Sherlock Holmes

Novels and stories,
Movies (and TV series)
Sherlock Holmes (1922)

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)

Four films, variably featuring Clive Brook, Reginald Owen, Warburton Gamble, Raymnd Massey, Athole Stewart, Lyn Harding

The Wontner Sherlock Holmes (1931–1937)

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

The Rathbone Sherlock Holmes (1939–1946)

Fourteen films featuring Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1954–1955)

Also called Sherlock Holmes
Television series featuring Ronald Howard, Howard Marion-Crawford, Archie Duncan

Sherlock Holmes (1959–1984)

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)

Sherlock Holmes films, variably featuring Christopher Lee, Thorley Walters, Patrick Macnee, Morgan Fairchild

A Study in Terror (1965)

Director James Hill; writer Donald Ford, Derek Ford; featuring John Neville, Donald Houston, Anthony Quayle, Judi Dench

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

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)

Director Herbert Ross; writer Nicholas Meyer; featuring Nicol Williamson, Robert Duvall, Alan Arkin, Vanessa Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, Charles Gray

The Sherlock Holmes spoofs (1975–2002)

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)

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)

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)

Film series, directed by Guy Ritchie, featuring Robert Downy Jr., Jude Law

Sherlock (2010–2017)

Television series, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch, Martin Freeman

Neville and Huston

John Neville's Holmes, right, is unlovable but appreciated, supported by Donald Huston's Watson.

Sherlock Holmes


Sherlock and the Ripper

The 1960s squeezed in yet another Holmes, this film a one-off starring yet another classically trained actor.

A Study in Terror (1965) may be the best Sherlock Holmes film to usually be overlooked. John Neville's interpretation is seldom mentioned in the comparisons of Rathbone, Cushing, Lee, Brett et al. But the neglect is undeserved, as both the movie and the actor make interesting contributions to Holmes filmography.

John Neville in later years became better known for a five-year stint as artistic director of Canada's Stratford Shakespearean Festival, for a star turn in Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, and for a recurring part as The Well-Manicured Man in The X-Files television show.

Thelatter role is most appropriate for our discussion here because, even as a younger man of about 40 years, Neville made for a rather fastidious Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Terror. Something about the actor, no matter how he tries to charm, is too neat, too cool, too delicate for us to really latch on to.

Neville as Holmes

Neville's a neat Holmes.

But, if you don't need to love Holmes, Neville is very good. So good that he was afterward offered the lead in BBC's Sherlock Holmes series to replace Douglas Wilmer, though he was unable to take the role, which eventually went to Peter Cushing—whom he resembles in both physiognomy and his less-is-more acting style.

He's surrounded here by a top-rate British cast, including Donald Houston blustering about as Watson, Anthony Quayle at his most dramatic as a crusading doctor, and Judi Dench as the ingιnue, decades before she became the revered Dame.

I usually disdain movie scripts that have fictional characters dealing with real historical figures. In putting Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper, the writers seem to be suggesting the consulting detective's fictional cases are not sensational enough—to draw viewers they need to bring in one of the most notorious and gruesome murderers in history.

What's next, having Sherlock go up against Hitler? Oh, wait, he already did that in several of Rathbone's films.

But the fears of sensationalism, encouraged by the cheesy title (which also echoes Rathbone films) are unfounded. The plot of A Study in Terror is cleverly contrived and seriously acted.

It's also photographed in brilliant, bright colour, something new for Holmes sagas in the long form.

Still the film may be most noteworthy for launching what has almost become a subgenre: the bringing together in books and movies of those two icons of the Victorian era, Sherlock and Jack. Novels in this category include Exit Sherlock Holmes (1977) by Robert Lee Hall and Michael Dibdin's The Last Sherlock Holmes Story (1979). Later video presentations featuring the Ripper case (which Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote about) include the Sherlockian film Murder by Decree (1979), the movie From Hell (2001) with a deducing and drug-addicted detective obviously based on Holmes, and several television episodes, as well as even a video game.

At this writing, A Study in Terror is not available on DVD, though it does occasionally show up on classic television channels.

Update: In 2011 the newly remastered film has been released on DVD, albeit with a ridiculously garish cover that seems to parody its 1960s origins. It is hoped viewers get past the silly artwork to rediscover the gem within.

— Eric