This is the third article celebrating Chaplin’s 125th birthday and 100th anniversary of his films. Read my others here (Doctor Who and Chaplin comic book review) and here (matching music to his unreleased “How to Make Movies”)
Chaplin as Billy, age 14 (though he looks 12 to me.
When I became a Charlie Chaplin fan in 1991, one of the *very first things* I learned about him was his role in the 1901 Sherlock Holmes play written by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I had been a Sherlockian for 5 years by then and was thrilled that my new “obsession” had a connection, one of many (and growing!) I would later discover.
William Gillette, in his Holmes garb
Chaplin was born on April 16,1889, in Lambeth, London, England, at the beginning of the Sherlock Holmes publishing era. the year before the publishing of the second Holmes story, “The Sign of Four”. After living for some time in poverty, he gradually got work as a child actor (both his parents were stage performers). He wrote in his My Autobiography (1964) how he lied about his age to get a part in a H A Saintsbury play, A Romance of Cocknaye, saying he was 14, when he was actually 12 1/2. The manager of the production and cast liked him so much they offered him the Billy the Pageboy role. So from July 1903 to February 1906 he traveled the country performing the part. (Holmes trivia: The pageboy in the original stories did not have a name until after the play was made. It would have been interesting if Doyle named him Charlie!)
The argument over “Who’s the best Sherlock Holmes?” is nothing new, though the names change over time. Back in his day, Chaplin worked under two of the starring Holmes’: William Gillette and H A Saintsbury. He wrote in his “My Autobiography” that while he liked both, he felt Saintsbury was closer to the “real” Holmes.
List of the cast (including Chaplin as Billy), as they performed at Duke of York’s Theatre, circa 1905
Want to see the play? Here it is, performed in 1981 for HBO. Frank Langella plays Holmes (very well, I must say!) My favorite scene (Act 3, pt 2), which includes some great interactions with Billy, is embedded below:
(side note – the boy playing Billy in the above performance is a young Christian Slater)
The Great Dictator (1940) – Chaplin as Hynkel (center), Reginald Gardiner (left) as Schultz, and Henry Daniell as Garbitsch (right)
While he had other roles in his early childhood showbiz career, none seemed to have stuck with him later in his life than the Billy role. Decades later in 1939 when he was shooting his Hitler satire, “The Great Dictator”, he would re-enact scenes from the Holmes play in-between scenes for the movie to entertain the cast and crew.
One of the actors in Dictator was Henry Daniell, who later who appear in three of the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes films: Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942), Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943), and The Woman in Green (1945, playing Professor Moriarty, the role I best remember him for.)
Which also brings us to Nigel Bruce. Chaplin hired Bruce for his 1952 film, Limelight. Bruce was hired not only because of his talent but mainly because of his strong connection with the Holmes franchise having famously played Dr. Watson.
Basil Rathbone (left) as Holmes, Nigel Bruce (back, center) as Watson and Henry Daniell (right) from Voice of Terror (1943)
In the film Limelight, Bruce plays Mr Postant, an homage to the real life who was William Gillette’s stage manager, and who had played an important role of keeping an eye out for the young Chaplin during the Holmesian days.
I have often felt that if he played Watson like he later played Postant, Watson would have been considered less bumbling. Below is a clip from Limelight which not only includes Bruce, but also Claire Bloom (many years later she would costar with David Tennant in Doctor Who, “The End of Time”), and Buster Keaton who plays Calvero’s partner (Keaton’s Holmes connection is making the brilliant 1924 silent film Sherlock Jr.)
One of the reasons why I picked using the name Calvero on the internet, and have kept it for almost 20 years, is the Holmes connection (along with Keaton, and the later Doctor Who connection,
To Modern Times
In 1992 came Robert Downey Jr playing the title role in Sir Richard Attenborough’s “Chaplin”. Absolutely brilliant! And he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor (he was ROBBED! ROBBED, I tell you!). Downey did such a great job, that most of the time I forgot I was watching someone else playing Charlie.
Fast-forward 17 years and he was picked by Guy Ritchie to play the lead in Sherlock Holmes, which, honestly, sounded a little weird. For Chaplin, he played someone who was about 5’4″. And years later he plays someone who is described by Watson as being at least 6 feet tall. Either way, I did (and still do) enjoy his take on the Great Detective. He did win a Golden Globe for “Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy” for his portrayal of Holmes (a category I still don’t understand how he won, but he won it. So, YAY!)
