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

Caine and Kingsley

Ben Kingsley, left, as Watson and Michael Caine as Holmes have a secret in 1988 film.

Sherlock Holmes


Spoofy Sherlocks

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.

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. (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 serious Sherlockian tradition: Thorley Walters sends up the Watson role he essayed with Christopher Lee in 1962 and Douglas Wilmer appears as Sherlock, reprising his role as Holmes in the first season of the 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. The performers even break into really dumb song and dance numbers for no dramatic reasons.

And, dumber me, I enjoy it.

But enough of this 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

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 he 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 the call for a sequel never arose, I suppose.

Sherlock Holmes as smart-aleck

On into the twenty-first century, Sherlockmania shows no signs of letting up. Perhaps even accelerating, with several new franchises launched in the first decade.

But the take-offs also continue,as the first Sherlock Holmes series of the era is another spoof. We think.

It's a series of Canadian TV movies starring the satirical Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) and the esteemed Canadian actor of stage and screen, Kenneth Welsh.

Frewer as Holmes

Holmes spoof or homage?

These are shows that can't decide whether they're serious about Holmes or they're comic sendups. Frewer's Holmes is wrong in so many ways—zany and mean-spirited by turns and with an obviously fake Brit accent—although Welsh makes a believable Watson.

But the production is quite good and some may find Frewer's smart-alecky detective refreshing, as a sort of anti-Brett Holmes.

The series starts in 2000 with (of course) The Hound of the Baskervilles and moves on to adapting another novel, The Sign of Four, in 2001. A Royal Scandal the same year is a very loose and unbelievable adaptation of the story "A Scandal in Bohemia" in which Holmes is up against his feminine nemesis Irene Adler.

In 2002 the series closes with The Case of the Whitechapel Vampire, which you might think is based on "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire". But it is really a new story—probably the low point in a so-so, if offbeat, chapter in the never-ending adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

But it's still not as radical a departure as the new century's next adaptations of the Victorian-era classics.

— Eric