The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I’m going to break you Holmes. I’m going to bring off right under your nose the most incredible crime of the century, and you’ll never suspect it until it’s too late. That will be the end of you Mr. Sherlock Holmes. And when I’ve beaten and ruined you then I can retire in peace. I’d like to retire; crime no longer amuses me. I’d like to devote my remaining years to abstract science.

The Sherlock Holmes character has come to the screen (both big and small) in many shapes and forms over the years and almost everyone has their own favorite incarnation. As often happens, the first version I saw or at least have a memory of has become my preferred choice. For me, the evening television screenings of the Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce movies cemented them in my consciousness to the point where I automatically see their faces first when the characters of Holmes and Watson are mentioned. The interpretations, adaptations and settings were far from what a purist might find acceptable, but I don’t care about any of that. These performers and their films carry me back almost 40 years and will always occupy a special place in my affections.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939) wasn’t an adaptation of any of Conan Doyle’s stories, although the estate is credited, presumably for the use of the characters themselves. The script instead claims to be derived from the stage play by William Gillette. It opens with the dismissal of a murder case against arch-criminal Professor Moriarty (George Zucco), just as Holmes (Basil Rathbone)dramatically bursts into the courtroom with evidence he maintains will shoot the alibi of his adversary to pieces. With the verdict already in, he’s too late of course and there follows a neat little scene with the two rivals sharing a Hansom cab that spirits them away amid a torrential downpour. It’s at this point that Moriarty makes the little speech I used at the top of this piece, setting up the plan for revenge which dominates the remainder of the picture. I won’t go into too much detail here as much of the pleasure of the movie is to be had from watching the slow unfolding of two ingenious plot strands simultaneously. The lion’s share of the running time is taken up with the grotesque and macabre stalking experienced by Ann Brandon (Ida Lupino) and her ill-fated relatives.

1939 is often referred to as the golden year of cinema’s Golden Age due to the sheer number of successful and high quality pictures produced and released during those twelve months. This is something I wouldn’t want to argue with as even a cursory glance reveals the depth and breadth of the quality projected onto the silver screen in that year – from award-wooing prestige vehicles to crowd-pleasing genre pieces, just about every possible taste was catered to and it would be a mean-spirited film fan indeed who failed to hit on something to captivate him or her. Last time I was highlighting a tightly budgeted western shot by Alfred Werker, this time it’s the same director but the money men were a little more generous. Fox had already scored a success with Rathbone and Bruce in their wonderfully atmospheric version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and this was their follow-up. Werker had the resources of the studio backing him up in this moodily impressive effort, the sets looking rich and classy and Leon Shamroy displaying his photographic talents as cinematographer. There’s been some conversation on here of late relating to the relative merits of set based film production after I looked at a movie where I felt the backdrops were less than satisfactory. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, presents us with the flip side of the coin, where much of the enjoyment of the movie stems directly from the marvelous artistry involved in creating those fogbound and gas-lit cobble streets down which hacks chase their cabs speeding their fares to or from the scene of mystery and intrigue.

The two films made by Fox had Holmes and Watson fighting crime in the Victorian surroundings in which their creator had originally placed them. Subsequent tales of mystery and detection undertaken by Rathbone and Bruce would be produced on a smaller budget for Universal (my friend and regular contributor to discussion on this site, Sergio, is in the process of going through that series here, and others like 100 Films in a Year have done so too) with the characters operating in a contemporary setting. Purists may rail against such liberties but they never concerned me particularly. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes retains the era of Conan Doyle’s literary detective yet it will no doubt displease some as a result of the way certain central characters are portrayed.

Is there a definitive screen Holmes? Plenty of people would argue that Jeremy Brett nailed it on television. Having gone back and revisited a number of episodes of the Brett series, I’d say there’s a strong case to be made for this assertion and I wouldn’t seek to dissuade anyone from holding this opinion. And still I find I return to Rathbone, for those reasons I mentioned above; I’ve since read the novels and short stories and seen other interpretations that may have gotten closer to the sleuth on the printed page, but Rathbone was the one I came across first and thus will always be my Holmes. There’s a terrific energy and restlessness about the man and it contrasts nicely with the moody abruptness which can bubble up to the surface on occasion. Nigel Bruce’s Watson tends to come in for a fair bit of stick and derision for the bumbling and clowning, and I can quite understand how that must grate for those familiar with the capable and competent figure of the books. Sure there’s something of the overgrown child about Bruce’s performance, even so I like it fine and there’s good chemistry between him and Rathbone – I think the affection the characters have for each other is quite apparent and nicely illustrated by the little exchange right at the end of the movie. As Moriarty, George Zucco is delightfully creepy and dangerous. He would reappear in the Universal film Sherlock Holmes in Washington, though playing a different role. A young Ida Lupino was just seeing her career take off at this point and I think she does well as the girl whose family appears to be cursed in some way and haunted by dark South American secrets. In support, we have E E Clive, Henry Stephenson, Alan Marshal, series regular Mary Gordon, and Terry Kilburn.

