Three words: Abacus of death!
While we watched Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, we determined how to make Elementary a better show:
Nick: So, I spent the morning in the company of Uma Thurman and Quentin Tarantino watching Kill Bill Vol. 1. I’m honestly sort of glad that I had not seen it before I started watching Elementary because I don’t think I could take Lucy Liu in the role of Joan Watson seriously.
Cat: Honestly, that would make me take her more seriously?
Nick: But then I would fully expect her to run across a table and chop off someone’s head in every episode. I don’t know. Maybe that’d make Elementary a little more exciting?
Cat: Dude, could you imagine that though? Her just decapitating anyone who got in the way? That would be freaking awesome. ...I mean, entirely incorrect and not in anyway cool….
Let it be known that we do not endorse the decapitation of anyone (of criminals or otherwise) on this blog. On to today’s movie:
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)
Major motion picture
Starring: Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes), Nigel Bruce (Dr. Watson), Kaaren Verne (Charlotte Eberli), Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade), Lionel Atwill (Professor Moriarty)
68 minutes, black-and-white
Nick: So, the “Nazi Trilogy” entered phase two with Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon which is for all intents-and-purposes based on the story “The Adventure of the Dancing Men.” Well, as you continue to try to wrap your head around the notion that Sherlock Holmes is still fighting the Nazis, did this one do anything to cement that idea in your head more than Voice of Terror?
Cat: Well, I think that it helped that we weren’t exactly watching Holmes literally entangled with Nazis most of the time. Giving him some distance from the espionage frontlines seemed to help (me, at least) come to grips with the fact that Sherlock freaking Holmes was fighting freaking Nazis.
Nick: I will have to respectfully disagree Catharine (and I’m sure that my love for Voice of Terror is probably getting in the way here), but I felt like Holmes acted even more like a spy in this movie than in the previous one. I mean, the movie opens in Switzerland and Holmes’s “mission” is to smuggle Dr. Tobel and his secret bomb out of Nazi-occupied Europe into England. I mean, that’s a legitimate spy thriller plot right there! Granted, the Nazis themselves were very much in the background for this one and the representatives of the Third Reich were spies and not creepy military officers.
Cat: Okay, true, you actually bring up some very good points up there. But aside from those first few minutes, it felt much more like a normal Sherlock Holmes story! (But for real, those first five minutes were pretty cool; I can definitely get behind that kind of Holmes spy-work.)
|Does he have a copy of British Birds?|
Nick: I agree. The beginning of this movie is very nicely done and I love Holmes’s old bookseller disguise (which I like to think is a nice reference to “The Empty House.”) Also, Holmes’s spy work does give us the opportunity for the detective to escort the understandably flustered Dr. Tobel through the streets of war-ravaged London which looks decidedly worse-for-wear since the last film. It’s sort of sad to think that the Holmes and Watson of this film universe had to live through the Blitz, but it is cool that despite the destruction around them 221B Baker Street has remained intact and untouched as ever.
Cat: Sort of sad?! I don’t want to think about Mrs. Hudson in a bomb shelter! That’s more than a little sad, Nick! :’( I’m glad you can easily see the coolness and sort of symbolic side of Baker Street’s durability, but that’s just a little too upsetting to me.
Nick: Well thanks a lot Catharine! Now I have horrible mental pictures of Mary Gordon’s Mrs. Hudson in a bomb shelter. NOT COOL! NOT COOL AT ALL! I need to clear my mind. Think of something funny Nick! I got it: Dennis Hoey’s dimwitted Lestrade - the second most bumbling character of this series. Here’s the blunt question of the hour: Compared to the one-and-only Rupert Graves (or Eddie Marsan from the RDJ movies for that matter), does the loveable Cockney Inspector hold his own?
Cat: (Nice transition there, Nick, but honestly, HOW DO YOU NEVER THINK OF THESE THINGS???) I suppose so? He honestly didn’t leave too much of an impression on me, but I liked him just fine. There were actually moments where I thought he was being more capable that Watson was! Which is saying something, I think. Really, it’ll be a bit of a challenge for someone to unseat Rupert Graves. I’m extremely attached to his Lestrade. (I may relate a bit too much to his “Not my division” approach….)
|The detective and the buffoons|
Nick: Well, while we’re talking about Lestrade, I’d like to pause for a moment to introduce to you two of the strangest (and yet persistent) controversies which exist in the Sherlock Holmes universe because both of them are related to the Lestrade. The first: We have no idea what Lestrade’s first name is. I have read and seen a number of variations: George, Giles, Greg etc. (The recurring joke in Sherlock is that Sherlock can never remember Lestrade’s first name because...well...we never learned it.) The second is: Just how on God’s green earth do you pronounce his name? The more common version is “Les-trah-d” however there are seemingly an equal number of versions in which the Inspector’s name is pronounced “Les-tray-d.” It’s a problem which has confused me for years and no one has a clear answer. According to Sherlockian gossip (the fact that that exists makes me sort of happy), Arthur Conan Doyle pronounced it “Les-tray-d” but no one has ever been able to verify that and well, to me, that way will always sound just a little strange. Wow...tangent...but hopefully I expanded your mind.
