Sherlock Holmes

Commentaries on film, video and television productions based on the character created by Arthur Conan Doyle:

Sherlock Holmes (1922)
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Director Albert Parker; writer Earle Browne, Marion Fairfax, William Gillette; featuring John Barrymore, Roland Young, Gustav von Seyffertitz, Carol Dempster

Early failed Sherlock Holmes (1929–1933)
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Four films, variably featuring Clive Brook, Reginald Owen, Warburton Gamble, Raymnd Massey, Athole Stewart, Lyn Harding

The Wontner Sherlock Holmes (1931–1937)
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Five films featuring Arthur Wontner, Ian Fleming (1931–32, 1935–1937), Ian Hunter (1932)

The Rathbone Sherlock Holmes (1939–1946)
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Fourteen films featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1954–1955)
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Also called Sherlock Holmes
Television series featuring Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan

The Cushing Sherlock Holmes (1959–1984)
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Sherlock Holmes films and television series, variably featuring Peter Cushing, Andrι Morell, Christopher Lee, Douglas Wilmer, Nigel Stock, John Mills

The Lee Sherlock Holmes (1962-1992)
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Sherlock Holmes films, variably featuring Christopher Lee, Thorley Walters, Patrick Macnee, Morgan Fairchild

A Study in Terror (1965)
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Director James Hill; writer Donald Ford, Derek Ford; featuring John Neville, Donald Houston, Anthony Quayle, Judi Dench

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
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Director Billy Wilder; writer Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond; featuring Robert Stephens, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee, Genevieve Page

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)
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Director Herbert Ross; writer Nicholas Meyer; featuring Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Vennesssa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray

The Sherlock Holmes spoofs (1975–2002)
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Two films and four television movies, variably featuring Gene Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, Marty Feldman, Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Matt Frewer, Kenneth Welsh

Murder by Decree (1979)
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Director Bob Clark; writer John Hopkins; featuring Christopher Plummer, James Mason, Anthony Quayle, John Gielgud, Donald Sutherland, Genevieve Bujold

The Brett Sherlock Holmes (1984–1994)
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Also called The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Television series featuring Jeremy Brett, David Burke (1984–1985), Edward Hardwicke (1986–1994)

The Downey Sherlock Holmes (2009–2011)
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Film series, directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring Robert Downy Jr., Jude Law

Sherlock (2010–2017)
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Television series, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Sherlock Holmes

COMMENTARY | TEXT | MOVIES

Howard and Marion-Crawford

Ronald Howard, left, and Howard Marion-Crawford in the first small-screen rendition of the sleuthing duo

Beyond the golden age

Nostalgic fans consider the 1940s, when Nigel Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were ever-present on film and radio, the golden age of Sherlockian drama. But there have been so many great, more faithful and more interesting adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's detective stories since then that the lustre has gradually faded somewhat from the Rathbone-Bruce era.

Those B-movies may have been cutting edge and thrilling at the time but in retrospect they seem somewhat melodramatic and farfetched.

Sherlock in the living room

With the advent of widespread television viewing in the 1950s, Sherlock Holmes made a surprisingly easy transition to more credible renderings. The way was opened up in part by a well-acted British TV series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which ran in thirty-nine instalments from 1954 to 1955.

Howard as Holmes

Affable Holmes.

Starring as Holmes in these black-and-white, half-hour episodes is Ronald Howard (son of Leslie Howard and unrelated to the later American director of the same name). In his mid-thirties Howard is younger than most Holmeses, which is probably closer to Doyle's character. Howard plays the famous sleuth more affably than many, but he is quite believable and engaging.

Backing him, nearly stealing the show as Watsons often do, is veteran Brit actor Howard Marion-Crawford. His Watson is far from buffoonish as Nigel Bruce's was, but rather he is a competent and knowledgeable aid to Holmes, along with being a stand-in for everyman. You could well imagine him as the painstaking chronicler of Holmes's career.

Both of the leads are sometimes upstaged by Scottish character actor Archie Duncan as probably the best—and funniest—Inspector Lestrade of all.

The series starts with the first meeting of Holmes and Watson, in a manner that is more faithful to the books than any other adaptation I can think of, almost exactly as in Doyle's novel A Study in Scarlet. But the initial episode in which this occurs is called "The Case of the Cunningham Heritage"—which proceeds nothing like A Study in Scarlet and with only passing resemblances to any of Doyle's original stories.

Still it's a promising start and the continuing series does not disappoint. The three dozen or so cases are created anew, adopting only odd bits from the Doyle canon—with only two exceptions that I can tell.

"The Case of the Red Headed League" is a straight adaptation of the story of the same name, though much condensed.

"The Case of the French Interpreter" is also relatively faithful to the original story, apart from changing the titular nationality from Greek. This change may have been inspired by the circumstance that the series was actually shot in France.

Unfortunately, twenty-five minutes for each episode does not allow any complexity of mysteries, but the writing, acting and production in this show make the most of the limited time to bring Sherlock entertainingly to the small screen for the first time.

— Eric

COMMENTARY | TEXT | MOVIES

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Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Series
(1954–55, DVD)
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US Can UK

Related:

Author
Arthur Conan Doyle

Novel
The Adventures of Sherlock Hokmes

Novel
The Hound of the Baskervilles

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The Complete Holmes
Get at Amazon: US UK

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The Hound of the Baskervilles
Get at Amazon: US Can UK