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, André 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

MOVIE COMMENTARY

Downey and Law

Jude Law's Watson, left, and Robert Downey Jr.'s Holmes are action heroes in twenty-first century movies.

Steampunk Sherlock

Some purists would include the next Holmes outings, the recent big-budget Holmes movies, in the category of comedies or parodies.

But they would be missing the point.

Every generation gets to reinvent the world's most famous sleuth and there's no reason why today's should have to be content with the pinnacle reached by Jeremy Brett for the boomer generation and by Basil Rathbone for their grandparents.

Yes, Sherlock Holmes (2009) turns our cerebral duo into a pair of action heroes in a buddy film. Or, more precisely, it takes a tip from the current steampunk craze and places heroes with a modern sensibility in the techno-mechanical Victorian era.

Sure, Jude Law is too young to play the veteran doctor of previous Sherlock Holmes films (though not necessarily the Watson of the books who is probably in his mid-thirties).

Downey and Law

Holmes as Robert Downey (2009)

And Robert Downey Jr. as Sherlock is too...well, too Robert Downey Jr. Intensely hedonistic, drugged out, and irreverent.

But, dammit, they're both interesting in their own ways.

It may be an action flick but it's a pretty good action flick. Better than most, in that its CGI tricked-out action scenes may stretch the imagination but never completely defy physics—or credibility.

And—such a relief—any seemingly paranormal elements introduced are rationally exposed by our scientifically minded detective., taking a tip perhaps from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Director Guy Ritchie pulls off something of a miracle, applying all his dynamic cinematic storytelling smarts (as previously seen in RocknRolla, Snatch, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrrels) to the Doyle characters, and making it work for both those who venerate the canon and those who had never previously laid eyes on it.

Some core values of the original vision are upheld. The complementary comradeship of the two leads. Holmes's exasperating but exhilarating genius. The simultaneous spiting and embracing of social norms. The dingy, Victorian-era setting. And the love of mysteries for the solving of them.

Sherlockians may complain that "the woman", Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams), is too amorously cozy with Holmes and that the whole plot of Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) coming back from the dead as a sort of Dracula figure to take over the British empire is way over the top for an Arthur Conan Doyle story.

And they'd be right. We Holmes fans win some and lose some in this massive rebooting of the franchise. (Just as Trekkies did with the same year's Star Trek relaunch).

But after all the brilliant Sherlock Holmes portrayals of the twentieth century, there was really nothing more to be added in that vein, and this latest Sherlock Holmes can re-energize the myth for the twenty-first. It must connect with a large number of people as it's certainly been huge at the box office. And for those of us who still read or who can still stand to watch a film in black and white, well, we have all those classic stories and videos to enjoy. No one can take those away from us.

So it was nice to get a sequel to this new Sherlock Holmes, which was shaping up to become a memorable series of films.

Not everyone, however, thought the second film lived up to its promise. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011) is seen by some as a retreading—albeit a popular one—of the first film. An equal number, however, enjoy it as building on the first.

For one thing, the purportedly supernatural elements are jettisoned. For another, the plot touches on points from the Arthur Conan Doyle works, namely "The Final Problem" in which Holmes famously disappears down the Reichenbach Falls. It's fun trying to find the connections in such a vastly different narrative.

McAdams's Irene Adler is dispensed with disappointingly quickly. But Holmes and Law spend much of the time fighting the two criminal geniuses of the Doyle stories: respectively, Professor Moriarty and Sebastian Moran. The battle takes them across Europe and into the world of international diplomacy—for the villains are apparently aiming to instigate a world war from which they may profit.

Again there are lots of special effects that never get in the way of the story but help tell it. And lots of mechanical technology, though perhaps not as much as in the first film. This outing seems more focused on the key relationships, namely that between Holmes and Watson and that between Holmes and Moriarty.

A third film in the series was expected a few years after the second, but as of this writing (five years later) we're still waiting.

— Eric

MOVIE COMMENTARY

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Sherlock Holmes
(2009, DVD)
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Related pages:

Author
Arthur Conan Doyle

Novel
The Adventures of Sherlock Hokmes

Novel
The Hound of the Baskervilles

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Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
(2011, DVD)
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The Complete Holmes
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US UK

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