Sherlock Holmes And The Secret Weapon
The second Holmes film in the legendary series from Universal, Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943) solidified the updating of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective after Twentieth-Century-Fox abandoned its Victorian Holmes series after two films. Even Holmes' old nemesis, Professor Moriarty, last seen in Fox's The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), was back, this time aiding Nazis in their plan for world domination. Screen villain Lionel Atwill took over the role from George Zucco, infusing his toad-like character with an unrepentant sadism that still shocks today. Dennis Hoey (the third most recognized face in the Universal Holmes films, after Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) made his first appearance in the series as the ineffectual but endearing Inspector Lestrade. Most significantly, The Secret Weapon was the first Holmes film helmed by Roy William Neil. Neil, born Roland de Gostrie on a boat off the Irish coast in 1887, displayed a fine directorial eye in previous assignments, notably the Boris Karloff chiller, The Black Room (1935). Neil injected the Holmes series with some striking imagery and camera work, all the while suffusing the puzzling mysteries with an atmospheric dream of curling pipe smoke, night fog, wet streets, brash pubs, and a surprising gruesomeness that spoke of a love of horror. Of the dozen Holmes films in the Universal series, Neil directed all but the first one. He also contributed to the scripts in a chiefly uncredited capacity, and served as producer to 10 of the films. As if summoned to the resting place of his greatest cinematic efforts, Neil died seven months after the release of the last of the Rathbone/Bruce films.