Saturday, May 30, 2009

A Brief History of Sherlock Holmes

To celebrate the recent 150th anniversary of the birth of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we look at some of the many incarnations of his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. At last count, over 70 actors have played the part in over 200 films. Here are ten

Silence is Golden
Significant for being the earliest American film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes back in 1916, actor William Gillette (1853 - 1937) portrayed the great detective in this silent film.

Lost and Found
This 1922 version starred John Barrymore as Holmes and Roland Young as Dr. Watson. Despite believed lost for decades, much of the film finally resurfaced in the mid-1970s and was restored by the George Eastman House. Furthermore, the movie features future MGM star William Powell in his first ever screen appearance playing the part of Foreman Wells.

Dynamic Duo
The pairing of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Doctor Watson in the 1939 version of Hound of the Baskervilles was originally envisaged as a one time deal for Twentieth Century Fox. Indeed, the studio apparently had such little faith in the project that the main billing went to Richard Greene, the film's romantic lead, and a major star at the time. But when it became an unexpected hit, Fox wanted to cash in and asked them to reprise their roles. The pair would star in 14 Holmes films together, but 12 were for Universal Pictures.

So Good They Made It Twice
Twenty years on, another version of Hound of the Baskervilles hit the silver screen; this time starring Andre Morell and Peter Cushing. There's a definite British horror feel to the backstory of this one: it was made by Hammer films (who would often cast Cushing in their schlocky pictures), the exterior of Baskerville Hall is clearly recognizable as Dracula's castle in Dracula (made the previous year) and also stars the man who would become forever associated with the infamous vampire, Christopher Lee.

Doubling Up
The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother was a 1975 Anglo-American comedy featuring the likes of Gene Wilder (also making his directorial debut), Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise. Wilder plays the hero Sigerson Holmes, brother to Sherlock "Sheer-Luck" Holmes. Jealous of his famous sibling, Sigerson teams up with a Scotland Yard detective (Feldman) to solve a case that Sherlock is apparently unable to solve.

Young at Heart
Hollywood most certainly had a helping hand in Young Sherlock Holmes. Directed by Barry Levinson and written by Chris Columbus, the 1985 film portrays a young Holmes and Watson meeting and subsequently solving a mystery together while at boarding school. But as Conan Doyle makes abundantly clear in the first novel (A Study in Scarlet) that Holmes and Watson had not previously met, diehards don't hold this movie in the same regard as some of the others.

Turning the Tables
The 1988 British comedy Without A Clue featured two of the nation's best loved actors, Michael Caine and (Sir) Ben Kingsley. The admittedly novel premise is that Holmes is a fictional character created by Watson (Kingsley) to allow him to solve crimes incognito. But when the public yearns to see Holmes in person, he hires an alcoholic unemployed actor Reginald Kincaid (Caine) to play him. Inevitably, "Holmes" hogs the limelight but (spoiler alert!) the pair must work together to solve a mystery for the Government. Needless to say, this picture wouldn't trouble Oscar.

The Play's the Thing
Sticking with the Brits and actors Jeremy Brett (left) and Edward Hardwicke played Holmes and Watson in a stage version of Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at Wyndham's Theatre, London, in 1988. Only a six-week run had been anticipated, but it instantly took off to rave reviews and would play to full houses for a year before embarking on a national tour. Many consider Brett the definitive Holmes.

LA Story
The Crucifer of Blood was originally a play that was adapted from Conan Doyle's The Sign of Four. It played on Broadway, London and Los Angeles. While in LA, Charlton Heston played Holmes (interestingly, one of the most famous ever Holmes's, Jeremy Brett, played Watson in the same production) and Heston went on to star in this 1991 TV movie.

Coming Attraction
Set for release on Christmas Day, 2009, director Guy Ritchie helms the latest version of Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey Jr. in the lead role alongside Jude Law (left) as Watson. Apparently, Holmes will battle as never before to bring down a new nemesis and unravel a deadly plot that could destroy the country. Expect thrills, spills and the words "Elementary, My Dear Watson" to crop up as a new generation get introduced to one of literature's most famous creations.

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