I have all the Rathbone/Bruce series on the UK set issued some years ago by Optimum and the transfers sourced from the UCLA restorations are very good. There’s some damage to the prints of course but nothing major. Among the extra features on The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is a commentary track by Holmes writer David Stuart Davies. It’s worth noting here that there are various Blu-ray editions of these films available both in the US and in Europe – I’ve yet to pick one up but the quality is excellent by all accounts. As for this movie, it’s a fine tale with bags of creepy atmosphere and ought to satisfy fans of Holmes and the wider mystery genre too. It would serve as a good introduction to the Rathbone/Bruce take on Holmes and Watson and the brisk pacing is such that it never outstays its welcome.

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114 thoughts on “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

  1. I agree with you. I love the Rathbone Sherlock movies the best of all Sherlock movies. Rathbone is more likeable than some like Brett. While Bruce certainly doesn’t a Watson that is both a doctor and author, he does provide good comedy relief. And they may take liberties with Doyle’s stories, they don’t have to relay on explosion etc., like the latest Holmes movies.

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    • I think they went the right way by largely using their own material and only picking up on plot elements and allusions from the original stories.
      I guess you’re referring to the Guy Ritchie movies there? Not my thin either, I’m afraid.

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        • I thought the first was better, the second one just got on my nerves completely. As for the UNCLE film, I haven’t seen it and don’t think I’m missing much.

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          • I also watched the first Ritchie film and was surprised to quite enjoy it. It tempted me to watch the second but I thought that was tripe.
            Am I alone in being unsure whether I really like the “SHERLOCK” series (Cumberbatch). I have watched it all so far BUT I am somehow irritated by how pleased they seem with themselves. Maybe it has all been too hyped (don’t like hype).

            I feel guilty that I didn’t mention the Peter Cushing interpretation, an actor I like a lot. The Hammer film with Andre Morell as Watson was very good. The BBC had him star in a TV series in the 60s with Nigel Stock as Watson that was very good, as I recall. Stock then repeated the role with Douglas Wilmer as Holmes.

            And…does anyone remember the 1965 film “A STUDY IN TERROR” with John Neville and Donald Houston as H & W, this time pursuing Jack The Ripper?? Again, I remember it as good.

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            • I’ve never seen the Cushing TV series, or what’s left of it, but keep meaning to do so at some point.
              I have a copy of A Study in Terror kicking around some place, again I need to give it a spin. I have read the Ellery Queen novel of the same name though.

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  2. I have enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes stories most of my life. There have been many filmic characterisations over the years, some more successful than others. I remember a rather good TV series in the 70s starring Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. Then the amazing series by ITV that filmed all the Holmes stories, properly grouped, in the 80s to 90s with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke really did ‘nail it’, as Colin says.

    However, the characterisation that first really captured my attention was Basil Rathbone and to this day it is his voice and appearance that I imagine when reading. His performance was dynamic and the films terrific fun, including the Universal series set in the 40s. “THE ADVENTURES OF SH” was probably the zenith of the series and anyone who has not yet caught up with these films is urged to do so. I have watched them all countless times.

    I am currently reading the new Anthony Horowitz novel “Moriarty” which covers a new and intriguing area following the supposed death of SH at Reichenbach Falls. Additionally, American writer Laurie R. King is writing a series that imagines a retired and older but active Holmes and his relationship with a young woman, Mary Russell.
    The Holmes ‘myth’ is alive and well!!

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    • Thanks, Jerry. There is a terrific dynamism about Rathbone, his swashbuckling spirit serves him very well and adds to the sense of energy. Cushing had something of that to him too of course.
      I’ve read a few pastiche stories in my time, and will likely read some more. The quality varies but the best is very good indeed. And as you say, there’s so much and no sign of the output slowing down any time soon.

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  3. Great review Colin (and thanks for the shout out mate). I think this movie is great fun and the settings do add a lot. The story in not canonical and the actual plot a bit daft maybe but it works splendidly in context. And Rathbone gets to sing too – what’s not to love? Bruce actually mumbled a bit less than in the later titled too …

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  4. Great stuff Colin – I love this movie and indeed all the Rathbone-Bruce Holmes films, with perhaps the first two (prestige productions, bigger budgets, the atmospheric Victorian pea-soupers!) standing out. Like you, I first saw these films during a run of (I think) early evening BBC2 screenings many moons ago and the leading pair remain my Holmes and Watson to this day. Whilst I admire the efforts of Granada to make an authentic Holmes with Jeremy Brett, for me Rathbone captures the look and feel of the character impeccably, and Nigel Bruce is such fun as Watson. A quick shout out to Cushing and Morrell in Hammer’s Hound film, but really Rathbone and Bruce ace it every time.

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    • Thanks, Mike. I like Cushing and Morell’s version a lot myself, maybe if I’d seen them first or if they had done a few more stories together, I might rate them even higher. Similarly, I do like Brett and can see how a lot of people prefer him above others.
      Rathbone and Bruce have a very loose acquaintance with the canon but that matters not a jot to me. I just like the world they occupy and I guess I came across them at just the right time.

