Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)

Sherlock Holmes: Basil Rathbone
John Watson: Nigel Bruce
Year: 1943
Case: None


Another in the line of WWII Holmes films, Sherlock Holmes in Washington sees Holmes and Watson travelling to the US in order to track down a British Secret Service Agent who has mysteriously disappeared off a train headed into Washington D.C.  The man was carrying several top secret British documents and it is believed that he was kidnapped for these secrets.  When the man’s body is delivered to Holmes’ Washington hotel, Holmes is stuck scouring the entire city for a tiny matchbook, and the microfiche hidden within.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

Rathbone once again astounds audiences by literally becoming Sherlock Holmes.  He is slightly more aggressive in this film and prone to displaying his temper, which is slightly out of character for Holmes, but oddly refreshing in a way I wasn’t expecting.  It certainly didn’t distract from an otherwise brilliant performance.  Sadly, the pimp hat does not make an appearance, and we suspect this is the cause of Holmes’ bungling midway through the film.  Like Watson, Holmes cannot succeed without his pimp hat.

Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson

Bruce is quite amusing in his role as Watson in this film.  He does, on occasion, become entirely too bungling to take seriously, but in terms of comedic relief, there is no better man suited to the task than Bruce.  I was particularly amused by Watson’s attempts to assimilate American culture.

Delightful Elements

Sadly, the delightful elements in this film were few and far between.  It was, on occasion, slashy (Holmes saving Watson’s life comes to mind, as does Holmes’ dishevelled appearance at the beginning of the film –moments before he joined Watson for breakfast and we can well imagine what the two had spent the morning doing).  I was also quite amused by Watson’s inability to keep from glancing at Holmes whenever anyone mentioned the word love.  Finally, the walking side by side between antique shops was incredibly adorable.  It was quite easy to imagine that they were walking arm in arm.

There were a couple of inside jokes that undoubtedly amused most Sherlockians.  And, on occasion, Watson proved quite amusing.  I was particularly taken with the story regarding his cross-eyed messenger pigeon.

The sending of the agent’s body to Holmes’ hotel in a trunk was incredibly gruesome (and why modern films feel the need to show the body, when the suggestion is more than enough I will never understand), and stood out as a rather ballsy move.


Perhaps my biggest complaint with this film is the location change.  Part of what I love about Canon is that they take place in Victorian London.  I can forgive the era change, and I could probably forgive the location change, but to forgive both… it’s a complete impossibility.  Having Holmes in America during WWII was simply too off putting to process.  Part of my problem with the location change came from seeing Holmes drenched in sunlight.  There are no words for how wrong this was.

Then, of course, there was the overall plot, which, while solid, was entirely too cliché and predictable (although possibly it wasn’t at the time).  It seemed kind of pointless to play the follow the bouncing matchbook game.  The fact that it was poorly executed only added insult to injury.  The gun battle scene was so unrealistic I literally rolled my eyes while watching it.

I have not yet touched on the ending, and I am tempted to leave it alone and not mention how grating I found it.  I am not, however, one to hold my tongue, and so I will simply say that the patriotic pro-American speech of Holmes reeked of propaganda.  I can see Holmes quoting Churchill, yes, but not while admiring the White House, and certainly not while being serenaded by the American national anthem.  British patriotism I can handle, for Holmes was, above and beyond all things, an Englishman, but to have Holmes tot the virtues of America seemed oddly out of place.  I could have easily done without the scene.

In the end, the quibbles far outweighed the enjoyable elements, and it is this reason that the film earns a mere two out of five pipes.