Sherlock Holmes and
the Voice of Terror
 (1942), 65 minutes b&w

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is the third film in the Rathbone/Bruce series, but the first one made by Universal, the first in the series in which Rathbone sports his ridiculous hairstyle, and the first film set in London in the 1940s instead of the late 1800s. Universal tried to explain the change in setting with the following words, which appear after the opening credits at the beginning of the film:

"The character of Sherlock Holmes, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is ageless, invincible, and unchanging. In solving significant problems of the present day, he remains, as ever, the supreme master of deductive reasoning."

Rathbone thought that making the films contemporary was a good idea; he stated that he felt the Sherlock Holmes stories were dated and old-fashioned (In and Out of Character, p. 180). I suppose the deerstalker is old-fashioned, too. In one scene in the film, as Holmes and Watson were leaving 221B Baker Street, Holmes reached for the famous deerstalker cap. Watson stopped him, saying: "No, no, no! You promised!" Holmes grabbed a fedora instead.

As the film begins we hear a radio voice from Germany--the "Voice of Terror"--announcing news of bombings and other sabotage to British listeners. Sherlock Holmes is invited by the Intelligence Inner Council to help identify and silence the "Voice of Terror." Convinced that the sabotage is a prelude, and that something bigger is planned, Holmes vows to find out what that diabolic plan is.

Back at 221B Baker Street, a man named Gavin, whom Holmes had contacted for information, shows up at the door with a knife in his back. Before he expires Gavin utters one word: "Christopher." Holmes he made deductions about Gavin's killer after examining the knife. Puzzled as to the meaning of the word "Christopher," Holmes and Watson head to the Limehouse district to talk with Kitty, Gavin's wife.


"Christopher!"

Holmes enlists Kitty's help

Kitty has no interest in helping Holmes, but he appeals to her patriotic side. Holmes tells her that Gavin was killed by the Nazis. He asks her to enlist all her friends to fight the Nazis. Kitty succeeds in rousing her friends to help fight for England. The friends spread out to find out what "Christopher" means.

Meanwhile, Sherlock Holmes reports to the Inner Council. From analyzing minute differences between recorded and live broadcasts of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Holmes has deduced that the Voice of Terror is actually a recording. The man behind the Voice of Terror is in England. The recordings are flown to Germany and then broadcast from there. Holmes explains that the Voice of Terror broadcasts are carefully timed to air moments after the disasters occur.

The Air Ministry informed Holmes that at regular intervals six Nazi planes fly over and drop their cargo on non-military targets. A single plane breaks formation. Holmes deduces that the lone plane picks up secret military plans and the Voice of Terror's recorded message, and flies them to Germany. Because of the type of secret information being leaked, Holmes deduces that there is a traitor in the Inner Council, and that the Council members are in grave danger.

Having discovered that "Christopher" refers to the old, abandoned Christopher Docks, Holmes and Watson, followed by Lloyd (Henry Daniell), go there to investigate. They come face-to-face with Meade and his Nazi henchmen, who hold them at gunpoint. Holmes didn't come alone, though, and Kitty's friends from Limehouse appear and disarm the Nazis. Meade manages to escape through a trap door.

Holmes engages Kitty to get close to Meade and find out what he's planning. Kitty informs Holmes that she heard Meade say he would take care of that "Seven Oaks" matter. Knowing that Sir Evan Barham has a home in Seven Oaks, Holmes and Watson immediately drive there to warn Sir Evan.


Exploring the Christopher docks

Holmes reveals that he allowed Meade to escape.

Holmes catches up with Sir Evan as he is on his rounds as Air Warden. They hear air raid sirens and spot one Nazi plan. As it comes in for a landing, they see Meade run to the plane. Meade puts something on the plane and runs off. Sir Evan shoots at him, but misses, and he's annoyed with Holmes for not helping him.

Back at the ministry, the Council is listening to the Voice of Terror announcing that the Nazis will strike somewhere on the coast tomorrow morning. The council thinks it must be the northern coast, and are prepared to deploy troops there. But when Holmes learns that Meade and Kitty have driven to the southern coast, he convinces the council that the attack will take place on the southern coast. The threat against England's northern coast was a ruse to leave the south undefended.

Holmes, Watson, the Council members and British officers surprise and capture the small group of Nazis who were waiting in a bombed-out church to receive an invasion army proceeding across the channel. When he realizes he's been betrayed, Meade shoots Kitty. She dies a heroine.

Holmes has deduced that the Voice of Terror is a member of the inner council; no one outside of the inner council should have known that Holmes was on the case, and yet, German agents knew. He stuns everyone present when he announces that the Voice of Terror is none other than Sir Evan Barham. Barham was actually Heinrich von Bork, a German who resembled the real Sir Evan. With some plastic surgery von Bork was able to fool everyone who knew Barham, even his old school chum Watson. At Seven Oaks, when it appeared that Sir Evan was shooting at the German plane, he was actually warning it away.