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      • I wonder if it’s a bit to do with your connection to the written stories. My wife has read them all and is a big Holmes fan, and she really appreciated the authenticity that went into the Brett productions. For me, Rathbone-Bruce have the nod in terms of pure entertainment value, and I’m a casual reader of Doyle.

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        • I think that’s part of it, maybe a fairly big part for lots of people. Like you, I’d be a casual reader of Doyle’s work and am not troubled by the lack of authenticity in the Rathbone & Bruce movies. Anyone who read the stories first, or just is into them more, is probably more likely to share your wife’s point of view. I guess the good thing is that there is so much material out there that there’s something to cater for all tastes.

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          • Indeed, including the potential for Holmes to become part of wider Victoriana, as in MURDER BY DECREE. My problem with the Brett series, minor turn-off really, was that I found it all a bit dry, a little too close to its literary source, but that’s why the Rathbone-Bruce entries work so well to me.

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            • Again, that’s similar to how I feel myself. It is sometimes the case that the more faithful one tries to be to the source material, the cooler the end product. I remember definitely got that feeling when I first saw the Brett series, although I have warmed to it much more over time. It’s wonderfully made and full of affection for the characters and where they come from. I think I’ve become more open to a wider range of interpretations these days and can find much to enjoy in the majority of Holmes-related shows/films/stories.

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              • Perhaps I’ll go back and take another look – it was probably expectations that played a part in the way I felt about the show, hoping for something along similar lines to the movies and getting a more sober and authentic essaying of the stories instead. I liked also that you used to be able to visit the set at Granada Studios, plus going to some stately pile in the north-west of England and realising that hang on, this was Baskerville Hall!

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                • I agree, at least when I viewed the show first time. Expectations can have a huge influence on us, can’t they?
                  It’s interesting, generally, to go back and check stuff out again when expectations no longer play a part.

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                  • I watched all the Brett – Holmes shows each week as they were first broadcast and it was a revelation. It was a great way to see them when they were brand new and unfolding week-by-week. Top notch.

                    I have seen some episodes of the Ronald Howard TV series, Colin. Quite OK but nothing particularly memorable overall. Watson was played by Howard Marion Crawford.

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                    • I had the complete set of the Brett version for ages and then started to dip into it on and off a bit over a year ago, Jerry, and enjoyed it. I continue to do so and like it better all the time.
                      Thanks for the feedback on the Howard series, one of the many series I’ve picked up and then left aside for a future viewing.

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  5. In this film, Moriarty has a plant fetish that would do Nero Wolfe proud. Rathbone was blessed in having faced Moriarty in the forms of Zucco, Henry Daniell, and Lionel Atwill. The last even getting a “The needle to the end, eh, Holmes?” taunt past the censor.

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    • Yes, the plant business was nicely done and added a layer of creepiness to the movie, you felt Moriarty was going to do very bad things to the butler he reckoned had mistreated his flower.
      It’s a bit of a shame Moriarty kept being recast, then again it’s perhaps churlish to complain when we got a trio of perfect villain types such as that to fill the role.

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        • I enjoy the different takes of the three actors, just think it was a bit of a shame no-one got more than one shot at it as they were all memorable in their own ways. Of course all of them appeared in more than one Holmes film, playing different characters.

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          • Baz and Atwill faced off memorably in Son of Frankenstein, with Baz on shakier moral ground this time. And I seem to remember them debating insects (!) in The Sun Never Sets, where Atwill smugly pulls out his “bible” on the subject, only to have Baz calmly turn to book over, revealing himself in the author’s photo….

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            • Son of Frankenstein is marvelous, visually arresting.
              I’ve never seen The Sun Never Sets, never even heard of it before today as it happens but will look out for it.
              Atwill & Rathbone also appeared in Captain Blood, which (shamefully) I don’t believe I’ve ever seen all the way through.

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  6. When I was a kid, all the history books pointed to Rathbone as Holmes and if I conjure an image up, it’s still of that Rathbone profile. For me he’s the definitive Holmes of the movies. Bruce is fun as the jolly Watson with the befuddled look.
    I can’t swear to have seen all the Holmes films and interpretations but I do love Cushing in the role and really wish Christopher Plummer’s take on Holmes had turned into a series of films with him and James Mason as Watson.
    This adventure by Fox is such a great film in the Rathbone catalogue. I do wish they kept Holmes in the Victorian era but there was a war to fight I guess and propaganda films to make featuring Holmes as a suitable agent of the Allies. I’m sure budgets had something to do with it as well.

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    • I think I like something about all the screen incarnations of the characters. Some make a bigger, more long-lasting, impression than others of course.
      I believe the decision to shift the Universal Holmes movies to a contemporary wartime setting was driven by budget considerations, although the possibility of blending in a propaganda message can’t have hurt, and it’s not a problem for me. The use of sets meant the films ended up with a timeless feel, caught somewhere between the Victorian and wartime eras.

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  7. I haven’t seen this for years, due to the ludicrously sluggish speed at which I made my way through the series (once I’d set that slow pace I didn’t feel I could speed up — such are my whims!) I definitely remember it was one of my favourites, though; atmospheric and packed with excitement, very much befitting the title. Rathbone and Bruce may not offer the purest interpretations of the characters, but they’re always darn good fun.

