Public Domain Theater: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (& “The Eleventh Hour”)

Welcome to Public Domain Theater, your home for the wonderful world of films that have (in the United States, at least) fallen into the public domain, and are free for everyone to see!

Our film this go around stars Basil Rathbone in his most famous role (sorry, Guy of Gisbourne), playing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most beloved creation (sorry, Professor Challenger). It’s Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon! Or, as fans know it: Sherlock Holmes vs. The Third Reich.

Yes, this movie takes Holmes out of his Victorian environs and into the then-present day of 1942, pitting the Great Detective against Gestapo agents and fifth column conspirators, all fighting to acquire the plans for a top secret weapon that could change the course of the war

Despite the real-life stakes at play, and despite a scene of Holmes walking through a blacked out, bombed out London, this flick proves to be a light, jolly, even campy affair. There’s trap doors and secret passages, witty banter and bumbling sidekicks, bizarre ciphers and impractical death traps, and a wonderfully charismatic, over-the-top bad guy for Holmes to match wits against. It’s all around just a good, fun romp, so long as you don’t take it too seriously.

As for our opening cartoon, it also hails from 1942, and continues the trend of pitting pop culture heroes against the might of the Axis Powers. It’s “The Eleventh Hour”, a Superman short that sees the Man of Steel wage a one-man war on Imperial Japan. Not only does it have the great visuals we’ve come to expect from the Superman cartoons, but it’s as close to being non-racist as an American wartime cartoon about the Japanese can get (sadly, you do still have some unusually prominent upper teeth on the Japanese soldiers).

So what are you waiting for? Pick up your ration card, buy some war bonds, and come watch our heroes punch Fascism square in the jaw, right here on Public Domain Theater!

Opening Cartoon:

Feature Presentation: