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The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Critique • Quotes • Text • Sherlock Holmes at the movies

1922, 1929–1933, 1931–1937, 1939–1946, 1954–1955, 1959–1984, 1962–1992, 1965, 1970, 1975–1988, 1976, 1979, 1984–1994, 2000–2002, 2002, 2009–2011, 2010–2017

Adventures of Sherlock Holmes first editionFirst edition
Publication details ▽ Publication details △

First publication

Literature form
Story collection

Crime, mystery

Writing language

Author's country

Twelve stories, approx. 94,000 words

Caine and Kingsley
Ben Kingsley, left, as Watson and Michael Caine as Holmes have a secret in 1988 film Without a Clue.

Spoofy Sherlocks

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975): Film, 91 minutes; director Gene Wilder; writer Wilder; featuring Wilder, Madeleine Kahn, Marty Feldman, Dom DeLuise, Leo McKern, Douglas Wilmer, Thorley Walters

Without a Clue (1988): Film, 107 minutes; director Thom Eberhardt; writers Larry Strawther, Gary Murphy; featuring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, Jeffrey Jones, Paul Freeman

If an icon hangs around long enough, it draws iconoclasts.

In movies, this means spoofs, spin-offs and alternative reality trips—taking off from the revered stories and characters. Anti-Sherlocks had their heyday in the latter twentieth-century with two films that took the great sleuth—or would-be great sleuths—down a few pegs.

Sherlock Holmes's sillier brother

If you've had enough Sherlockian genius, you might take a break with The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother (1975), a film that veers from hilarity to grimace-inducing silliness and back again several times.

wilder as sigerson holmes
The Wilder Holmes brother.

Gene Wilder wrote, directed and stars as Sigerson Holmes, a heretofore unknown younger brother of the famous sleuth. 

Sigerson is jealous of his older brother Sherlock, whom he calls "Sheer-luck", and considers himself the smarter sibling. (The elder brother  Mycroft goes unmentioned.) His big break, he thinks, will be solving a crime that Sherlock couldn't figure out.

Also starring are comic actors Madeline Kahn, Marty Feldman and Dom DeLuise.

But there are at least two cast connections to the serious Sherlockian tradition: Thorley Walters sends up the Watson role he essayed alongside Christopher Lee in 1962 and Douglas Wilmer appears as Sherlock, reprising his role as Holmes from the first season of a 1960s British TV series.

Nearly stealing the show though is veteran British character actor Leo McKern (of Rumpole fame) as the villainous Moriarty.

So, obviously this flick is nowhere faithful to anything Doyle wrote. It's middling Wilder, with gags that put you on the floor followed by over-the-top antics that make you wince in embarrassment.

And, as this is billed as a musical, the performers break into really dumb song and dance numbers every now and then for no dramatic reasons.

And, dumber me, I enjoy it. So do a lot of other people apparently, as the film has been quite popular.

But enough of this low-level nonsense. And on to to a higher grade of nonsense.

Sherlock Holmes's smarter partner

One of the cleverest sendups of Holmes and Watson starred Ben Kingsley as the great detective, alongside Michael Caine as Sherlock Holmes.

Caine and Kingsley
The brains behind Sherlock Holmes.

Yes, I got that right: the conceit of Without a Clue (1988) is that Doctor Watson (Kingsley) is actually the brains behind the operation.

Watson has hired an alcoholic, down-on-his-luck actor, Reginald Kincaid (Caine), to play the figurehead of Sherlock. But Watson investigates the mysteries himself, telling his fake partner what to say and do, and writes up the cases for The Strand magazine with Holmes as the hero.

Far-fetched but somewhat consistent with Doyle's canon. You can at least imagine this is the real story behind the stories.

Things go somewhat awry when Watson, exasperated with his partner's ineptitude, tries to drop Holmes and create a reputation for himself as a crime-solving doctor (which ironically is close to Doyle's original inspiration for Holmes). The plot thickens and Kincaid/Holmes has to come to Watson's aid—we think.

All right, this gets a bit hackneyed in the second half. But the witty script and masterful actors, who seem to be having a ball even when they're losing their tempers with each other, carry it through.

Terrific secondary roles too, from the small Baker Street Irregulars (who keep picking Holmes's pockets) to Peter Cook appearing briefly as Watson's jaded publisher.

We'd like to see them all again, but this film seems to have been overlooked by the public and, I deduce, the call for a sequel never arose.

— Eric


Critique • Quotes • Text • Sherlock Holmes at the movies

1922, 1929–1933, 1931–1937, 1939–1946, 1954–1955, 1959–1984, 1962–1992, 1965, 1970, 1975–1988, 1976, 1979, 1984–1994, 2000–2002, 2002, 2009–2011, 2010–2017