Cat: Nooo, why would you mention that to me? Now I’m going to feel conflicted for the rest of my life because I’m going against ACD’s alleged official pronunciation! “Les-trah-d” just makes more sense to me honestly. Interesting debate though. And I don’t care what his name is (or isn’t, I guess), I’m sticking with Greg, because, well...that was what I thought his first name was before you said that he didn’t have an official first name. Old habits die hard?
Nick: I would have loved for ACD to have intended Lestrade’s first name to be a really off-the-wall, crazy name like Giovanni or Gustavo, (all we know is that his first initial is ‘G.’) but I think that’s pretty unlikely.
We suddenly realize that we have more important matters to discuss (the abacus of death demands much time) so we move on:
Nick: Well, let’s talk about the other important Canonical character in this film: Moriarty. He crops up once again in the form of Lionel Atwill who played Dr. Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles. I tried my hardest to keep Moriarty’s presence in this movie a secret. I don’t know how well that worked, but that’s beside the point. What did you think of Atwill’s portrayal of the Napoleon of Crime?
Cat: It worked pretty well, I think. I remember being pretty pleasantly surprised by the whole thing. I have mixed feelings. I really liked the role Moriarty had in the movie, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of Atwill’s performance as Moriarty. Now, that’s not to say that it was bad! I think he was alright; I just happened to prefer Zucco a little bit more. Now, if Zucco was playing Moriarty in this movie too, that would have been SICK! (In a good way.)
|No Napoleon of Crime (sorry Lionel)|
Nick: I agree. Lionel Atwill is a great actor and he plays evil characters really well. So, I think it is through no fault of his own that he makes for a sort of lackluster Moriarty. He’s written like a common-or-garden crime boss (not a sentence I get to type every day) instead of the cool, calculating villain that I think he should be. At one point Rathbone’s Holmes even calls Moriarty something like “a common cutthroat” and that is a very apt description. I think I have mentioned it before but Moriarty turns up three times in the Rathbone series and he’s played by three different actors and of the three, Atwill is my least favorite. (To whet your appetite, my favorite version of Moriarty is yet to come!)
Cat: You have mentioned that before, and I must say that I’m intrigued, because I thought George Zucco was pretty good. (By the way, look for my upcoming insane theory that links all three Moriartys in one plotline. It’s already half complete!) But, even though Atwill wasn’t anything super mind-blowing, I REALLY liked the things that his Moriarty did! And the conversations between Moriarty and Holmes towards the end were really cool. I basically got sucked into this once Moriarty came into play (as I’m sure Nick can testify).
Nick: My thoughts on my favorite Moriarty are rather controversial as he’s generally considered to be the least memorable, but I’ll save that for another day entirely. And, discussion of the ending of this movie is certainly warranted because the final act is simply brilliant I think. However, before we get there I’ll just try to hit a couple of plot points and if you have anything you’d like to say about them feel free to comment. So, Tobel is kidnapped by Moriarty after he has divided up the components of his bomb to various scientists. Leaving behind messages written in mysterious dancing men code it becomes a race-against-time as Holmes works to track down Tobel while Moriarty does everything in his power to locate the bomb and sell it to the Nazis. Holmes adopts a number of disguises in this movie (making it one of Rathbone’s favorites as it afforded him the opportunity to do so). Moriarty cracks the code just as Holmes does and we get a sneak peek at his office and...perched on the edge of his desk is the greatest prop in the history of film. Move aside Maltese Falcon! Forget the Ark of the Covenant! Moriarty has an abacus made of dragons and little skulls on his desk!
|THE ABACUS OF DEATH!|
Cat: THE ABACUS OF DEATH!!!! I love this thing so much, because at first I didn’t realize that the little beads were actually little skulls! I mean...how much more badass does it get?! Only Moriarty would have a mathematical tool of doom. There’s no real reason for this to exist, but I am so glad it does. Having scenes in Moriarty’s office was worth it JUST for the sake of that prop getting screen time.
Nick: I’d like to think that that abacus is still somewhere deep in the vaults of Universal’s archives. I actually just did a quick ebay search to see if it has cropped up on their website (it seems like the kind of thing that the second cousin of the cameraman’s sister’s friend might have had in their garage at some point in time) but I was out of luck. In all seriousness, the thing plays no part in the plot of the film at all and we are taking too much time to discuss it but ever since I first noticed it in the background of a few scenes, it’s all I can look at. I had to make sure that I pointed it out to Cat when we watched this one because it’s one of those thing you won’t notice if you’re not looking for it. Oh well, onwards and upwards. Let’s talk about needles and trapdoors (the components of this film’s really cool finale).
