Wednesday, August 11, 2010

100 years, 100 films 35: Sherlock Holmes and the Scarlet Claw (1944)

I included this film in my stupid film experiment so that I could talk about the way in which World War 2 was infencting every aspect of Hollywood films during the war years. Normally what happens in these Basil Rathbone - Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, is that Sherlock goes and investigates some crime that relates to the War in some way (the bad guy is a Nazi, some of the suspects are soldiers, the crime involves spies and/or army secrets), and then at the end of the film gives a big speech about how great America or Britain or the Navy or whatever is. But by 1944, it seems that the film makers had, in fact, got bored with this formula, and pretty much jettisoned it entirely.

There is still the obligatory war connection, and the big rousing speech, technically. But the film isn't even pretending to care about either of them. The "war connection" is that... the film is set in Canada, and Canada is... part of the war effort... or something. And the big rousing speech is about how necessary Canada is to the winning of the war, but it makes no real sense, and you can just tell that nobody's heart was in it. It feels like Basil Rathbone is sitting there thinking, "well, better get this over with..."

So I guess this film tells us that, by 1944, everyone had pretty much gotten sick of the war. There's only so much rousing b.s. a person can stomache before he just simply isn't roused any more, and there's only so much rousing b.s. a person can make before they just stop caring, and it stops being rousing. And it makes sense. By this point, audiences had been constantly bombarded with messages about how great soliders are and America is and bla bla bla, and honestly I'm surprised it took them this long to get sick of it.

Of course, the fact that the film doesn't work as propaganda doesn't mean that the film is bad. It isn't. It's actually quite good. At this point in the series, Rathbone and Bruce had become truly comfortable in their roles, and their raport together is rather wonderful. The plot is both baffling and insane, two things I like in my Sherlock Holmes, and the atmosphere is remarkably evocative. The supporting cast are all solid, although there is remarkably little Canadian-ness about any of them. I actually kept forgetting that the film was set in Canada, and it was just the occassional dropping of the word "Quebec" that reminded me that I wasn't in England.

This non-Canadian-ness wasn't really a problem for the film, but it does sort of illustrate the laziness with which this film applied its pro-war stuff. I'm pretty sure the film was only set in Canada because the film makers were running through the list of things that Sherlock Holmes hadn't made speeches about, and the only things left were "Canada" and "the Postal Service". After much deliberation, they decided to go with Canada, but nobody could be bothered putting any effort into the thing.

No comments:

Post a Comment