Chaplin and Holmes meet once again
On season 2, episode 1 of BBC’s excellent show Sherlock, “A Scandal in Bohemia”, John Watson’s girlfriend Jeanette is played play by Charlie’s granddaughter (Geraldine’s daughter), Oona Chaplin. When I was first watching the episode, I didn’t know who the actress was but there was something about her… I couldn’t put my finger on it. She seemed familiar, and at the same time not familiar. When I immediately re-watched the episode for the second time (because it was so mind blowingly awesome), I paid more attention to the ending credits, and the name “Oona Chaplin” jumped out at me. I threw my arms up in the air and shouted “WOOOOOOOHOOOO!!!” and did a happy dance. And so a new Chaplin comes face to face with the great detective.
Close encounter of a Sherlockian/Chaplinesque kind: Aidan Quinn
Sherlock Holmes (Jonny Lee Miller), Joan Watson (Lucy Liu), and Captain Gregson (Aidan Quinn) from Elementary
Another recent connection (though not as strong as the above ones, but still there) is CBS’s newest take of the Holmes and Watson interpretations in Elementary starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes, and Lisa Liu as Joan Watson (that’s right, a female Watson…a very good one), which premiered during Holmes’ 125th anniversary (2012). Co-starring is Aidan Quinn who plays Captain Thomas Gregson of the NYPD.
Joon (Mary Stuart Masterson), Sam (Johnny Depp), and Benny (Aidan Quinn)
Almost 20 years earlier (1993), Quinn played in an adorable movie that also starring Johnny Depp and Mary Stuart Matherson, Benny and Joon (released just a few months after Downey’s Chaplin.). Quinn plays the older, and pretty protective brother, Benny to Matherson’s Joon who slowly falls in love with Depp’s Sam who is a eccentric person who is obsessed with Chaplin and Buster Keaton.
The comparison between Benedict Cumberbatch and otters is well known (even to BC), but a lesser known comparison is him and Chaplin. Tumblr user lenoesque compared facial expressions of ol’ Benny and the Little Tramp.
What kind of connections will show up later? Who knows. What I do know is that they keep popping up from time to time. And if I notice them, I’ll create a “Part 2”.
Are there any that I missed? Just leave a comment
Posted in Charlie Chaplin, classic comedy, Nostalgia, Sherlock Holmes, television Tagged with: BBC Sherlock, Benedict Cumberbatch, Charlie Chaplin, Doctor Watson, Elementary, Martin Freeman, PBS, Robert Downey Jr, Sherlock, Sherlock Holmes
Currently I am writing a review for the most recent episode of Elementary, Paint It Black (yeah, I accidentally hit Publish earlier when I was still putting it together. But thanks to the people on Tumblr who liked and reblogged it anyway :). Wow!) . [Edit – It’s done! Read the review here!)
Until then, here is a possibly theory of what inspired the intro to the show. Below is one of the best scenes from Disney’s “Sherlock Holmes set in the mouse world” The Great Mouse Detective . The scene opens after Ratigan (the mouse “Never call me a rat!” Moriarty of the story) has captured both Basil and Dawson and has them tied down with various types of weapons aimed at them to all go off when the record player reaches the end of Ratigan singing “Good Bye!”. Basil’s depressed, and Dawson’s ticked that Basil has given up hope….
And below is Elementary’s intro:
Just something fun to think about! And I highly recommend GMD. If you have Netflix streaming, it’s currently on there. Loads of fun!
Posted in Sherlock Holmes Tagged with: Basil of Baker Street, Disney, Elementary, Great Mouse Detective, movies, Sherlock Holmes, tv
You mess with Watson, you face Sherlock Holmes’ wrath.
“By the Lord, it is as well for you. If you had killed Watson, you would not have got out of this room alive.” – Sherlock Holmes, from 3GAR
There are things about this show that have slowly improved over time. This episode, for me, is a high point. Such a high point that it’s my favorite episode of not only this season, but for the whole series (so far. Still 2 to go.)
There’s the type of episode that is intense, with a great ending, but after you find out who did what, you have little or no interest to rewatch it. And that’s how most (not all) of Elementary episodes are for me. This is not that kind of episode. So far I have watched this episode 3 times (original airing, later on CBS’s site, and again right after with commentary by Lucy Liu and director of photography Ron Fortunato). Not counting replaying bits and pieces.
And, dare I say it, I enjoy this episode *as much* as BBC Sherlock? Series 3 at the least? Okay, preparing to facing backlash but it’s has taken this long for the show to grow to that point.
It starts, picking up right where it left us hanging at the end of The Man with the Twisted Lip with Watson getting kidnapped. I had only watched the first few minutes of that episode and caught only the last minute and I somehow assumed that Mycroft was directly responsible for Joan’s kidnapping.
