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.
In my last (regular) post, I talked about the official video for “Discombobulate”, the main theme for the recent Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr. (Hans was robbed of an Oscar! Shame on the Academy!!)
One thing I have become a fan of are fan-made music videos. To keep in line with my last couple posts, I list below some of my favorite Holmes related ones:
Sherlock Holmes Symphony
First up is a great medley of Holmes from various films, TV, and animation (even some anime!) done to The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. Opens with scene from CSI’s “Who Shot Sherlock?” episode (which happened to air on what would have been, if he existed, Sherlock’s 150th birthday), along with scenes (not listed in order) from Jeremy Brett (but of course!), Star Trek: The Next Genereation (loved the “Elementary, My Dear Data” episode!), The Simpsons, Daffy Duck & Porky Pig, Michael Pennington (from the very enjoyable TV movie “Return of Sherlock Holmes” where Holmes wakes up in 1980s England by Watson’s great granddaughter), Peter Cushing, Ronald Howard (an overlooked actor. Played the Great Sleuth back in the 50s on TV. Minus having blond hair, he made a great Holmes!) Basil Rathbone (another “but of course!”), shot of Laurel & Hardy wearing deerstalkers, Buster Keaton (from his masterpiece “Sherlock Jr”), and many others.
Last night I found this great video. From the title I was afraid it was going to be another slash vid, but it turned to be really really good. I watched it numerous times in a row, even getting a little choked up. Stars fast clips from the Granada series with Jeremy Brett, David Burke, and Edward Hardwicke. And with a sweet ending! The song is “Read my Mind” by The Killers. Great video on a greater friendship:
Sherlock Holmes, “Tubthumping”
Next is a very good vid taken from scenes of the Robert Downey Jr. movie. What makes this vid really interesting is that it was made before the DVD/Blu-Ray release. Clips were taken from already released scenes on the ‘net and trailers. Song is the 90s hit “TubThumping” by Chumbawamba:
Sherlock Holmes Featurette (Brett & Downey Jr>
This one combines both Brett’s and Downey’s Holmes with the song “All the Strange Strange Creatures” from the new Doctor Who series (season 3). One of the best songs from the new series (IMHO, of course). Anyway, it’s a very good combination! I’ll later post my favorite Doctor Who fan vids.
Sherlock Holmes video – Rocky Road to Dublin
And in honor of today being St. Patrick’s Day, below is also from the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. “Rocky Road to Dublin” by the Dubliners. While the song was in the movie, it’s not on the soundtrack 🙁 (whose brilliant idea was that?)
As I mentioned in my review for Sherlock Holmes, I loved the soundtrack. LOVED IT! Hans Zimmer is a genius! And a week ago an official music was released:
Starring the composer, Hans Zimmer, along with Guy Ritchie, Robert Downey Jr (doing crazy antics. DANCE!…. but no Jude Law! Bummer!), Davey Johnstone (banjo), Anne-Marie Calhoun (violin), Tina Guo (cello), Lorne Balfe (co-wrote music), Aleksey Igudesman (another violin… the dude on the elephant), Satnam Singh Ramgotra (guy with full beard and the stand up big wide drum) Diego Stacco (crazy but awesome looking & sounding violin/viola/cello instrument), Atli Örvarsson, Bob Badami (don’t know exactly which one they are…maybe on the boat? or drumsticks?).
“Hans asked the musicians who participated on the soundtrack to video themselves, wherever they are in order to make this little video. Aleksey happened to be on an elephant in Thailand…”
What the video also pointed out to me was the different nationalities: British, German, Russian, American, Italian, Canadian…
Another thing I noticed: this is one of the few videos for a soundtrack where there are absolutely no clips of the film, just the cover for the CD.
And this weekend are the Oscars, and I sure hope that the soundtrack wins for best score. It should!
DVD/BluRay to be released….
According to Amazon, the movie is to be released later this month, March 30. The BluRay is where a lot of the extra features are at… bummer. I am hoping to get a digital copy so I can put it on my Creative Zen 🙂
I wasn’t sure on what to expect from the movie. I’ve been a Sherlockian for over 20 years. I was excited. It was the first Holmes movie in more than 20 years. I had my doubts about Downey. Not in his acting however or that he was not British. One of the big complaints from some Holmes fans about Downey was the fact that he was not British. Having seen him numerous times in Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin was British) where he had to learn 2-3 different accents to cover different eras of Chaplin’s life, I knew he could handle that.
Jude Law looked excellent as Watson, and from the trailers he seemed good, but I was going to hold off final opinion until I saw them in action.
I also had never seen a Guy Ritchie movie before. Other than having violence in his work, I really didn’t know what form he would take Holmes.
I went to the theater the day after Christmas. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and a lot of people were outside. I stood in one of the two lines. And as I stood there, I listened to what people were getting tickets to see. Most were for Holmes shich made me smile and also made me nervous. What it gets sold out before it was my turn?
“Sorry, it was just sold out. The last ticket was to the person right in front of you”
But I held my breath and waited.
“Three for Sherlock Holmes. Five for Sherlock Holmes. Two for Sherlock Holmes…”
After serveral people on both sides getting Holmes tickets, it was my turn.
“One for Sherlock Holmes”
After the poor guy had to type in my number because the card was worn, which also added a little tension thinking that it would sell out, he gave me the little ticket to sign, then handed me the movie ticket and receipt ticket. I smiled and headed in.
I gave it to the guy inside who was talking to a couple of the other patrons about how he was having trouble saying awake while working.
I walked in the room where it was playing. Packed! I looked around for a place to sit. Down…Down…Down the aisle I went. Finally I settled in the middle of the third row. They were playing one of those commercials for Coca-Cola and Walmart with the young guy going through a party, singing. I looked around. There were young teens, older couples, and people my age or thereabouts.