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    • We all have our own pace which suits us best, and the important thing is to enjoy what we watch rather than race through.
      No, purity is not a characteristic of the Rathbone & Bruce series but I do think there’s a respect there – yes, even in the buffoonery Bruce sometimes descended into as his loyalty to and defense of Holmes never wavers.

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        • You know, I feel there are so many positive things to take away from these films, regardless of the fact some people may be critical. Speaking for myself, these movies were my first exposure to the Holmes character and spurred me towards a lifelong interest in that world – that can only be a good thing surely.

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          • I think you’d have to be a really firm purist to like Conan Doyle’s stories but not like these films. Doyle wasn’t trying to write Literature when he did Holmes, but more adventure tales, and I think these films are in that spirit. I’d even say the old complaint about making Watson a comedy character has been somewhat mitigated by the abundance of ‘serious’ interpretations that have come along since.

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            • Absolutely. Doyle was producing works of entertainment primarily and I can never really understand anyone getting too uptight over “liberties” taken with the stories or characterizations. All the original tales are there for us to enjoy and, if anything, the proliferation of pastiches and varied interpretations attest to the popularity and timelessness of Doyle’s writings. In some ways, the strength of the Holmes universe lies in its flexibility.

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    • I’d say that’s no bad thing, to be honest. I like detection which plays around with, maybe even masquerades as, the supernatural but (as John Dickson Carr managed so adroitly) remains firmly anchored in the rational world. Somewhat paradoxically of course, Doyle himself had a strong interest in spiritualism and it only increased as he got older.

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      • I wasn’t implying it was a bad thing – Holmes wouldn’t be himself in a world that he couldn’t rationally explain away. Faced with Dracula, he sink into a permanent coke-dominated psychosis….Just that the temptation must’ve been there. Roy William Neill even transplanted “Lestrade” into Frankie Meets The Wolf Man.

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        • Yes, he is basically playing the same character in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Neill did like to flirt with the supernatural/horror aspects, one of the most attractive features of his involvement in the series.
          Of course there have been examples of Holmes taking a detour into the supernatural in pastiche stories – I remember reading one by Loren D Estleman where he did come up against Count Dracula.

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          • He met EVERYONE in those unauthorized novels. Think that a plot point in the Dracula cross (sorry) over was that Holmes and Drac looked so much alike that the latter could pass himself off as the former. ‘Course the Count was a shapeshifter. Double duty for Christopher Lee….

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            • Ha! You may be right, but it’s so long since I read that one that the plot details completely escape me now. In terms of structure, I think it told its tale woven in among the gaps in narrative in Stoker’s book.

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  8. I love Rathbone to death, but I have to stand apart from you on the subject of the Homes films. I really have the appropriate impulse to support them out of loyalty to the man, but I really can’t. Also, the Watson character has been seriously insulted here…so dumb, yet an officer, a doctor, etc.? No. Also, to go modern at a time when no definitive Holmes series had been done was an abominable decision, made entirely to pander to morons. Ahem. I guess I feel strongly about the cosmically missed opportunity here.

    Thankfully Brett has completely obliterated all competition to such a devastating degree that I doubt if they were able to film the actual (hehehe) Homes, he’d be a letdown.

    That said, the 80’s Young Sherlock, with Guy Henry was pretty fun. 🙂

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    • Your deductive reasoning somewhat less than that of Holmes. The decision to go contemporary was not to cater to “morons” – not Holmes’ audience in any case, but rather to do Holmes at all. This was a “B” Universal series, and given the budgets and wartime COULD NOT HAVE BEEN MADE OTHERWISE. Thereby depriving us morons of their many virtues.

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      • No doubt Clayton can speak for himself, but I suspect was referring to the propaganda aspects of some of the stories rather than audiences in general, and certainly no one here.

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        • Clayton was clearly referring to the updates in general, not any particular aspect. The insult applied to anyone who dared appreciate such abominations. And Holmes was an unabashed patriot in the canon – shooting “VR” into the wall of his mancave at 221B

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          • Well, I know Clayton has never been impolite towards anyone posting here in the past, so I’m happy to read that as a dislike for the propaganda elements that dominated the first few updates by Universal.
            Anyway, lets not take different views on 70 year old movies too personally.

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            • Not to belabor this, but he clearly objects to the update concept – nothing can be inferred that he singled out just one aspect of same. And even if he did, “moron” is a word one tends to take personally. He also ignores the fact that Fox, who made the only two in-period films, quit after two, relinquishing the rights.

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              • Fair enough, maybe best to leave it at that. We’ve had lots of interesting and (even more important) fun chat here on these films, and I really don’t want it to descend into any unpleasantness, or for anyone to feel like not contributing due to an overly combative atmosphere. 🙂

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    • Something tells me you don’t especially like this series of movies, Clayton. 🙂
      Just shows that they can’t please everyone, and that there are a range of opinions and reactions, that’s kind of a compliment in itself I think.

