Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)


*. It’s wartime. The Blitz is rocking London, and 221B Baker Street has sandbags piled around the front door. Moriarty is working for the Germans.
*. The series is fading fast. James Bruce’s Watson is now in full bumbling, comic-relief mode. The plot, supposedly based on Doyle’s story “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” only owes the business of Tobel’s code to that source. The bandage on Tobel’s head is ridiculous: it’s just stuck to his hair and makes it look like a bird pooped on him.
*. It’s not the filmmaker’s fault, but I have to again register my extreme disappointment at the DVD’s subtitling. I complained about this before with regard to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and here it’s almost as bad. A great line from Moriarty — “I was looking for something ingenious, but this is ingenuous” — is lost when “ingenuous” is rendered as “ingenious.” Come on, people!
*. I would complain about Moriarty’s name being spelled Moriarity with a second “i,” but alas that is the way it is given in the credits. So I guess I should be referring to him as Moriarity in this commentary. But I won’t, because it’s wrong.
*. “Substitution of the alphabet? I don’t understand. You mean you can read these figures as if they were letters of the alphabet?” Well, you are a bit dense, aren’t you Ms. Eberli? It’s a pretty basic principle of any code. But Watson can explain.


*. What exactly are Moriarty and his goons doing to Tobel to torture him? Moriarty just looks like he’s pulling on his legs. And yet Tobel is writhing in agony.
*. The luminous paint trick is a good one, but why didn’t the police just stake Hoffner’s place out and follow the bad guys back to Moriarty’s? Would that have been cheating?
*. It does allow for more banter between Holmes and his arch-enemy. I was wondering if this was one of the first instances of a captured hero buying time by manipulating the villain through an appeal to his vanity (“A gun? Too easy!”).
*. Moriarty’s final method for doing away with Holmes — suggested by Holmes himself, presumably because it would be a slow process — is quite sadistic and creepy. It’s also convenient that Moriarty happens to have that hospital room all prepped.
*. Shakespeare provides a nice frame: from Holmes in disguise as the Nazi bookseller (calling Shakespeare a good German author) to his quoting the famous lines from Richard II at the end. Lines everyone in the audience would have recognized in 1943. Today, probably not so much.


2 thoughts on “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

  1. Nick

    I love this movie watching it again right now, I remember reading the book as a child – poor old Basil Rathbone didn’t have a lot of blood to start with – that Moriarty (Moriarity) was so evil – so much better than Jeremy Brett’s portrayal of Holmes though – he totally had it wrong with respect to his general arrogant attitude and his respect for his friend Watson 🙂

    1. Alex Good Post author

      Yes, the question of who made the “best” screen Holmes is one that fans debate a lot. Rathbone and Brett are the leading contenders, I think in part for the extent of their body of work. I like them both. However according to the Guinness Book of World Records Holmes is the “most portrayed movie character,” with over 70 actors having taken the part. So there’s plenty of competition I haven’t seen.


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