Holmes points an accusing finger at Meade.

Holmes unveils von Bork as the Voice of Terror.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror was inspired by the Conan Doyle story "His Last Bow," a story in which Sherlock Holmes comes out of his bee-keeping retirement to help trap a German spy in England, circa 1914, or a little earlier. The German spy's name was Von Bork--the same name as the German spy masquerading as an Englishman in The Voice of Terror. Otherwise the stories are completely different. The speech Holmes gives at the end of the film (quoted below) is nearly word for word the same as the end of "His Last Bow." The inclusion of this speech was a concession to the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who insisted that the film must correspond, at least in part, with the original story.

Watson: "It's a lovely morning, Holmes."
Holmes: "There's an East wind coming, Watson."
Watson: "I don't think so. Looks like another warm day."
Holmes: "Good old Watson. You are the one fixed point in a changing age. But there's an East wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it's God's own wind none the less. And a greener, better, stronger land will be in the sunshine when the storm is cleared."


 

"There's an East wind coming..."

The plot idea of a German spy impersonating an English aristocrat to whom he bears a resemblance is taken from a 1920 novel, The Great Impersonation, by E. Phillips Oppenheim. Set during the First World War, the story has Baron von Ragastein returning to England from a sojourn in East Africa as Sir Everard Dominey, his lookalike. From his position in English society, "Dominey" is able to supply the Germans with information.

An interesting fact that modern viewers may not be aware of is that there really was a "Voice of Terror" in London during the Second World War, though he didn't use that name. William Joyce was one of several broadcasters who was known by the name "Lord Haw Haw." A former member of the British Union of Fascists, Joyce left England in 1939. He became famous for his wartime broadcasts to England, alarming listeners with threats of invasion and anti-British propaganda. The British public who watched Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror in the theaters in 1942 were certainly familiar with Lord Haw Haw's broadcasts.

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (working title: Sherlock Holmes Saves London) contains one of my favorite lines from all the Holmes films. Evan Barham of the Inner Council shows Holmes and Watson his bandaged hand and explains that someone shot him. As Watson examines the hand, Holmes asks, "What do you make of it, Watson?" Watson replies, "Bullet wound."

I find Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror very entertaining. It's not the best of the Holmes films, but a very good one, nevertheless. Holmes shows off some brilliant deductions about the council members upon meeting them. The cinematography is interesting, as most scenes are at night or in subdued light. The film has a film noir feel to it. The Voice of Terror is the only one of the Universal series not directed by Roy William Neill.

Observant film buffs will notice that the train wreck seen at the beginning of The Voice of Terror was footage used in Universal's 1933 film, The Invisible Man.

See more photos on page two and page three!

Cast

 

Credits

 
Basil Rathbone ............. Sherlock Holmes Production Co. ............. Universal
Nigel Bruce ................... Dr. Watson   Assoc. Producer .......... Howard Benedict
Evelyn Ankers .............. Kitty   Director .......................... John Rawlins
Reginald Denny ........... Sir Evan Barham  

Asst. Director ...............

 Joseph A. McDonough
Montagu Love ........... .Gen. Jerome Lawford   Screenplay ..................... Lynn Riggs,
Henry Daniell ............... Anthony Lloyd   Robert D. Andrews,    John Bright
Thomas Gomez ............. Meade   (based on "His Last Bow" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
Leland Hodgson ........... Capt. Ronald Shore  
Olaf Hytten ................... Admiral Prentice   Cinematographer ......... Elwood Bredell
Arthur Blake ................. Crosbie   Editor ................... Russell Schoengarth
Harry Stubbs ................ Taxi Driver   Music Composer ........ Frank Skinner
Hillary Brooke .............. Jill Grandis   Music Director .............. Charles Previn
Robert Barron .............. Gavin Art Director ................... Jack Otterson
Mary Gordon ................ Mrs. Hudson   Assoc. Art Director ...... Martin Obzina
Rudolph Anders (credited as Robert O.   Set Director ............. Russell A. Gausman
Davis) ........................... Schiller (Nazi)   Assoc. Set Director ...... Edward R. Robinson
Harry Cording ............... Camberwell (ex-convict)   Sound ............. Bernard B. Brown
Leslie Denison .............. Air Raid Warden   Sound technician ........ Robert Pritchard
Edgar Barrier .............. Voice of Terror   Technical advisor ....... Tom McKnight
Gavin Muir ............. BBC radio announcer   Gowns .......................... Vera West
Herbert Evans ........ Smithson, butler      
Donald Stuart .......... Grady      
John Wilde .................. Nazi      
Arthur Stenning .......... Officer  

Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is available on DVD as part of The Sherlock Holmes Collection, Volume One:

Click to order

George Sherwood ....... Cabby  
Ted Billings ................. Bartender  
Patrons of the Limehouse pub:  
    Charles Jordan    
    John Rogers    
    Alec Harford    
     
      
     

Images on this page and page two are from the film Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror

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All original content is Marcia Jessen, 2011