rusty_armour (rusty_armour) wrote,

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Finding the Positive in Ritchie's Film

In an effort to fight against my depression over the success of a certain film, I've decided to write a post about some of the benefits I've been able to reap from it. The first one that springs to mind is TCM's 24-hour Sherlock Holmes movie marathon. At first, I couldn't figure out why TCM would be holding a Sherlock Holmes marathon on Christmas. Then I remembered that Ritchie's film had just been released, so TCM was probably taking advantage of that. This, in turn, allowed me to take advantage of the marathon and tape six films I hadn't seen before (or, in the case of at least one film, hadn't seen in a very long time). Today, I watched the first four films.

The first film was Sherlock Holmes's Fatal Hour (aka The Sleeping Cardinal), which is from 1931 and stares Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes. I have to admit that my expectations were pretty low for this movie as I saw Murder at the Baskervilles a few years ago and thought it was awful. However, Sherlock Holmes's Fatal Hour was better than I thought it might be. I mean, it was hardly brilliant, but it had a couple of things going for it. While I think Arthur Wontner would have been better suited to play Holmes after he retired, as he was too old for the part IMHO, I like the touches of humour he added. His bond with Mrs. Hudson seemed a little too close for Holmes, but I couldn't help finding it endearing.

The second film in the line up was A Study in Terror, which I had seen several years ago. It was made in 1966 and featured John Neville as Sherlock Holmes battling against Jack the Ripper. Despite having an excellent cast that also included Judi Dench, Anthony Quayle, and Frank Finlay, the movie was pretty cheesy and certainly didn't hold a candle to Murder by Decree (1979), which provided a much better story of Holmes's possible involvement with the Ripper Murders. For one thing, Murder by Decree actually stuck to the facts and didn't invent new ways to kill the Ripper victims. In the same way the Hammer version of The Hound of the Baskervilles tried to add extra chills and thrills by having that tarantula crawl across Henry Baskerville's shoulder, A Study in Terror had one woman die by having a knife shoved through her neck and another die by being shoved in a trough of water and viciously stabbed. If these weren't supposed to be Jack the Ripper murders, it wouldn't have bothered me. Well, despite a rather weak script, I quite liked John Neville as Holmes and it was great to see Anthony Quayle and Frank Finlay appear in this film and then return again in Murder by Decree. In fact, Frank Finlay played Inspector Lestrade in both Ripper movies!

Although I knew it wouldn't be a great, I taped The Spider Woman out of sheer curiousity. It was one of the Rathbone films I hadn't seen and I wondered if this female Moriarty would measure up considering that the Spider Woman character was so popular that she was later given her own film. Not surprisingly, The Spider Woman was pretty bad. At one point, Holmes darkens his face and disguises himself as Rahjni Singh, an Indian officer, which made me cringe. What was worse was the white actor dressed up as a Pygmy. Adrea Spedding was fun as a so-called female Moriarty, but I've seen more impressive female villains in the Rathbone films. I did get a kick out of the plot elements that were worked into the film from "The Speckled Band" and The Sign of Four, and I found it moving that Mrs. Hudson couldn't stop weeping when she thought Holmes was dead, and Watson told Lestrade that he could choose one of Holmes's pipes (which Holmes lets Lestrade keep when he returns from the dead).

I got the most enjoyment out of The Pearl of Death, which was very loosely based on "The Six Napoleons" and had a female villain (Naomi Drake) that adopted a total of four disguises. Okay, it was kind of on the cheesy side too, but I thought the plot held together a little better. I think I may even purchase this film on DVD at some point. It's certainly better than a couple of the other Rathbone films I already own. *g*

The last two films on the list are Pursuit to Algiers and The House of Fear. I'm pretty sure I haven't seen Pursuit to Algiers, though I believe I saw The House of Fear when I was in my early teens. I predict that The House of Fear will hold up better than Pursuit to Algiers, but I'm sure both will have their moments.

I doubt anyone is still reading this (if anyone began reading this in the first place), but another benefit of the Ritchie film is book and DVD merchandising. I'm sure it isn't a coincidence that Titan Books has created a new line of Sherlock Holmes books ("The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes") in the same year the Ritchie film was released. While I was staying at my parents over Christmas, I devoured David Stuart Davies' The Veiled Detective, which was originally published in 2004. This novel is rather dark but very clever. I'm really looking forward to reading more pastiches from Titan. Amazon (in its usual helpful manner) sent me a recommendation email for The Madness of Sherlock Holmes, which is a documentary on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the characters he created -- most notably Sherlock Holmes. I'm sure the timing of this documentary isn't a coincidence, just as I'm sure it's something I'll probably have to order. *g*
Tags: sherlock holmes
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