Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943) Roy William Neill
Produced by Howard Benedict, Roy William Neill (uncredited)
Screenplay by Bertram Millhauser, Lynn Riggs
Based (loosely) on “The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Cinematography by Lester White
MPI Media Group Blu-ray
On a transatlantic journey from London to Washington, a British agent (Gerald Hamer) carrying a secret government document is abducted. Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Doctor Watson (Nigel Bruce) are hired to find the agent and – more importantly – the document before it falls into the hands of the Nazis.
Sherlock Holmes in Washington, the fifth film in the Rathbone/Bruce collection and the third of the “B” pictures (after the bigger-budgeted The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), has its share of pros and cons. Perhaps Universal recognized that the “Holmes vs. the Nazis” plots were beginning to grow stale and tiresome. (This was the third and final such film.) Of course we have to remember that these Nazi-based stories were produced during World War II, so you can forgive some of the overt flag-waving.
The story of the missing documents is fairly compelling and as always, director Roy William Neill does a lot with a small budget, but viewers will notice some definite signs that the series is slipping. For one, Nigel Bruce’s performance – which was always rather lighthearted – borders on becoming buffoonish as Watson is even more oblivious than ever to the events going on around him. Not that this stroll down the comedic lane is a bad thing – it’s entertaining enough, but you wonder (at least I do) how much further it will descend in subsequent films. We shall see…
Rathbone has a lot of fun posing as an eccentric antiques customer, getting out of character for several minutes to fool a shop employee, but I stopped counting the number of times he sarcastically said “thank you” in the film to friend and foe alike. In one of the most amusing scenes (no doubt unintentional), Rathbone makes a discovery and grabs Bruce, exclaiming, “Hurry, Watson!” They make a mad dash out of a building, followed by shots of the two men from the knees down taking a series of leisurely walks down city streets, hardly in a hurry at all.
The film also contains a nifty scene with a very important matchbook making its rounds innocently from one person to another. I wonder if Steven Spielberg had this sequence in mind when he shot the poison antidote vial scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom…
Careful viewers will notice at least two actors from previous Sherlock Holmes films, but in different roles: Henry Daniell, who played one of the members of the inner council of British intelligence in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror here plays one of the villains. (Daniell will also portray Professor Moriarty in The Woman in Green from 1945.) George Zucco (above, left), who played Moriarty in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, plays a different (and almost as effective) villain here in Sherlock Holmes in Washington.
While Sherlock Holmes in Washington is fun to watch, I doubt it will hold up to repeated viewings as much as some of the other films. I like it a little bit more than I liked Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, so it probably won’t be at the bottom of my Rathbone/Bruce list. But I still have nine films to go, so time will tell…