AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon
Alternate Title: Sherlock Holmes Fights Back
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
Release Date:   12 Feb 1943
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 4 Jan 1943
Production Date:   8 Jun--mid-Jun 1942
Duration (in mins):   65 or 68
Duration (in feet):   6,165
Print this page
Display Movie Summary


Cast:   Basil Rathbone (Sherlock Holmes)  
    Nigel Bruce (Doctor [John H.] Watson)  
    Lionel Atwill ([Professor] Moriarty)  
    Kaaren Verne (Charlotte Eberli [Tobel])  
    William Post Jr. (Dr. Franz Tobel)  
    Dennis Hoey ([Inspector] Lestrade)  
    Holmes Herbert (Sir Reginald [Bailey])  
    Mary Gordon (Mrs. Hudson)  
    Harry Woods (Kurt)  
    George Burr MacAnnan (Gottfried)  
    Henry Victor (Professor Frederick Hoffner)  
    Harold de Becker (Peg Leg)  
    Paul Fix (Mueller)  
    Robert O. Davis (Rudolph Anders Braun)  
    Harry Cording (Jack Brady)  
    Paul Bryar (Waiter)  
    Vicki Campbell (Aviatrix)  
    Gerard Cavin (Scotland yard man)  
    Guy Kingsford (London bobby)  
    George Eldredge (Policeman)  
    John Burton    
    Leyland Hodgson    
    Leslie Denison    
    James Craven    

Summary: Disguised as an old bookseller, private detective Sherlock Holmes pretends to be a Nazi spy in order to help Swiss scientist Dr. Franz Tobel escape from a Gestapo trap in Zurich. Holmes and Franz take a British transport plane to London, where the physicist leaves the safety of Holmes's Baker Street address for a secret meeting with his wife, Charlotte Eberli Tobel. Franz gives her an envelope containing a coded message, and asks Charlotte to give it to Holmes should anything happen to him. Having been unknowingly tailed to Charlotte's apartment by German spies, Franz is saved from abduction when a London bobby happens by. The next day, Franz successfully demonstrates his new bombsight for Sir Reginald Bailey and the British air ministry. Back at Whitehall, Franz tells Sir Reginald that, while he is willing to allow the British to use his invention, only he will know its secret. Franz then splits his invention into four parts and hires four Swiss scientists living in London to construct separately each part. Soon after, Holmes receives a call from Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade telling him that Franz has disappeared. Holmes and his physician assistant, Dr. John H. Watson, go to Charlotte's apartment, where the young lady gives the detective Franz's envelope. Rather than the physicist's coded message, the message inside is from Holmes' nemesis, master criminal Professor Moriarty. Holmes then goes into the Soho district, disguised as Ram Singh, one of Moriarty's old henchmen. Led to the criminal by Moriarty's own henchmen, Peg Leg and Jack Brady, Holmes pleads with Moriarty to release Franz for the good of England, but Moriarty refuses and gloats over his victory over his longtime foe. Holmes is forced into the false bottom of an old sea chest, but is rescued from a watery grave when Watson and Lestrade discover Brady and Peg Leg struggling with the chest. Holmes then rushes back to Charlotte's apartment, where he discovers the tracings of Franz's coded message on a notepad. With Watson's help, Holmes breaks the first three lines of the code, which are the names and addresses of three Swiss scientists, but soon learns that all three men have been murdered. Meanwhile, Moriarty, unable to break the fourth coded line, tortures Franz for the name of the fourth scientist. Back on Baker Street, Holmes breaks the fourth line's code and rushes to the home of Professor Frederick Hoffner. At the same time, Moriarty deciphers the code, but rather than sending his Nazi assistants to kill Hoffner, Moriarty decides to abduct the elderly Swiss scientist, as insurance should Franz fail to recover from the torture. The German agents, however, bring a disguised Holmes to Moriarty's hideout. Taking Holmes's own suggestion, Moriarty straps Holmes to an operating table and slowly starts to bleed the detective to death. Holmes is saved at the last minute, however, by Watson and Lestrade, who have followed a trail of fluorescent paint droppings to the criminal's waterfront hideout. The spies are captured, and when Moriarty attempts to make his escape through a secret passageway, he falls, seemingly, to his death, as Holmes had previously discovered the criminal's hidden trap door. With Franz and his bombsight safely in English hands, Holmes and Watson watch as a squadron of British planes head for Germany. 

Production Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Universal Pictures Company, Inc.  
Director: Roy William Neill (Dir)
  William Tummel (Asst dir)
Producer: Howard Benedict (Assoc prod)
Writer: Edward T. Lowe (Scr)
  W. Scott Darling (Scr)
  Edmund L. Hartmann (Scr)
  W. Scott Darling (Adpt)
  Edward T. Lowe (Adpt)
Photography: Les White (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Jack Otterson (Art dir)
  Martin Obzina (Assoc)
Film Editor: Otto Ludwig (Film ed)
Set Decoration: R. A. Gausman (Set dec)
  Edward R. Robinson (Assoc)
Costumes: Vera West (Gowns)
Music: Charles Previn (Mus dir)
  Frank Skinner (Mus)
Sound: Bernard B. Brown (Sd dir)
  Paul Neal ([Sd] tech)
Production Misc: Tom McKnight (Tech adv)
Country: United States
Series: Sherlock Holmes

Source Text: Inspired by the short story "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in Strand (Dec 1903).
Authors: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Universal Pictures Co., Inc. 31/8/1942 dd/mm/yyyy LP11561

PCA NO: 8657
Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Recording

 
Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Detective
 
Subjects (Major): Criminals
  Inventions
  Physicians
  Private detectives
  Scientists
  World War II
 
Subjects (Minor): Attempted murder
  Disguise
  English
  Escapes
  Gestapo
  Hideouts
  Housekeepers
  Inns
  Kidnapping
  London (England)--Soho
  Military research
  Rescues
  Sailors
  Scotland Yard (London, England)
  Secret codes
  Secret passageways
  Spies
  Swiss
  Torture
  Zurich (Switzerland)

Note: The working title of this film was Sherlock Holmes Fights Back . The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle short story from which this film is based was first published in the United States in Collier's (5 Dec 1903) and is included in the collection The Return of Sherlock Holmes (London, 1905). This was the second film in the Universal "Sherlock Holmes" series, and the first to be directed by Roy William Neill, who went on to direct all subsequent Sherlock Holmes films at Universal. Dennis Hoey made his first appearance as "Inspector Lestrade," who became a recurring character in the Universal Holmes series. Later in 1943, character actor Robert O. Davis changed his stage name to Rudolph Anders, a variation on his character's name in this film.
       Modern sources include Michael Mark ( George ) and Philip Van Zandt in the cast. Some modern sources also claim that noted character actor Henry Daniell played a bit part in the film, but he was not seen in the viewed print and it is doubtful that he actually appeared. For additional information on the series and other films featuring the Arthur Conan Doyle characters, consult the Series Index and see the entry below for Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror , and the entries for Sherlock Holmes and The Hounds of the Baskervilles in the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1931-40 ; F3.4020 and F3.2009. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   9 Jan 1943.   
Daily Variety   23 Dec 42   p. 3.
Film Daily   28 Dec 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   22 May 42   p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter   5 Jun 42   p. 11.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Dec 42   p. 3.
Motion Picture Daily   30 Dec 1942.   
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   2 Jan 43   p. 1090.
New York Times   30 Dec 42   p. 23.
Variety   5 Jan 43   p. 15.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
Advanced Search
AFI Membership
AFI honoring the masters

© 2014 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.