Last night, I thought it might be comforting to watch a movie where Sherlock Holmes dealt with a Nazi menace in Washington, D.C. What I discovered, as I watched Sherlock Holmes in Washington, was that the Nazi part of the film was much less attention-grabbing than the doddering old fellow who did not seem competent in the lofty position that he was so fortunate to have somehow attained.
I mean, if you make it to that rare job of being partner to the world's first and foremost consulting detective, we kind of expect something from you.
Yes, Nigel Bruce Watson, I'm talking about you.
So tonight, I decided to go for round two of Sherlock versus Nazis, this one said in the credits to be based on "His Last Bow." That movie? Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.
"GERMANY BROADCASTING! GERMANY BROADCASTING! PEOPLE OF BRITAIN! GREETINGS FROM THE THIRD REICH! THIS IS THE VOICE YOU HAVE LEARNED TO FEAR! THIS IS THE VOICE OF TERROR!"
Sounding a little like some cheesy alien commander from Plan Nine from Outer Space, the Voice of Terror has a particularly nice ploy -- announcing acts of sabotage and assasination as they happen. Sir Evan Barham, at a meeting room of England's highest government (suspiciously absent Mycroft) suggests "In this emergency, we should take advantage of everyone's peculiar gifts," and calls in Sherlock Holmes. Of course, Sir Evan might have other reasons for calling in Sherlock . . .
"BLOWSER!" Sir Evan cries out when he sees Dr. Watson, who refers to Sir Evan as "Dimples" in return. He might just be one of those fellows who, when he finds himself in a high office, just brings his buddies in for jobs.
Luckily, the Voice of Terror is a talky bastard, and gets on the radio to frighten England before Nigel Bruce can get many words in. He resigns himself to remaining frozen in the background with a serious look. On the way out, he even gets a solid endorsement for Holmes in.
And then comes a bit of amazing foreshadowing of Sherlock's Anthea, the lovely Jill Grandis, their government assigned driver. She'll also show up in two later Rathbone Sherlock movies as Sally Musgrave and Lydia, which makes one wonder if Hillary Brooke wasn't really playing the Rathbone series's version of Eurus Holmes. (Interestingly, the Moriarty from another one of her films is also in this movie under another name.)
Remember yesterday when I wondered who would give Nigel Bruce Watson a gun? Well, this time he's pointing his pistol at Mrs. Hudson and waving it around when she first appears, a gun-cleaning accident just waiting to happen.
German knives start getting thrown around, and eventually Watson suggests they go somewhere safe.
"No one in the world is safe now, Watson," Sherlock replies, "least of all, us!"
So they go to a shady bar -- literally, it has great areas of shade -- and Nigel Bruce spends most of it getting scared of things. And pulling his gun. When told to put it away, Brucian Watson almost pouts: "Well, Holmes . . . you never know . . ."
Though its hour-and-six-minute-long compares to an episode of Elementary, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is amazingly good as old Holmes movies go. Holmes enlists a gal from the shady bar side of life named Kitty and challenges her to form an army of Irregulars to fan out over London, which she does with a great inspiring speech. Though her last name is never given, she is surely Kitty Winter, and maybe a bit closer to the Canonical version than Elementary's incarnation.
"Dr. Watson, a fair physician no doubt, but of no consequence," a Nazi appraises Nigel Bruce while holding Holmes, Watson, and Hillary Brooke's Moriarty-ish friend at gunpoint. But when a great Nazi-punching fight breaks out between Kitty's Irregulars and the bad guys, Watson is whacking the villains with his cane with the best of them, while Holmes actually stands back.
Meade, the lead Nazi spy, is a wonderfully menacing villain, and when Kitty apparently sleeps with Meade to get info, it's one of the creepiest scenes in a pretty creepy movie. (I say "apparently," because they really went out of their way to telegraph "sex" without ever showing the slightest hint to the kiddies.) He even has evil dreams of riding a horse over the bodies of bloody underlings.
But, boy, that Voice of Terror makes Meade look pale, describing the British "carnage" and what horrible shape loser Britain is in. All brag and pompous villainy over the broadcast network he likes best. His actual Nazis eventually show up in uniform, just so Holmes and the lads from the British Army can take them out, but I'll leave the climax for you to discover, if you haven't already.
It's not "His Last Bow" . . . like a Sherlock episode, we get a Von Bock instead of Von Bork. And England is almost invaded, if not for Sherlock Holmes.
Even if you're not fond of Nigel Bruce, he's practically not used comedically in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, a movie that holds its more-serious tone throughout. And at the end, they do perform the original "East wind" speech from "His Last Bow," as admirably as anyone could wish.
It's actually not a bad little film to watch these days, a little reminder of the lengths the world went to to deal with tyrants past. That East wind always seems to be coming, doesn't it?
And that timeless spirit called Sherlock Holmes is always there as well.