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      • Hahaha…I was actually referring to the people who were ALIVE at the time the films were made, so anyone living now, under the age of 75, can feel safe that I wasn’t calling them a moron (though maybe perhaps a tad oversensitive). I do reject the idea of making “modern” those period pieces for people who can’t enjoy something on it’s own merits, BY people who can’t actually create anything new on their own, perverting the works of geniuses in order to make money for corporations. No credible Holmes series was made at the time, so these modern things are no replacement. That said, I don’t care for propaganda-driven modifications of classic stories much, either (the one clear exception being Pimpernel Smith). As I clearly stated, it was a sadly missed opportunity to film what Doyle actually wrote, versus using his legend to rake in cash. The movies aren’t any worse than any other of the fun episodic pictures of the time, but relative to the inspiration, are pure hogwash.

        Don’t mean to offend any hogs by that statement, in case any are reading this. 🙂

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        • Again, the lack of logic astonishes. The updates were NOT made to cater to the lowest common denominator, but rather the ONLY viable way to keep SH alive during wartime and within the budget of the studio. It’s not Universal’s fault that there were no in period series. As I’ve noted, 20th Century Fox, a studio with much deeper pockets than Universal, couldn’t produce more than two. It’s easy to sit at a keyboard 75 years later and pass specious judgment on the both the creators, and yes, they WERE creative, and their audience. As if the passage of time makes these and their audience now acceptable. Good to know your condescension has a shelf life.

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  9. The number of successful incarnations of this inspired character is astonishing. Each time I’m not confident they will pull it off. But Basil was definitely excellent and set a standard that had to be measured to.

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    • Yes, the number of times the characters have been played by different people is enough to make your head swim, and I don’t imagine it’s going to ease off any time soon either. The fact so few of them have been considered abject failures – which I would define as no one whatsoever having a good word to say about them – says something about the inherent strength of Doyle’s creations.

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  10. Very much enjoying this discussion on all things Holmes, a nice departure for RTHC. I love the Rathbone pictures. I understand the frustrations with Nigel Bruces’s Watson but seen in the context of the period
    in which they were made and viewed through the prism of a certain nostalgia, they remain sterling entertainment. However, IMHO the Jeremy Brett incarnation of the character and the best of the Granada
    TV shows are the benchmark by which all other attempts Sherlock Holmes should be judged. These shows, at their best, are virtually perfect in terms of mood and characterization. It’s a great shame that Brett’s Holmes never made the transition to the cinema screen with the bigger budget that would have facilitated. Even more tragic when you consider the cash wasted on bringing Guy Ritchie’s crass take on Holmes to the big screen. However when it comes down to sheer crassness the Benedict Cumberbatch
    SHERLOCK is in a league of it’s own. Witless, pretentious and portentious, this transcendentally inane
    piece of cack effortlessly mines a treasure trove of symbols, rich characters and plots and inverts them
    into dross. It wouldn’t be so so bad if it didn’t claim some revisionist affiliation with Conan Doyles marvellous characters, then it could be seen more clearly for what it actually is – A kind of DR WHO 2
    for schoolboys and adolescents of all ages who believe that all dialogue should be shouted and that any deficiencies in plotting can be disguised by fast cutting and visual gimmicks. It really is that bad.
    A far more gentle, endearing and intelligent revisionist Holmes can be found in the Jonny Lee Miller/ Lucy Liu show ELEMENTARY. Here the Conan Doyle allusions aren’t laid on with a trowel and the show never outstays its welcome or takes itself too seriously – light years away from the bombastic, overblown Cumberbatch show. Final thought on Cumberbatch should SH really resemble a rabbit in a deerstalker hat?

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    • It would have been interesting at the very least to see how Brett’s Holmes would have translated to the cinema, although the TV adaptations we have are well made and, in terms of modern running times, possibly better suited to that form.

      Searing criticism of the BBC show there (that last line made me grin) but I’m not familiar enough with it to give you an argument.
      I’m glad you mentioned Elementary – it hadn’t come up before and, as I’ve never seen any of it, I am curious how Holmes fans regard it.

