Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

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*. Starting with Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror the master detective of the nineteenth century, announced as “ageless, invincible and unchanging,” was called into service to fight Nazis (though, even here, I don’t think they’re explicitly identified as Nazis but are left as generic baddies). He’s back again for more in this film, building bridges to American allies, being squired around D.C., taking in all the sites and finding them “magnificent.”
*. Nigel Bruce’s Watson is now firmly established as a one-man Charters and Caldicott, interested mainly in the latest cricket scores. The plot (which is original and not taken from the Holmes canon) is pure C&C, with the villains trying to steal a secret document from an allied agent on a train.
*. On the subject of that train, the one carriage set is a little too luxurious to be believed. It’s as wide as a house! I had the hardest time figuring out where on earth we were until the background noises clued me in.
*. There was another little echo of The Lady Vanishes I noticed. At one point Holmes informs his enemy (not Moriarty this time, but he may as well be) that his hand, which is holding a pistol, has not lost its cunning. This reminded me of the scene in The Lady Vanishes when Caldicott (Naunton Wayne) says that he hopes his marksmanship won’t let him down in the final shootout and that his hand still has its cunning.
*. It seems a very distinct use of the term “cunning” but it isn’t identified as such in the OED, where the more general meaning of “possessing practical knowledge or skill, dexterity” is the only general definition that applies.
*. The one Holmes signature they managed to keep is the emphasis on the close examination of bits and pieces of physical evidence. This is well done, but I would have liked to have seen more of Holmes tearing up the antique shop with his superior knowledge of ancient curios.
*. Studio filmmaking recycled actors. George Zucco plays the villainous agent here after playing Moriarty opposite Rathbone earlier in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. I’m not really sure why he isn’t Moriarty again, as he doesn’t die at the end and could have returned. Henry Daniell, who is one of the bad spies, would play Moriarty just a couple of years later in The Woman in Green.
*. The only scene I really enjoyed was the business at the party where the matchbook kept getting passed around. That was clever. Aside from that, this is an unexceptional and formulaic secret-agent movie of the time, with a propaganda message at the end appealing to Anglo-American brotherhood in the common cause.

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