I have to thank my 8th grade English teacher for introducing me to the great detective and and his trusty companion.
Basil Rathbone (left) and Nigel Bruce play the crime fighting duo
We were reading Hound of the Baskervilles (considered by many fans to be the best of the Holmes stories) and watched the 1939 film version starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce it in class. We had an assignment of pretending to be a news reporter covering the murder. I’ve never cared too much for mysteries. It was usually someone gets killed (kind of a downer). Detective investigates and usually solves case. Killer is usually hateful/jealous/mean streaked. Then justice is done. But the characters of Holmes and Watson really got my curiosity. Holmes was stand-offish and not social. He could tell you where you came from and what you do for a living within the first second of meeting you. But he was not a romantic, but rather preferred facts when dealing with people… or rather, people’s cases. Along with his cocaine addictions, violin playing, and pipe smoking. Watson was loyal. Ready to help his friend when needed. And wrote about the cases that he and Holmes took on. Handy with a revolver. If Holmes asked him to go off and do something, Watson went without question. I happened to mention about the story to my mom, telling her that I thought it was really interesting and not hard to follow the decades old story. So when I graduated the grade, my parents gave me a book that had several stories in it (most of the Holmes stories were short stories), including Hound. The book had the original illustrations by Sidney Paget, which were originally with the stories when they were originally published. Considered to have cemented the “look” of Holmes to the public. I read those stories. Inhaled them is a better way of putting it. The stories were also out of the ordinary. Some were murders, though the cause of death no always easy: an animal in self defense or the victim died out of terror or a guilty conscious. Or perhaps faked their own death. Or something was stolen. In addition to that, I watched more of the Rathbone/Bruce movies on the local tv channel. I believe it was every Sunday afternoon. Rathbone was my Holmes. Until…
Jeremy Brett as Holmes (left) , Rosalie Williams as Mrs. Hudson (center) and David Burke as Watson standing in front of the infamous 221B residence
I saw Jeremy Brett and David Burke. Oh. My. Gosh!!! (that’s right, I said gosh. Deal with it! 😉 ) The performances of those two men really shot the characters out of a canon and onto the small screen. Brett’s portrayal was spot on. He set a very high standard of how someone should play Holmes. And Burke’s Watson as well as Edward Hardwicke’s Watson was much more faithful to the Watson that Conan Doyle wrote about. And the rest of the cast: Rosalie Williams who played their landlady Mrs. Hudson, Colin Jeavons as Inspector Lestrade, and a bunch of others who appeared looking like what I had pictured in my head when I first read the stories. And shooting it out of a canon can be taken another way… it was almost 100% Canon (canon – meaning the original stories). The stories were as close to word-for-word as one could fit into less than a 60 minute program. Costumes were beautiful. Sets were marvelous. The Baker Street residence was not too ornate. Everything was so… well…. perfect! (Except for the last few episodes. Production got lazy, and Brett’s health got worse and passed away in September 1995 :'( ). Even when I watch them now, they do not look like they are 25 years old. I
Brett again as Holmes, and Edward Hardwicke picking up the role of Watson
am picky when it comes to period films and if there is too much 1980s in something that is supposed to be 1880s, then I’m not happy. But this was, as I already said, perfect. A few years later I became a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin. And to my delight, one of Chaplin’s early acting childhood gigs was that of Billy the Pageboy in the Sherlock Holmes play written by William Gillette. There were two men who played Holmes for the play, Gillette and H A Saintsbury, and Chaplin worked with both of them, commenting in “My Autobiography” that he thought Saintsbury was the better Holmes. Many years later when he was making Limelight, he brought on Nigel Bruce to play Mr Postant, largely due to his Watson role. Which is another reason why I have kept the name Calvero for so many years… it connects some of my favorites together :). And speaking of the Holmes/Chaplin crossover, there is the “Sherlock Holmes” movie to be released later this year starring Robert Downey, Jr. who playrf Charlie in the 1992 film “Chaplin”. Loved him in that! And now he’s playing Holmes. While I can’t think of anyone better to play Chaplin than him, it will be real tough to even equal Brett’s Holmes. But he can do a very good British accent (he did a couple different ones in Chaplin). Jude Law has a very very good look for Watson (He also had a small part in the Granada series, “The Disappearance of Lady Carfax”). The trailer looks good: I’ll just have to put Brett’s image to the side when I go to see the new movie.