The warehouse scene where Joan is being kept and the kidnapper talking to her. Then cutting to Sherlock’s rage, flipping over furniture and grabbing Mycroft by the collar demanding to know why he put Joan in such a dangerous position.
The much talked about camera shot through the staircase railing showing the metaphoring separation of Mycroft and Sherlock. Awesome and powerful.
The ending was wonderful with it being revealed that, no, Mycroft wasn’t a restaurant owner, with mediocre skills at observation who was a coward and willing to make shady deals without being aware of possible consequences like we had been led to believe all this season. He was actually involved in some way with British secret intelligence, possibly higher in government (we don’t know for sure right now). But it was such relief for me to see that, because I wasn’t keen on him staying in that earlier presnce that far away from the canon.
Clues to Mycroft’s true nature
Mycroft telling Sherlock that he sees how important Watson is to him:
Mycroft: “You’re not sure you can do what needs to be done without her. This is more than just a case. Without her to keep you focused, to keep you settled…”
Sherlock: “Is that what you think she is? Hmm? A simple counterbalance?”
Mycroft: “I think she’s the person you love most in this world.”
Meeting with the bank under the false pretense of investing some of their father’s fortune, and Sherlock threatens them with exposing them, and demonstrates just a few strong deductions, Mycroft takes a couple steps towards them and quietly says
As you can see, my brother’s a deductive genius. His prowess is not to be underestimated. He can be the instrument of your salvation, or your demise.
I love how Mycroft follows Sherlock into the different rooms, and stands behind him, hands in his pockets, but his eyes casually yet carefully looking around, partly looking for clues, as well as looking out for his little brother (at least, I hope Mycroft turns out to be a good guy like in the canon).
Meeting the NSA, Agent McNally gets up:
McNally: “Mycroft, it’s a pleasure to meet you. I get a night off, I swear I”m gonna finally try out Diogenes.”
Mycroft: “How do you know I have a restaurant?”
McNally:”Everyone knows about Diogenes. Amazing food. Interesting clientele”
Going to interview Legolas5 (seriously? Sherlock didn’t recognize the name? Pronouncing it Lego-Lass Five?), Sherlock asks a question and then Mycroft comes out with excellent probing questions. Sherlock gives him a befuddled look.
Mycroft: “What? Joan asks questions when you’re out and about. I’ve seen it.”
Sherlock: “Yes, but she is a trained detective. You’re a buffoon.”
Then turns and repeats one of Mycroft’s questions.
Going (breaking and entering) into Norman’s house, Sherlock challenges Mycroft to really look around him. Mycroft walks through the hall way without showing much effort for looking, but then points behind him
“This cushion has been disturbed. There’s scratches on the floor. Dry blood? There may have been some kind of scuffle.
Yoder pleading with Mycroft to stop his younger brother from torturing him was interesting, and Mycroft telling him he better answer the question. After the end reveal makes me wonder if he (Yoder) knew who Mycroft really was.
Random musings (or My favorite scenes)
Other than the scnes that clued in to who Mycroft really was, there were a number of other great scenes. Every scene that Miller and Ifans are together are just simply wonderful, such as this one right after meeting the NSA:
Sherlock smashes and stomps on his phone into the pavement.
Sherlock: “My phone doesn’t seem to be working, may I borrow yours?
Mycroft, dumbfounded, hands him his phone. Sherlock then smashes Mycroft’s phone and stomps on that as well.
Mycroft: “Was that really necessary?”
Sherlock:”That was the NSA. Hands.”
Mycroft holds out his arms and Sherlock takes his watch. Sherlock: “Exquisite time piece; shame it has to go.”
He stomps the watch into the ground.
Mycroft:”They didn’t touch my watch.”
Sherlock:”Better safe than sorry.”
This is the only time in this episode Mycroft is surprised about something Sherlock does.
Sherlock displaying the same finesse of waking Mycroft up as he has Joan… minus breakfast.
Mycroft’s collar was down in the scenes with just Sherlock, but when they were out and investigating, it was up.
Mycroft stunning Sherlock was a “what? WHAT?!?” moment. My daughter yelled out “Traitor! Mycroft, you are a traitor!” at the tv, over and over.
Again, marvelous episode. Lucy Liu did a fantastic job at directing (Can she be cloned so she can direct and act? Please?) And Robert Hewitt Wolfe should just write the rest of the episodes. Yup.
So looking forward to the next 2 episodes!
“You are right in thinking that he is under the British government. You would also be right in a sense if you said that occasionally he IS the British government.” – Sherlock to Watson about Mycroft, BRUC
Posted in Sherlock Holmes Tagged with: CBS, Elementary, Jonny Lee Miller, Lucy Liu, review, Sherlock Holmes, tv