Good size crowd. Very good size.
Trailers started. First one showed Robert Downey Jr sitting in a crowded courtroom. It was a trailer for Iron Man 2. After a few other trailers, the cobble streets of London filled the screen…
I was afraid I wouldn’t like Downey as Holmes, mainly due the physical differences. It doesn’t seem right that Holmes is shorter than Watson. And the hair didn’t seem right either. While I watched the trailers and see Downey, I mainly saw Downey play Holmes… I didn’t see Holmes. And I was afraid that would be too distracting. So I decided I would go in based on the other factors, his acting (wasn’t too worried about that) and how he sounded.While it was a little distracting in looks, I quickly was able to put that aside and enjoy the film. His accent was very good. He sounded like I expected Holmes to sound. I liked how he talked his way on how to attack an opponent and the result of hitting/ kicking would do to the poor soul he was fighting. His meeting with Watson’s fiance Mary (one of the actual characters from the original stories, first in Sign of Four). She insists that Holmes give deductions about her, all the while Watson is trying to talk her out of it. Holmes goes through a rapid fire list of things about her, resulting in her throwing her drink in his face (I don’t think Holmes saw that coming 😉 ).
Other deductions were also great such as when Holmes has a bag placed over his head so he couldn’t see where some men were taking him. When the bag is removed after arriving in a chair in a secret location, the host doesn’t expect Holmes to know where they are at or who the host is. Holmes then goes through a list of smells, sounds, turns of the carriage that he observed while riding in the carriage and gives the location of where they are and who the gentleman is.
Also I liked how the film showed Holmes’ lack of socializing and “absurd” (to society anyway) way of living. which Watson hits Holmes with while being held in a pen.
Also interesting brief look into why Holmes does not socialize much during the scene with him in the resturant and the sounds and appearances of people get to him for a brief moment as he tries to block it out.
Big arguments about the fighting scene with people saying that Holmes didn’t fight. While he did not fight a lot, he certainly knew how to and was familiar with martial arts and how to wield a cane. The picture on the left is from “Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”, published in 1904.
Ultimate was at the end where Holmes explains how everything happened (though I’ll let you find out what Holmes discovered.)
Things like that gave me a thumbs up for Downey (though Jeremy Brett is still my favorite Holmes).
And now Jude Law as John Watson. The guy was good. So, so good! The look, the way he talked. One hundred percent believable. Unlike Downey, when I looked at Watson, I saw Watson, I didn’t see Law playing Watson. I put him right up there with David Burke and Edward Hardwicke as great. Just like the Watson in the stories, he is faithful to his unusual friend but also brutally honest when there’s something that he does not agree with him about.
Rachael McAdams was good as Irene Adler, though I must say I am sick and tired of people putting a romantic spin between her and Holmes. Though credit goes to the film for showing Holmes not totally interested in her romantically. And yes, Adler is American (I’ve read some grumblings about that). She is another character from the original canon, A Scandal in Bohemia (one of my favorite Holmes stories) which was the first Holmes short story. And yes, she outsmarts Holmes in that. But there was no hanky-panky with them in there.
Mark Strong was good, though a bit of the stereotypical bad guy. In parts he kind of reminded me of Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs.
And hooray for them putting Inspector Lestrade in it, played by Eddie Marsan. I was wondering if he was going to be in it, and also how his name would be pronounced. Marsan didn’t look rat faced enough so I still will mark down Colin Jeavons as best Lestrade (from the Brett/Burke/Hardwicke series). And the name is pronounced the same in this film as it was in the Rathbone films, with a short “a”. When I originally read the stories, I read it with a long “a”, like in” trade”.
The minute I found out that Hans Zimmer wrote the soundtrack, I knew I would like it. Turns out that not only the main theme is great, but the whole thing is good! Love the sound of a broken piano, it added a new fresh sound to Holmes. While listening to it at home, I looked through a bunch of pictures of Rathbone/Bruce and Brett/Burke/Hardwicke, the music still fit. Thumbs up for Zimmer (again)! I am listening to it repeatedly as I am writing this review. Click hear to have a listen from the movie official site. Just let it play and you can listen to the whole thing. If press the triangles, it’ll just play samples. Here’s a great article from the London Times about how Zimmer created the unique sounds: “Hans Zimmer: ‘The sound of Sherlock Holmes? It’s a broken piano'”
I had the theme song stuck in my head a couple hours after the movie, my mind a whirl wind of positive things things to say about the film. I was smiling throughout the whole thing, totally taking up in what was going on, and trying to figure out the little mysteries as they came up. And with all the positive things I’ve see in tweets and reviews, looks like there will be more interest in the great detective, which, for a long time fan, is always a good thing 🙂
(Holmes pointing his violin bow at Watson) Watson: Get that thing out of my face Holmes: It’s not in your face, it’s in my hand. Watson: Get that thing that’s in your hand out of my face.
Scenes with the Big Guy that Holmes fights twice, and they talk French to each other. Ha! Very good! A Indiana Jones moment at the shipyard when Holmes throws a small hammer at him and it just bounces off. Reminds me of when Indy fought that big Nazi by the fighter plane in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
———————– Holmes: Save your bullets Watson.
(a few seconds later they both fire their guns, Holmes doing most of the shooting) Watson: What was that about saving bullets?
Holmes trying to unlock a door. Watson comes up and kicks the door in.
Not a deerstalker/curved shape pipe/”Elementary my dear Watson” in sight! Yay!
There were a few of classic Holmes sayings. Two that I remember:
“Data, data, data. I can not make bricks without clay”
“”It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
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.