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  11. Having trashed recent versions of the Holmes mythos, and setting aside the Matt Frewer shows which aren’t really worth even considering, there are several takes on SH in relatively recent times that are well worth anyone’s time. The two sixties ‘Sherlock Holmes v Jack the Ripper’ pictures are both very decent,
    non-canonical efforts: A STUDY IN TERROR is a lurid, sub-Hammer entertainment with John Neville’s excellent Holmes ultimately defeated by a poor script and some large plot holes. However, Neville looked
    and sounded more like my idea of SH then any other actor who played the role, even the great Jeremy Brett. The other Ripper’ Holmes is the outstandingly good MURDER BY DECREE where Holmes and Watson, here essayed by Christopher Plummer and James Mason, trawl the dark underbelly of Victorian
    London on a trail that ultimately exposes corruption in the highest circles. James Mason being a strong contender for best ever Doctor Watson.
    Peter Cushing’s magnificent Hammer HOUND is of course on another level and enough has been written about its Gothic splendour elsewhere for me to need to dwell on it here. Cushing was an outstanding Holmes in this and in the sixties budgetary challenged BBC series as was his predecessor
    Douglas Wilmer. The last really decent take on Holmes was, IMHO, the little known Ian Richardson TV show MURDER ROOMS: THE DARK BEGINNINGS OF SHERLOCK HOLMES. In this one Richardson plays, not SH, but Dr Joseph Bell who was Conan Doyle’s real-life mentor and upon whom the character
    of SH was based. In these dark, gripping mysteries, Conan Doyle plays ‘Dr Watson’ to Bell’s ‘Holmes’
    and the show explores many of the obsessions of the Victorian era including mediumship and ancient Egyptian curses. Highly recommended and still available on DVD.
    Richardson, did of course, play Holmes himself in very decent Eighties TVM versions of HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and THE SIGN OF FOUR. Also recommended.
    A final Holmes favourite of mine pre-dates the Rathbone pictures and can be picked up cheaply on any number of ‘Detective’ compilations from the likes of Mill Creek and other public domain outfits. THE SPECKLED BAND (1931) features Raymond Massey as a Holmes who is initially encountered in a high-tech 221B Baker Street that bustles with secretaries. However, once “the game is afoot” this picture crackles with mood and the action unfolds in a gloomy Gothic pile with a patriarchal villain who oozes menace. The remaining prints of SPECKLED BAND are unfortunately completely butchered, missing up to thirty minutes of running time. What remains is a beautifully crafted enigma and the discovery of a complete print of this remains high on my ‘Holy Grail’ list.

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    • Hmm, I’ve not seen the Massey film but that shouldn’t be too hard to locate, in spite of the significant cuts.
      Your comments on the Richardson show and TV movies interest me – these have been on my radar for a while now and feedback like this is very welcome.

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    • Nothing of Billy Wilder’s Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, which, true to its title, turns a magnifying glass on his substance use, the whole “woman thing”. Robert Stephens plays a dandified, diminished SH. a far cry from a frustrated Watson’s invention at The Strand. Initially planned as a huge road show attraction with Peters O’Toole and Sellers,, the non-star casting suits the material perfectly. Tho the final cut os a Ripperized butchery upon Wilder’s version. Wilder blames its failure on its being ahead of the curve- just before the Holmes revival of the Seven Per Cent Solution – and speaking of which….

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      • I like Wilder’s film quite a bit, of course I maintain there’s really no such thing as a bad Wilder film anyway, yet it remains somewhat controversial and there are some who have little time for it.
        It’s an age since I saw The Seven Per Cent Solution, a good movie even if Robert Duvall’s accent leaves a bit to be desired.

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  12. Colin,regarding your comment that there’s really no that there’s really no such thing as a bad Billy Wilder film, have you seen FEDORA? Although his CV includes some genuine classics, there are a fair few duds in there as well. Among them IMO is THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SH which is little more than pastiche Conan Doyle. It’s a ‘proper’ SH picture in the same way that BLAZING SADDLES is a ‘proper’ Western.
    I’ve not seen SEVEN PER CENT SOLUTION as I’ve never been drawn to it but maybe I should.
    However, there are occasionally offbeat takes on SH that do work without degrading or diminishing the character. One such would have to be 2015’s MR HOLMES, starring arch-luvvie Ian McKellen of all people, who is actually excellent as an aging SH now living in retirement and propelled into a latter day journey of self-discovery. The plot has similarities to the Cushing Holmes TVM MASKS OF DEATH but it is insightful rather than purely nostalgic. It also has a ‘happy’ ending that doesn’t insult the viewers intelligence.

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    • PRIVATE LIVES is in no way comparable to BLAZING SADDLES. As everything following Doyle is a pastische, it may be categorized as such.But it is a fond look at the “real” man behind the Caped Crusader. SH here lacks the boys’ adventure “THE GAME’S AFOOT”. He lacks the star quality, the obsessions, of Watson’s invention – a rather melancholy figure, cursed and isolated by a superior intellect. It’s not a bad movie, nor a bad Wilder. But then neither is Fedora – a cranky old man’s movie that looks af if it were written and directed by Norma Desmond, but makes a fitting capstone to his career.. Now, BUDDY BUDDY, that’s bad Wilder.

      But if you have problems with PRIVATE LIVES, you’re sure to hate SEVEN PER CENT.

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      • Buddy Buddy is extraordinarily weak – I wouldn’t try to defend it but will just say that having Wilder, Lemmon and Matthau go at it one last time is at least worth a look.

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    • I saw Fedora for the first time fairly recently and, yes, it’s not the best of Wilder by any means but I still wouldn’t call it a bad film.
      I didn’t get to see Mr Holmes although I will at some stage having heard generally positive comments about it.
      The Masks of Death – I don’t believe I’ve seen that since it was screened on TV, and that’s 30+ years ago!

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  13. I agree with Nick’s liking for the 2015 film “MR. HOLMES”. An unusually quiet and thoughtful film for the current age.
    It also appears I am not alone after all in my doubts about the Cumberbatch “SHERLOCK”. Nick has NO doubts obviously. I wouldn’t write it off but I do find it pretentious and geared for the “yoof” generation.

