The year is 1943. The thick of World War II.
The young men are off to war. And the fellows to old to draft? A lot of them seem to have been acting in Sherlock Holmes in Washington, released in April of that year. That's what strikes one early in the film, during the run-up to Sherlock Holmes actually appearing. There's a young lady or two. And the African-American porter might just look younger than the rest of the males. Or maybe this movie just takes place in that part of society that's all old white men in suits. Even the young service man that shows up to meet the youngest of the ladies has crow's feet.
Twelve and a half minutes in, Holmes and Watson finally enter the picture, hearing about the events of the earlier part of the movie on BBC radio. We learn Watson steals Holmes's whiskey to watch cricket, but it's Nigel Bruce. There's a good view of the "V.R." punched into the wall of 221B with what are apparently some of the weakest caliber bullets available. And I'm not even going to mention the infamous Sherlock Holmes in Washington hairdo. The suspenders and high trousers on Holmes are quite odd enough.
"I shall write a monograph someday . . . on the obnoxious habit . . . of accumulating useless trivia," Basil Rathbone says as he and Nigel Bruce casually look through a collector's collections. And people think current scriptwriters are hard on the fans . . . .
The movie's run time of an hour and eleven minutes is much less than an episode of BBC Sherlock, and it's about twenty-five minutes in before Holmes and Watson make it to America, where they make a big fuss about flying over New York City on their way to Washington, just to use some aerial stock footage of New York.
"How are you buddy?" and "What's cooking?" are Nigel Bruce's first attempts to speak American, which he picked up from a book on the subject. And he seems to need an ice cream soda to make it through the first official discussion of the case. He'll be chewing gum and reading Flash Gordon comics in the newspaper before long. (Literally. He does.) Bruce's Watson seems to be brought along as an x-factor, to behave randomly in any given situation.
The movie moves along at a decent enough pace, and Holmes doesn't get a whole lot to do, yet does it with style. (And again, not talking about the infamous Sherlock Holmes in Washington hairdo.)
Once all the casework is done, Holmes and Watson drive toward the Capitol Building,
"Democracy, the only hope for the future, eh, Holmes?" Watson says to Holmes.
"It's not given to us to peer into the mysteries of the future, but in the days to come, the British and American people, will, for their own safety and the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice, and in peace," Holmes replies, quoting Winston Churchill. The whole speech can be found online, and Sherlock Holmes in Washington ends with a shot of the Capitol just after Holmes attributes that speech to Churchill. And one wonders just how much of the speech he had memorized.
"You do not, I am certain, underrate the severity of the ordeal to which you and we have still to be subjected," one can almost hear Rathbone's voice saying more of Churchill's words, as they continue their drive through Washington, later speaking of those who "have put aside forever the shameful temptation of resigning themselves to the conqueror's will. Hope has returned to the hearts of scores of millions of men and women, and with that hope there burns the flame of anger against the brutal, corrupt invader. And still more fiercely burn the fires of hatred and contempt for the filthy Quislings whom he has suborned."
They really didn't mince words back in those Nazi-fighting days. But Holmes hardly needed that level of Churchillian fire for just the events of Sherlock Holmes in Washington (Hmmm, weird double bill of that and Sherlock Holmes in New York.), because Basil Rathbone's Holmes plainly had his hands full with that doddering old bumbler he seemed saddled with, who not only couldn't be expected to show any sort of reason, but could not even be expected to focus on the job at hand for any length of time if even the slightest dregs of his soda were at hand. Why anyone ever handed that man a gun was really beyond belief, all by itself.
It's nice to take your mind off current events with an old Sherlock Holmes movie . . . but somehow they always seem to find their way back in, especially when Sherlock Holmes heads to Washington . . . and then quickly flies back to Baker Street. (How Mycroft Holmes didn't show up in those days is, to the modern viewer, something of a wonder.) But, as is the case whenever Sherlock Holmes shows up, there is usually something to be learned there.
Even if it's just some words from Churchill amid a world in crisis.