Thursday, 29 September 2016

Memorable versions of Sherlock Holmes

With the announcement of yet a new Sherlock Holmes film, starring Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, which will coexist with Cumberbatch's Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller's Elementary and possibly a third Robert Downey Jr movie, some might think that the world might get an overdose of Arthur Conan Doyle's character (not to mention the recent movie with Ian McKellen). In other terms, who needs Sherlock Holmes vs Frankenstein? The answer is simple: Sherlock Holmes being everywhere is not a recent trend. In fact, Sherlock Holmes NOT being everywhere is just an anomaly that lasted about a decade (roughly, 1999-2009). Otherwise, the character has been seen in countless movies, stage plays, books and comic books, and the thirst for new iterations and variants seems to be inextinguishable.

I won't try to list every film and TV version ever produced, nor will I respect chronological order. I would just like to share which versions affected me most, and are most likely to influence my take on Holmes and Watson (besides, of course, the original stories by Conan Doyle.

As I mentioned earlier, one of my very first contacts with the world of Sherlock Holmes was through Disney's cartoon The Great Mouse Detective. At the same time, TV was also showing the Japanese anime Sherlock Hound, which I also enjoyed a lot. Basil and the Japanese Holmes had the same kind of personality: clever, bold and youthful, with a physical energy propelled by their mental agitation. Both were a good introduction to the "real" Holmes.

Not long after, I discovered Granada's series with Jeremy Brett, which was probably showing for the first time in France. I had recorded The Sign of Four on VHS, and probably watched it hundreds of times. I started reading the books then, and in my mind, Brett was definitely the Sherlock Holmes described in these pages. At 8 years old, I saw the "other" Sign of Four of the 80s, where Holmes was played by Ian Richardson: the actor was definitely appropriate for the part, but the productions he was in didn't stand a chance in front of Granada's.

Other cinematic encounters I had at a young age with Holmes were The Seven-per-cent Solution and the Spielberg production Young Sherlock Holmes. Both were surprising takes on the character, and I found it refreshing that filmmakers could take the liberty of pairing Holmes with Sigmund Freud, or to make up an early encounter with John Watson in high school. I never thought that Nicol Williamson was fit to play Sherlock Holmes, but he did a good job of playing a coke-head detective who falls in love while following a therapy.

When I started watching Hammer movies, I particularly enjoyed The Hound of the Baskervilles with the great Peter Cushing playing the Baker Street sleuth. I think the only complain I had with the film, when I first saw it, was that Holmes was shorter than Henry Baskerville (played by Christopher Lee). I've moved past this detail, especially since I've seen Cushing in other Holmes productions (the BBC series and the TV special Masks of Death): even when the quality was a bit flimsy, he embodied the character perfectly.

I also loved A Study in Terror, where John Neville played Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Jack the Ripper. Probably my favorite non-canonical Holmes movies. There were numerous stories revolving around Holmes investigating the Ripper murders, one of the best in my opinion being Michael Dibdin's novel The Last Sherlock Holmes Story. It was turned into a terrific comic book in 2010. Holmes has the face of Jeremy Brett in this fine piece of work by French authors Olivier Cotte and Jules Stromboni.

Sherlock in New York is a guilty pleasure: the plot is weak and the production values are far from epic, but the casting is extremely entertaining: Roger Moore as Sherlock Holmes (what an odd choice)! Patrick Macnee as Watson! John Huston as Moriarty! Charlotte Rampling as Irene Adler!

The last iteration of the character that really impressed me was Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I wasn't too sure about the idea of moving the stories to our time, but it works perfectly, and the scripts are as enjoyable as the performances. Elementary, on the other hand, did nothing for me, as I felt it was just another American procedural show ala Bones, Mentalist or Castle.

And yes, I love Christopher Lee of course, but I don't think he really fits the part of Holmes, even when paired with a good Watson played by Patrick Macnee.

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