Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes War (The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes) (1937)

My notes on the 1937 German Holmes comedy.Failed Shaftesbury Avenue detectives Morris Flint (Hans Albers) and Macky McPherson (Heinz Rühmann) — who never seem to be anything but German — pass themselves off as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, mostly to get free train rides and fine service in a hotel, and find themselves caught up with innocent orphan heiresses (Marieluise Claudius and Hansi Knoteck as Jane and Mary Berry from Middletown), various crooks headed by a femme fatale (Hile Weissner) and the easily-impressed local police – who involve them in a case which starts with stolen rare postage stamps and leads to the discovery of a forgers’ lair under the castles the Misses Berry think they have inherited.


Naturally, the mild-mannered swindlers show a heroic streak when it comes to helping out the nice young heroines – and Flint even shows some detective chops (though he doesn’t attempt the trademark deductions) as he examines the scene of a (natural) death and picks up on clues which lead to the secret passage. In the end, they blunder a bit, the forgery ring is apprehended by the police and the duo are had up for imposture in a very imposing, stuffy court but cannily argue that they kept insisting they weren’t Holmes and Watson but Flint and Macky (in such a manner as to suggest these were the fake identities) and it’s only all the suck-up officials who kept insisting they were detectives. Though they have seemed fairly bumbling throughout, it seems that Flint and Macky have broken a lot of other cases during their spree of imposture. They also get the girls.

This 1937 German comedy is somewhat stolid in its humour, to put it charitably – Albers and Rühmann are lumpen, not convincing even as a bogus Holmes and Watson team, and yet not as roguishly appealing as they seem to want to be (even when they break into a jaunty song while taking separate baths in their hotel suite). It’s of interest in showing how the figure of Holmes was settling permanently into popular culture, especially in Germany – this Holmes is like some other German film versions of the character, but doesn’t look much like the Strand-derived version of the character seen in British and American films. The adventuress reveals that she sees through the imposture because she has found a receipt for Flint’s Holmes disguise – which includes a loud-checked coat, a matching flat cap (not a deerstalker), a used violin case and a straight pipe, but doesn’t even run to the usual prop comedians use for Holmes jokes, a magnifying glass. And there are surprisingly few other Holmes-specific gags: the film wouldn’t substantially be any different if the leads posed as any other detectives.


A running gag has a man (Paul Bildt) in an even louder check coat periodically observing the action and barking with laughter: he turns out to be Arthur Conan Doyle, and he approves of his fictional character being given life for a while and wants the rights to write their story (no one else in the film seems to realise that Holmes and Watson are fictional, though we see a story with a Doyle byline and an Albers lookalike illustration). Though Doyle kept setting the Holmes stories in the 19th Century, most films before Basil Rathbone’s first pair assumed the adventures took place in the present day – but this has an apparently Edwardian period setting in terms of costumes, though a few modern cars drive by in the street. Directed by Karl Hartl (of F.P.1), who co-wrote with Robert A. Stemmle.


Here’s a taster.


One thought on “Film review – Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes War (The Man Who Was Sherlock Holmes) (1937)

  1. Holger Haase Hey, that film’s a classic. And so is the jaunty song. But you may need to have been raised watching it endlessly from the age of 5 or thereabouts to appreciate it. Jawoll, jawoll, jawoll.

    Uwe Sommerlad Like Holger, I have a soft spot for this one. One also shouldn’t forget that Germany had neither Gillette nor Rathbone to coin the detective’s features, and an own, different illustrator for the stories and novels (Richard Gutschmidt). Also it’s worth to mention that Holmes was rarely deerstalkered in the silents (apart from the 1929 lost German HUND VON BASKERVILLE). More important, though, might be the fact that Holmes was also popular on the continent as hero of countless penny dreadfuls which, again, showed him different from Paget’s images. The movie itself points out ironically how much it was inspired by these – for they are the backdrop of the title credits. Had the Downey jr. movie taken a similar obvious and offensive attitude in marking itself as a comedic turn on a cheap public image, I had liked it more than I did.

    Charles Prepolec I’m rather fond of this one too, although I didn’t see it for the first time until roughly 4-5 years ago. For me the film is carried largely on the undeniable charm of Albers, with his roguish smile, and the warm play between him and Rühmann. The Sherlock Holmes elements are mild, at best, but I think the film plays well – in a buddy-road-picture-comedy vein – as a sort of Germanic Bing and Bob type of vehicle.

    Posted by kimnewman | September 23, 2017, 2:44 pm

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