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      • I liked MR. HOLMES too, but it was sadly marred by Laura Linney’s freakishly miserable accent. Are there no English actresses? The rest was so mind-blowingly good, I really would have liked to see that aspect rise to the rest. A blemish on an otherwise spotless film.

        PS: I loved both PRIVATE LIVES and SEVEN PERCENT; both fresh and inventive, adding to Holmes in a clever way. WITHOUT A CLUE not so much. 🙂

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  14. A bit late to join in the fun on this now epic thread but here goes anyway,if nothing else to comment on the comments of others.
    Firstly, FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN has the best opening few minutes of any Horror flick,ever!
    Secondly, there are Wilder stinkers a-plenty-Stephens hopelessly miscast as Holmes his performance sinks the entire film. AVANTI was terrible…BUDDY BUDDY even worse.
    Clayton, splendid fellow that you are but THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A BAD LAURA LINNEY PERFORMANCE her accent was spot on and I AM a Brit BTW. MR HOLMES is wonderful and highly recommended.
    I’d like to see THE MASKS OF DEATH get released-a top notch supporting cast I might add. Pity Cushing and Mills never teamed up a decade or so earlier. Furthermore, a pity Hammer never did several other Holmes films-would loved for them to have re-made THE SPIDER WOMAN (not a Conan Doyle original, I might add) with Cushing battling Barbara Steele or Martine Beswick.
    Wasn’t there a terrible TV version of HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES with Stewart Granger an unlikely Holmes with William Shatner also in the cast.
    Saw Cushing interviewed at London’s NFT sometime in the mid-seventies – he was on top form and very funny. He stated,quite correctly “you have to LIKE Holmes”
    I’ll never forget the lady in the audience who thought Cushing would have made a wonderful Quatermass – I agree, Cushing, not Andrew Keir, should have starred in QUATERMASS AND THE PIT…what were Hammer thinking.

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    • Stephens most emphatically NOT miscast. If he were playing the SH of Watson’s creation, he would be, but he isn’t. Thar’s where that whole PRIVATE LIFE thing comes into play – the discreparancy between the private man and public image. And Stephens does evoke the posturing of the original Holmes illos.

      The Srewart Granger version, white hair and all, was a failed series pilot.

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      • I don’t think I’ve seen that Granger version all the way through, and maybe not at all if I’m honest – I saw a still of it years ago in Steinbrunner & Penzler’s Encyclopaedia of Mystery and Detection and thought it looked like it might be interesting. The critical consensus suggests otherwise, however.

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    • Cheers, John. But I have to ask how you can’t love Avanti!; it’s a lovely piece of romantic cinema and delightfully captures the flavor of the Mediterranean, and then there’s that score with Carlo Rustichelli riffing superbly on Gino Paoli’s Senza Fine

      I don’t really have a problem with Keir as Quatermass, nor with Mills or Donlevy in the role either for that matter, but I have to say the idea of Cushing taking it on is a very attractive one.

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      • Sorry Colin, with all due respects I’ve never been too
        keen on Wilder’s later work or Preminger’s for that matter.
        I found both let their films ramble too much,being fatally
        overlong and all
        The French original of BUDDY BUDDY is a minor classic
        though.
        Still what do I know-Billy’s brother W Lee Wilder is more to my
        taste-or indeed lack of it. My idea of a “lost”masterpiece is
        MAN WITHOUT A BODY a more demented piece of film-making
        it would be hard to find anywhere.
        Regarding Laura Linney’s accent it’s not an English accent-
        more of a local dialect-East Sussex in fact and it’s perfect.
        .

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        • I don’t like Preminger’s late work either, John, and think he would have left an even stronger legacy had he called is a day after Bunny Lake is Missing.
          As for Wilder’s brother, I don’t believe I’ve ever seen anything he made.

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          • W Lee Wilder mainly worked with sub poverty row budgets. THE PRETENDER is his best film and showed what could have been. The photography-(John Alton??) raises the game of the film a great deal. BLUEBEARD’S TEN HONEYMOONS (a rare A feature from W Lee) is also pretty good.
            Most of his other films-Beware! unless you are a dedicated trash addict like yours truly 🙂

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  15. I hope this thread tops “the ton” personally. It has been very interesting with many interesting (not to say passionate) points made!

    Incidentally no one has mentioned the five films made between 1931 and 1937 in which Arthur Wontner WAS Holmes. The films are perhaps a tad creaky now but Wontner was just fine. These films were all made by the British film industry BTW. Dr. Watson was played rather well in each film by Ian Fleming and Lyn Harding was Moriarty in two.

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    • We’re creeping awfully close to that “ton”, Jerry. Never seen the Wontner films myself but I’ve read positive comments about them in the past.
      Another Holmes portrayal I don’t believe we’ve mentioned so far, although I may have overlooked it in the mix – was the Tom Baker version of Hound made for the BBC in the 1980s. I’d liked Baker as Doctor Who and remember looking forward to this. I saw it not long after I first came across Rathbone’s interpretation and I was dreadfully disappointed. Perhaps I was unfair; it is available on disc, I think in Australia, and wouldn’t mind checking it out again at some stage.

