Thursday, April 9, 2009

Elementary, my dear Watson.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce made 14 films together, immortalizing the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The films are based on the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), but mostly mixes parts from the originals and paste them together with new material. Only the first film is made true to the original.

The first film, The Hound of the Baskervilles, was made 1939 and was at first planned to be a one-shot production. However, the studio soon realized that the public had fallen in love with the Rathbone-Bruce screen couple, and soon followed the film up with a sequel - The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939).
After the finishing of that film Rathbone and Bruce began doing Sherlock Holmes on radio shows, playing the same characters as in the films. Their collaboration would continue for seven years.

The Second World War broke out. The first two Sherlock Holmes films were made by 20th Century Fox, but now Universal Pictures took over the production of the sequels. They also decided to move the plot from Victorian England to present time, 1940's London. The enemy was now very often nazis, and Sherlock Holmes not only solved the crime - he also beat the nazis!
This slight change from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories was made to encourage the people of the country to have faith in the outcome of the ongoing war. Rathbone didn't mind it - he actually wanted to fight in the war (like he did in WWI), but at the age of 47 he was considered too old. This was a way for him to contribute.

The by-the-end-of-the-war and post-war Sherlock Holmes films were made in a more typical Conan Doyle manner, but still takes place in modern times. The evil nazis are gone, but there are still some propaganda influences, like Holmes reciting Churchill by the end of The Scarlet Claw (1944). But who could do monologues like that better than Rathbone, anyway?

These films takes more great liberties with the re-writing of the Conan Doyle stories, more than moving the time of the plots and exchanging the enemies to nazis. For example is the character of Dr. Watson more of a blabbering fool used for comic relief, rather than a competent companion to Sherlock Holmes. Another example is the character of Inspector Lastrade, who also have been stupified and made clumsy. But hey, it's Sherlock we want to see anyway, right?

A list of the fourteen Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes films. (By the time I have written about the films I will make links to the posts in the following list.)

  • The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)
  • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942)
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)
  • Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943)
  • Sherlock Holmes Faces Death (1943)
  • The Spider Woman (1944)
  • The Scarlet Claw (1944)
  • The Pearl of Death (1944)
  • The House of Fear (1945)
  • The Woman in Green (1945)
  • Pursuit to Algiers (1945)
  • Terror by Night (1946)
  • Dressed to Kill (1946)

Film clip: Clips from the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, accompanied by the song "Sherlock Holmes" by The Sparks.


Kate Gabrielle said...

I just voted in your new poll.. here's hoping it works this time!!

You should maybe do another one with favorite Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film-- after all you just listed 14 to choose from :)

(I vote for Terror by Night!)

Christopher said...

I love ALL the Holmes films.they just have that cozyness that all the Universal horror films have!..Funny least faves(if there are any) may be the first 2 period films "Hounds" and "The adventures of"... A couple of my most favorites are.. S H and the Spider Woman(Gail Sondergaard,one of my fave villians)..and the Pearl of Death..
Henry Daniell's "matter of fact",businesslike performance in Woman in Green may be my favorite Prof. Moriarty..

scene from the Spider Woman

Holmes in disguise does a little song and dance..Rathbone in Adventures of Shelock Holmes.

Lolita said...

Kate Gabrielle:
Great idea! It had crossed my mind, I have to confess. Next poll it is!

Aah, don't spoil upcoming posts! ;) I have a lot of film clips coming up!
Oh, I love Henry Daniell. He's great in The Philadelphia Story and Camille too! Perfect as Prof. Moriarty.