough idea, I suppose, to set a series of Sherlock Holmes films in the "modern day"…at the time, the WWII era…but those who are familiar with the first two Rathbone/Bruce films might be thrown off by it. When the rights passed from Fox to Universal, the two stars were retained, but apparently our two heroes stepped through a hole in the space-time continuum. The Fox films were Victorian period pieces, whereas Universal took the opportunity to utilize Sherlock Holmes in the series of modern-day B-movies into which this entry falls, several of which were fairly standard wartime propaganda…pretty much the order of the day for Hollywood films circa 1942-1945.

    While the film may boast some entertainment value, the plot is actually quite silly. Sherlock Holmes (sporting a remarkably bad haircut) has been charged with the task of guarding Dr. Franz Tobel, the inventor of a bomb sight (which, when you see it, will give you an idea of what the film’s budget was) that will apparently revolutionize airborne warfare. Holmes’s task is to keep Tobel safe (at which he fails) and to keep the bomb sight out of the hands of the Nazis. When Tobel is abducted, Holmes must unravel a coded message before his arch-nemesis, Professor Moriarty does. Though the credits state that the film is an adaptation of Conan Doyle’s story, The Dancing Men, only the code itself is taken from said story. And a small reference to another story, The Empty House, also shows up early in the film. Apart from that, you’ll find no Conan Doyle here.

    Interestingly enough, what makes Tobel’s bomb sight so remarkable, apart from the fact that the bombs seem to land where they’re supposed to, is never expounded upon…leaving the viewer to assume that both Allied and German bomb sights were abysmally inaccurate, as both sides are clamoring to get their hands on one that actually works. Probably not the best way to bolster confidence in the Allied fighting machine…but then, logic is scarce in this outing. Holmes relies just as heavily upon chance and educated guesses as he does upon deduction, and it’s the bumbling Watson (who was never bumbling in the original stories) who inadvertently provides the solution to the major stumbling block (despite the fact that the solution should have been obvious to someone as brilliant as Sherlock Holmes).

    All in all, this film has its moments, but fails to live up to the legend of the world’s greatest detective. Rathbone is a fine Holmes and Bruce (despite the almost unforgivable dumbing down of the Watson character) does a good job, as well. But much of the supporting cast seem to be phoning in their performances. The production values are rather noticeably low and the script is fairly ludicrous. I still watch this one from time to time, and certainly prefer it over Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (the first Universal Holmes entry)…but I can’t help but think that Sherlock Holmes deserves better than this.

    Interesting sidenote – This film contains the series’ one and only reference to Sherlock Holmes’s hypodermic cocaine usage. As Holmes is describing to Moriarty an elaborate hypothetical death scenario involving an intravenous needle, Moriarty interjects "The needle to the last…eh, Holmes?" How this managed to slip by the censors at the Breen Office (which, at the time, strictly forbade such references) is perhaps the one great mystery to be found in this film.

  3. IMDBReviewer

    August 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) have been hired by the British government to protect a Swiss scientist Dr. Franz Tobel (William Post Jr.). He has a bomb that the British want to win the war. Unfortunately the evil Dr. Moriarty (Lionel Atwill) is working with the Nazis and will stop at nothing to get the doctor–and his invention.

    Moving Sherlock Holmes to the 1940s sounded like a stupid idea but it does work for one reason–Basil Rathbone. Arguably he is the BEST Sherlock Holmes ever put on the screen. He plays the character so well (and accurately) that it doesn’t matter what era he’s solving crimes. As for Nigel Bruce as Watson…everybody has problems with it. He plays Watson as a bumbling old fool…that is NOT the Watson of the books. You seriously wonder why Holmes puts up with him. Still, he does grow on you (in a way). Then there’s Atwill having a whale of a time playing Moriarty–the discussions and battle of wits between him and Holmes are just great! I’ve never liked Dennis Hoey as Inspector Lestrade–he’s such an idiot. Makes Watson look like a genius. And Post Jr. is pretty good as Tobel (even though his accent amusingly keeps changing!).

    This movie is done elaborately and runs only a little over an hour. Still, it does have it’s slow spots and I never understood the secret code section.

    Still, worth catching if just for Rathbone and Atwill.

  4. IMDBReviewer

    August 2, 2017 at 8:49 am

    Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) begins this story in disguise, helping to smuggle famous physicist "Dr. Franz Tobel" (William Post) out of Switzeralnad and under the watchful eye of the Nazis, who want his bomb sight plans. The Allies obviously want it, too, and Sherlock is there to help. Dr. Tobel has invented an instrument which greatly aids in the accuracy of aerial bombardment.

    Holmes and Dr. Tobel arrive safely back at Baker Street but the scientist would rather be alone, for some mysterious reason, although he had promised the English to help them, not the Germans. He stays true to that promise but there are some desperate moments for Holmes and the English along the way.

    It's an entertaining film and one in which our famous detective uses not one but three different disguises. He needs all the help he can get when he goes up against his arch-rival, "Professor Moriarity." One complaint: if Moriarity was that evil, he would have dispensed with Holmes without batting an eyelash, instead of giving him openings to escape. It's pretty sad, too, when the usual dim-witted Dr. Watson (Nigel Bruce) has to rescue his boss from certain death a couple of times!

    Yes, there are some credibility issues in this story but if you can put your brain on hold a few times, it's a fun film to watch….and it looks beautiful, thanks to the great restoration job done on this DVD. It makes the old print come alive with some wonderful visuals, particularly the night-time shots.

    One other note: whoever did the English subtitles in here misspelled or misinterpreted at least a half dozen words. It's very sloppy work, and not the first time I've encountered this watching the entire series on the restored DVD set.

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