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  16. Gosh, I’ve enjoyed this thread even though I’m not a big Holmes fan! It’s just incredible the very many incarnations of this famous detective.
    I love Rathbone but could never understand the reasoning with the Nigel Bruce Watson. Would like to see Raymond Massey.
    I love John K’s comment about his idea of a lost masterpiece being Man Without a Body!
    Incidentally, regarding W.Lee Wilder, Colin, look out for THE GLASS ALIBI and ONCE A THIEF, both very good.
    Is this comment 101!!!!!

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    • Ye,s we’ve broken into three figures now, so well done and thanks to all who have contributed to this one! It has been marvelously entertaining.
      I’ll definitely watch out for those two Wilder titles – great to get recommendations on this kind of (to me anyway) obscure material.

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  17. Wow, this is quite a thread, Colin! I haven’t had time to read all of it as yet, but will return to do so. I’m a fan of the books, and read through them all earlier this year. Now it’s time to investigate a few sequels and rivals…

    I’ve seen some of the Brett episodes and I think they are brilliant, but must admit I haven’t seen the Rathbone/Bruce films apart from odd clips. You make me want to put that right, though! I have seen the silent film with John Barrymore as Holmes, and he looks great for the part but there are so many intertitles that they really slow it down.

    I also really liked the recent film Mr Holmes with Ian McKellen, as I see a few of your other commenters did. I’m not a big fan of Sherlock, although my son loves it and persuades me to watch it – there’s something about it that annoys me. It’s too shouty and over the top, and the episode where they went back to Victorian times was a big disappointment. I prefer Elementary, though I haven’t seen all that much of it – from what I’ve seen, it’s rather similar to House, which had some of the same writers and directors, and Hugh Laurie’s character in that was also based on Holmes!

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    • Yes, once in a while a thread comes along that you could say has legs! I’m just delighted this one seemed to grab the attention and interest of so many people – very entertaining and fun.
      Since you haven’t seen anything much of the Rathbone/Bruce films, and are a fan of Holmes, I hope you’ll be motivated to give them a go now. Keep in mind they do take liberties but their heart is very much in the right place – enjoy.

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  18. Brett, for some time now, has been my favorite, but there can be no denying Rathbone was an excellent Holmes. I just didn’t particularly care for the time frame Holmes was set in with the Rathbone movies. Although, I’m sure quite a few people enjoyed them well enough. I’ve also have enjoyed Benedict Cumberbatch and his portrayal of Holmes as well.

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    • I think those are opinions that a good many people will share. I really must make an effort to catch up with the Cumberbatch TV show though, I’ve seen so very little of it and everyone else seems much better informed about it.

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      • It requires a great deal of repeat viewing—primarily because of the rapid deductions and brisk storytelling pace—but what a wonderful new (and modern) update to the Holmes films. I say films, because each episode plays like a movie and takes 90 minutes to tell. Considering the series has only been at it since 2010 (and may now be over) I feel they’ve done a tremendous job of providing a whole new angle to the stories. Colin, I noticed you are now following my blog, and I wanted to thank you for being such a brave man. Usually I have to pay for followers (:D), but seems my wife has slashed my 2017 budget for bribery. Nevertheless, I’m delighted to have you joining My Cluttered Attic. ‘O)

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  19. Hi Colin. The Daily Mail review ( link attached) of the latest Cumberbatch ‘Sherlock’ pretty much sums up my feelings about the show. Why didn’t they just call it ‘Doctor Who II’, dedicate it to the adolescent fanboy audience and not associate in any way with Conan Doyle’s iconic character? If you want to see how Sherlock Holmes could be done in 2017, check out another BBC offering: ‘Taboo’. A mean, moody and mysterious odyssey that begins in a very dark iteration of early nineteenth century London, and one that is definitely for grown ups…
    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-4122872/After-enduring-shocking-self-indulgent-hyped-Sherlock-finale-exasperated-TV-critic-asks-BBC-bigwigs-fig-viewers.html

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I know there are a variety of opinions on this one, Mr B, and it’s clearly a show that polarizes viewers to a degree. I’d need to see more for myself before I could say for sure how I’d react to it though.
      I have heard a little about Taboo, which I think has just begun to be broadcast (?) and I will try to see some of it now you’ve focused my attention on it.

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  20. Pingback: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

  21. Well it’s simply marvellous; killing Moriarty was as short-sighted as when ACD did it-but it’s a great film; Watson hasn’t descended into buffoonery yet and Rathbone scintillates. I grew up with the Rathbone films and cherish them dearly; every last, silly, Nazi-baiting frame of them. For quality, I always turn to the Brett box-set my Darling Wife bought for me, but for sheer, Boys-Own fun?; Rathbone…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for dropping ion and commenting.
      That’s a good way to approach the different versions of Holmes – going in looking for different things from the various incarnations and interpretations seems very wise indeed.

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