Cat: I can only imagine that that’s locked away in some vault like the Ark, being looked after by top….men… Anyways! Moving on from the fantastic props, the ending. Oh my god, that ending. I was nerding out the entire time, it was so sad to watch (so my apologies, Nick!). I mean, first things first, death by slowly bleeding out (as Moriarty intends for Holmes’s cause of death) sounds about as awful as it gets. I certainly wouldn’t choose it for myself. But the fact that Holmes suggests this as a way to buy Watson, Lestrade, and co. time is freaking unbelievable. I can’t help but question why Moriarty would take him up on such a suggestion though. I mean, it’s totally up his twisted and sadistic alley, but...wouldn’t he be able to guess he had some kind of an ulterior motive/plan in mind? Maybe I’m reading too deeply into this, but I did find that to be a bit funny. But it made for a really cool scene, so I’m willing to look past it! I would also like to note that shortly after Holmes gets hooked up to the literal death machine, Watson and Lestrade finally make their way onto the scene in what looks like the nick of time. Watson then made me literally face-palm with his doctoring skills. Or the nonexistent ones, in this case. So he unhooks Holmes and literally LEAVES HIM ALONE A SECOND LATER. After he’s CLEARLY lost some blood! WHAT WAS HE THINKING?? Sherlock Holmes or no, that was just STUPID to assume he could “take care of himself”. I was more than a bit frustrated then. I’ve ranted for long enough, your thoughts on this all, Nick? I didn’t even get to the the trapdoor shenanigans!
|Needles and trapdoor shenanigans|
Nick: I love the final confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty and Holmes’s idea to have all of his blood drained out of him to buy the others time is incredible and horrifying and certainly not for the squeamish. I have never looked favorably upon needles so that scene is always a little trying. I can’t say that I have ever found Watson’s lack of medical attention as trying as Cat obviously does. It’s a relatively tiny moment in a pulse-pounding finale but I certainly understand where she’s coming from. As to the trapdoor...that has got to be one of Holmes’s coldest and most badass moments ever. I don’t like to throw around hyperbole too much but the fact that he escapes through Moriarty’s secret passage, comes across the Professor’s means of disposing bodies and casually leaves it open for Moriarty to fall through...that’s cold. I also love the way that Holmes just shrugs it off too at the end. As I mentioned above, the whole final act of this movie is really good and it’s where it goes (in my mind) from being a pretty average Sherlock Holmes film to a very good one.
Cat: Yeah, sorry. I’ve got one-too-many nurses in my family for me to honestly shrug that one off. It was amazing moments and amazing set-ups one right after the other. I had been liking the movie just fine and a bit more than Voice of Terror but it was really this ending that did it for me, so I entirely agree with Nick here.
It’s time for final thoughts:
Nick: Once more, I think I’ll let Catharine go first with her final summation.
Cat: I think I’ve ranted about my feelings on this enough as it is, so I’ll try to be brief here. While the first half certainly felt a bit more like a typical Sherlock Holmes adventure than I felt Voice of Terror did, it was definitely the ending that gave it a two thumbs up from me. It was suspenseful and creepy and just downright awesome. I think it’s kinda hard to go wrong with a good Holmes v. Moriarty set up, to be entirely honest. It certainly made Holmes v. Moriarty feel less weird, for me anyway. But, I realize those are totally my opinions, so what final words do you have to say on the subject, Nick?
Nick: I cannot be entirely certain but when I was first getting into Sherlock Holmes centuries ago, a cheap, crappy DVD copy of Secret Weapon may have been my introduction to the Rathbone/Bruce films (this is one of the few Universal movies which fell into the public domain) so you’d think that having been exposed to it for years would make me look very fondly upon it. And, it’s not that I hate this movie but it just feels lacking to me. Whereas Voice of Terror had so much style, this movie felt very lacking. Lionel Atwill’s Moriarty is also very lackluster. However, the redeeming features of this movie are aplenty: Holmes’s disguises, the opening scene in Switzerland, the finale, and of course the abacus of death! Again, it’s not that I hate this movie (it’s pretty good), but when I know the heights which the later Universal films could achieve, I feel like it rather pales in comparison. I would give this one 3.5 deerstalkers out of 5. And you Cat?
Cat: While I can appreciate style a great deal, I tend to like substance over style a tiny bit more. So that’s why I liked this so much, I think. Even if it had a couple kind of significant lacking factors, I felt like it just appealed to me overall, especially with that ending. Even if there was a less than desireable Moriarty around, I could see past that. So for me, this was a solid 4.0 deerstalkers out of 5.
Nick: Well, I’m certainly a fan of substance as well but unfortunately our next film is rather lacking in both style and substance. Oh well...it could be Pursuit to Algiers.
Next Time: Watson wants to know “what’s cooking” as Holmes and Watson journey across the Pond and the Nazi Trilogy comes to an end.