The Secret Weapon (1942) – By David Stephenson

 Howdy partners. This is a film starring Basil Rathbone as super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes… and lots of Germans. I chose this one because not only is there a mad scientist in it, but he’s an evil turncoat too! You shaking with fear? Me neither. Laughter? Yes. War time propaganda ruled, and this is no exception. During World War II we trusted no-one, feared no-one… and sent all our actors off to die on foreign shores. This meant that British movies of the time were not only hilariously twisted in terms of their world view, but also were so unbelievably crap, that sitting through an entire matinee at your local picture house was an act of patriotic national sacrifice (that is, assuming you could find one of the remaining few that hadn’t been bombed to ash.)

Okay folks, here goes – I’m going to try to sum this film up for you in one paragraph. Something like this:

“Hans! Schmidt! Kvwinkly! Ze British schveinn are comink! Kvick! To das howlitzer! Der Fuhrer nicht herr! Ausgang! Schnitzel! Bratwurst! Rathaus! Achtung, baby!” Sure, no-one in the movie actually said that. But they should have.

And so we hark back to the glorious age that was 1942: Vera Lynn, buzz bombs, the Blitz… and this cinematic monstrosity. This was back when bring British meant drinking tea, playing cricket, laughing at the poor, being suspicious of those strange fellows from the America with their silly automobile machines, and kicking the shit out of the Germans.

Coming flowing from this bizarre cinematic era like a stream of warm, lumpy vomit comes the wonderfully blatant piece of anti-Nazi propaganda called The Secret Weapon – a film centred around a mad scientist and the device he’s built which… isn’t a weapon… and isn’t a secret. Golly gosh! Despite the fact that Sherlock Holmes was dead and buried as a character in the 1800’s, he’s alive and well here, and giving Der Fuhrer a darned good thrashing too!

This is a re-vamped, re-hyped, re-packaged Holmes, who no longer does any of that old-fashioned crap like solving mysteries and fighting crime. Phah! In The Secret Weapon we see him defending us all against ‘those treacherous foreigners’. What interesting times indeed…

In this dandy little adventure, we have Sherlock helping a defective Nazi scientist across the occupied French / Swiss border. Not only is this devious doc one crazy kraut, he’s also German – which means he’s up to something. Who do they bring in to play our trusty mad scientist? And Englishman with a French accent… as you do… and all the raw acting ability of a particularly bubbly fart in a particularly warm swimming pool.

You can tell his character is an evildoer because he has a woman, likes classical literature, and enjoys a nice spot of good ol’ opium. The bounder! Sherlock Holmes has surely met his match! Why is our mad scientist defecting? He’s developed a system whereby fighter planes can actually aim at things before bombing the living shit out of them. In comes the usual hilariously cheesy ‘a devastating weapon in the wrong hands’ nonsense and enough wartime clichés to keep even this most cynical of reviewers smugly amused for all of it’s 68 minute run time.

Cue an unrelenting onslaught of borrowed footage, special effects surpassed by Walt Disney in the 1920’s, and ultra high-tech sound effects possibly made by a 5 year old boy with a penny-whistle. Oh, and a bombardment of God Save The King whenever one of us gallant Brits does anything even remotely heroic.

They just don’t make ‘em like they used to. Thank God. You can almost hear the sound of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle weeping tears of sorrow from beyond the grave.

Basil Rathbone plays our Brave Detective, fighting the Good Fight, clad to the eyeballs in tweed and looking as if he’s been sharing the opium pipe with our crazed turncoat mad scientist. There are actually scenes where it’s almost like there’s some bizarre contest going on as to who can act the most fumblingly insane – and each time, British national pride takes an h-bomb sized kick to the nuts.

Yet in other movies of this series, Rathbone personified Holmes, almost as if possessed by some higher power to instil the virtues of the stiff upper lip unto the world. His performances in this role are near-legendary, and became the hallmark of his colourful and illustrious career. And yet, even he looks lost in a script so ludicrously xenophobic and out-dated that even the most steadfast of Conan Doyle fans would be laughing till they puked.

Watch in amazement as the Evil Mad German Scientist (I forgot his name because I was so busy laughing I lost the power to my arms and began to panic) starts storming about the place, having the sheer cheek to tell us Brits how to do things. Ha! Preposterous! The cad! All the while Rathbone stands in the background staring into space with a look as if to say “what in the name of fucking Christ did I sign up for?!”

Some interesting ‘facts’ observed during this film:

· In Nazi-occupied France, everyone spoke English.
· In Nazi-occupied France, there were no troops.
· In Nazi-occupied France, there were no Germans.
· In Nazi-occupied France, there was no-one who knew how to act, or give a performance that didn’t contain ham.
· In Nazi-occupied France, none of those bounders knew how to make a decent cuppa tea (probably.)
· You can always spot a Nazi because they’re too rude to remove their hat, scarf and coat when they enter the room (or are too cold???)
· If you’re blonde, you’re probably ayrian, therefore probably evil. And are therefore probably shit at cricket. (Probably.)
· The Swiss are infact all treacherous Germans with dark overcoats who, for some reason, have French or London accents, and gleam with glee for every “vot!”, “vhy?!”, “vunderful!” or other related word they can rape. They don’t speak our language, so much as chew it up and spit it out.
· Switzerland have been lying to us all these years about The Alps, which really don’t exist and are just a painted canvas backdrop – probably to fool those confounded, blasted Germans!

Can you even buy the old Sherlock Holmes films in America? If so, then don’t buy this one.

It’s crap.


Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: Mad Scientists

David’s Review Site: Death by Cinema