Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon

Welcome to part two of this Sherlock Holmes double bill. Part one was a classic adaptation of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories, part two not. Tonight: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon.

Secret Weapon poster (courtesy of AllPosters) Before joining director Neill on the set of Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man as the Mayor, Lionel Atwill played the archrival of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Moriarty, in this 1942 film. Atwill is a actor who can be admired in classic films as The Vampire Bat (1933), Mysteries of the Wax Museum (1933), Mark of the Vampire (1935) and To Be Or Not To Be (1942) to name but four. Atwill was an actor on stage as well as on the white screen, just like Basil Rathbone. Rathbone combined stage and screen work till he felt that his identification with the character of Sherlock Holmes was killing his film career: he went back to New York and the stage in 1946. Apart from a few narrations he only returned four times to a movie set in the next fifteen years. In 1962 Rathbone joined other legends Vincent Price and Peter Lorre in Roger Corman’s classic Poe adaptation, Tales of Terror. A handful of films followed until his death in 1967, an uneasy mixture of classics (Tourneur’s Comedy of Terrors in 1964) and bubblegum pulp (The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini in 1966).

The Secret Weapon isn’t set in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s times: the story is transferred to the 1940s and Holmes finds himself battling both Moriarty and the Nazis. This is rather weird at first, both because you don’t expect Sherlock Holmes in the 20th century and because you don’t want to confuse your detective entertainment with war propaganda. The propaganda scenes (especially the one at the end of the movie) sometimes harm the movie, but not as much as they harmed an earlier attempt to transfer Holmes to the 1940s (Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror). All in all it’s living proof that the Sherlock Holmes stories can be timeless.

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