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The View from the East End (45)

By Inspector Hopkins

August 13 , 2006

“The Many Facets of Sherlockiana”

Part 12:  Sherlock Holmes in the Movies

 by Inspector Hopkins 

Although I almost never go to the movies, no series of articles about Sherlockiana would be complete without at least some mention of the many appearances that Sherlock Holmes has made in films and on the stage over the years.

This is an interesting field of discussion, and is certainly worthy of the “Facet” moniker because one could study this topic for quite some time. And although there is no dearth of written material on it, the newer Sherlockian might want to at least obtain a copy of “The Pictorial History of Sherlock Holmes” by Michael Pointer.

This is an attractive book whose title really says it all. I picked up my copy at a book sale some time ago now and enjoy flipping through it now and then.  It is a nice, hardbound volume just perfect for lying around on a coffee table. As Bob Byrne jokingly says, it really “stands out” in his Sherlockian book collection because it is a generous 15” x 11” size.

Divided into six chapters, Pointer’s book outlines Sherlock Holmes portrayals on the stage, in movies, and on television in chapters 2, 3 and 4 respectively. The book opens with a general history of Sherlock Holmes in the first chapter, and concludes with an examination of some of the more humorous and stereotypical portrayals of the Master in chapters 5 and 6.  Altogether it is a whopping 160 pages of fascinating photographs, sketches, movie stills, advertisements, and commentary that any Sherlockian would find interesting.

I personally like the larger format of this book because it allows for much greater detail in some of the individual photographs that are commonly seen.  For example, on page 10, the famous “Beeton’s Christmas Annual” magazine cover which introduced Sherlock Holmes in “A Study in Scarlet” is illustrated.  I hadn’t noticed it before, but due to the book’s larger size, the original one shilling price of this magazine is easily seen.  Likewise, other Sherlockian photos that I had seen previously are artfully arranged.

I was impressed by the large number of actors who have portrayed Sherlock Holmes over the decades. Of course, I had heard of and read about such famous actors as William Gillette who first portrayed Holmes on the stage. And even as a newer Sherlockian, I was certainly aware of the famous partnership of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. But as I flipped through the pages I was very surprised to learn that Michael Caine (p.123), Roger Moore (p.99) and even Leonard Nimoy (p.39) have all taken a turn at portraying the world’s greatest consulting detective.

Having all these fabulous photographs all in one convenient place is particularly enjoyable, and allows the opportunity to decide (or re-decide as the case may be) which actors fit the best mental pictures that we have each have of Holmes and Watson. In my own case, I can never read the Canon without picturing Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke in my mind.  I just can’t. They are my absolute favourites.

But wait . . . actually Rathbone and Bruce do look pretty good on page 63 and on page 65.  And, lets’s see . . . hmmm . . . on page 57 there’s a really great full face photo of Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes. And I guess Christopher Lee doesn’t look too bad as Holmes either . . .

And, umm . . . well, I suppose it’s easier to eliminate photos that don’t fit one’s mental images, isn’t it?

Until next time, and hoping you can find your own copy of this great book, I am as always,

Yours faithfully,