Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror

Rating 2½

Directed by John Rawlins

Written by Robert Hardy Andrews, adapted from the Arthur Conan Doyle story ‘His Last Bow’

Starring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Evelyn Ankers, Reginald Denny, Henry Daniell, Thomas Gomez, Leyland Hodgson, Olaf Hytten, Montagu Love and Lon Chaney Jr (cameo appearance)

Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) and Dr Watson (Nigel Bruce) are called in by the “Inner Council” to investigate the identity of the “Voice of Terror”, who is broadcasting radio announcements from Nazi Germany that seem to predict exactly the details of the sabotage of military and civilian installations in Britain at the very moment they occur.

Although it is very loosely based on the Arthur Conan Doyle story ‘His Last Bow’, a story set on the eve of the First World War in 1914 and first published in 1917, ‘Sherlock Holmes and Voice of Terror’ is not a typical Sherlock Holmes adaptation. It is set in the modern day (the film was released in 1942) and opens with a description of Holmes and Watson as being “timeless” to explain this anomaly. There is also a little in-joke included in the film about Holmes being reminded to wear a fedora rather than his traditional deerstalker.

The film is a propaganda piece, intended to boost morale amongst cinemagoers during the years of the Second World War. It is very clear-cut in its depiction of Nazi Germany and those loyal to it. The “Voice of Terror” is, I assume, based on the real-life Lord Haw-Haw, the nickname given to several radio announcers who broadcast Nazi radio propaganda during the war, most notably William Joyce, who was subsequently executed for treason at Wandsworth Prison in London.

‘Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror’ is complete tosh seen from our distant future perspective, although not entirely removed from the patriotic tone and intention of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original story, but it needs to be viewed simply for what it is. The portrayal of the British working class or Cockney character is predictably ludicrous and makes the infamous performance of Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’ seem like the work of acting genius.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce portrayed Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson in a total of fourteen films, released between 1939 and 1946. Initially set in Victorian England, a modern setting was adopted from 1942 onwards. Only the first film in the series, ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’, is genuinely faithful to the source material. ‘Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror’ was the third film in the series pairing Rathbone and Bruce.

Review posted 3 April 2009


Roger said...

The film is much more likely to have been produced in answer to the propaganda of the so-called New British Broadcast Station (NBBS) which was a secret radio station based in Germany but pretending to be run by dissident Britons from under the noses of the police in their own country.

Few people today remember the NBBS, but it was a serious worry to the government when it was created in February 1940, using the voiceS of British collaborators.

The NBBS called on 'fifth-columnists' in Britain to take down dictated items from its broadcasts and reproduce them as stickers or leaflets, and this did in fact happen. Indeed, the BBC, during the summer of 1940, broadcast special warnings to the public to inform them that the NBBS was a German station.

An ultra-rightwing MP, Archibald Maule Ramsay, spoke approvingly of the station in the Commons. He was later arrested, along with Mosley, as a threat to national security. It was people such as Ramsay and Mosley, as well as other rightwing members of the Establishment, that were the target of the film.

alienlanes said...

This is interesting, thanks. I am familiar with Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists, as well as the Conservative Party politician Archibald Maule Ramsey and the Right Club. I think I am right in saying that William Joyce was, at one time or another, associated with both the British Union of Fascists and the Right Club, although Mosley and Ramsey were not allies and held somewhat opposing views. I know next to nothing about the NBBS, but assume it was a part of Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda machine, intended to crush morale amongst the general population in Britain. How did the NBBS differ from the “Germany Calling” radio broadcasts made by Joyce and others?

Roger said...

THE NBBS was run by a secret department of the German Radio called Buro Concordia (i.e. Bureau Concordia in English). It was controlled jointly by the Propaganda Ministry and the German Foreign Office.

It differed from the 'Germany Calling' broadcasts in that the latter made no secret of the fact that they came from Germany, whereas the NBBS pretended to be a station run by British anti-war 'patriots' on British soil.

Incidentally, many of the scripts for the NBBS were written by William Joyce (Lord Haw-Haw) although his voice was not used on the station because that would have given the game away!

For more information, see 'Hitler's Airwaves' by Bergmeier and Lotz, just one of many books on the subject.

alienlanes said...

Thank you. I would like to read more, if I ever find the time.