Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)

Loosely adapted from the Doyle story “His Last Bow”, this third entry in the Rathbone-Bruce Holmes series is typical of the direction it would take at Universal. More obviously a "B" picture than the two previous entries made at Fox, it nonetheless captures the spirit and tone of the character even while placing him in a contemporary setting. Holmes is brought in to investigate the source of a series of radio broadcasts purporting to depict various acts of terrorism carried out against England by Nazi Germany.

There is a strong patriotic streak for Mother England running throughout the entire film, and it's easy to see how updating the story to the present (1942) day sat well with wartime sensibilities. With this entry in the series, some of the flaws that the Rathbone-Bruce films have been frequently criticized for become apparent, most notably by reducing Bruce's portrayal of Dr. Watson to a bumbling, slow-witted sidekick rather than a loyal friend and colleague. The update to the modern setting works well enough, as the characters fit more or less seamlessly into the contemporary surroundings as written (Holmes substitutes a fedora for his traditional Deerstalker), but one still finds oneself missing the rich period detail of the first two films (though Elwood Bredell's cinematography is quite good, at times looking forward to his fine work on THE KILLERS). The Universal films reduced the Holmes series from superb, elaborately-produced "A" pictures to well-crafted and entertaining "B" programmers.

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