And now I flaunt my superior knowledge

I thoroughly enjoyed the first episode of PBS’ new Sherlock Holmes series, A Study in Pink. It has several clever references to the original story, and solid performances, though Holmes comes off a little too likeable for everyone to keep insisting that he’s a cold, heartless bastard (Jeremy Brett’s Holmes is the only Holmes I can think of who’s really conveyed some of that).
And then I wondered if people weren’t sitting and gasping at the idea of a modern-day Holmes when it’s actually something that’s been tried multiple times. So purely because I can, here’s a look at past modernizations.
•Pre-Basil Rathbone, Holmes was treated the way Doyle wrote him, as a contemporary character. Doyle took him up to the eve of the Great War in His Last Bow; the silents and the early talkies continued presenting Holmes as carrying on into the 1920s and then the 1930s (one film, Murder at the Baskervilles, has him meet up with the next generation of the family).
Then came Rathbone and Nigel Bruce (the most thick-headed Watson ever) in Hound of the Baskervilles and Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which presented the great detective as a period piece for the first time. And everyone agreed that was the way to go. Except—
•The film series then jumped from 20th Century Fox to Universal, which decided they could sell more tickets if they jumped it back into a very contemporary setting—World War II! So in Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, Holmes battles the title propagandist, who diabolically predicts Nazi attacks that then come to pass, proving Britain’s helplessness (need I say that with Holmes on the case, the Voice of Terror is soon rendered mute?).
The decision to immerse Holmes in current events was not critically applauded and after the third Universal film, Sherlock Holmes in Washington, they toned down that aspect—they were still contemporary, but involved with more conventional murders and schemes.
•After the Rathbone film wrapped up, Holmes stuck securely to the Victorian era until 1971, when They Might Be Giants gave us George C. Scott as a delusional modern-day man convinced that he’s Holmes and enlisting psychiatrist Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward) in his quest for Moriarty.
•In 1976, Larry Hagman—then between I Dream of Jeannie and Dallas—played a motorcycle cop in an unsuccessful TV-movie/series pilot who gets hit on the head, becomes convinced he’s Sherlock Holmes and begins crimesolving with the help of Dr. Watson (a social worker this time) in Return of the World’s Greatest Detective.
•1987’s Return of Sherlock Holmes has Watson’s descendant, a detective herself, discover Holmes preserved in suspended animation, thaws him out and presto! Holmes is at work solving cases in the present—although since this pilot wasn’t picked up either, he only got the one.
•1993’s 1994 Baker Street also had Holmes thawed out of suspended animation and teamed up with a doctor (amazingly, not named Watson). This was an outstanding one, deftly balancing Holmes’ brilliance with his inability to make sense of the 20th century, but it didn’t go to series either.
•1999 took us even further than the present in Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century, a good animated series in which Holmes is revived from suspended animation (preserved in royal jelly) by Lestrade’s butt-kicking female detective, paired with an android Watson and resuming his practice (the same concept was tried as a spinoff of the animated Bravestar in 1988, without success).
•And while it’s not Holmes in name, 1998’s The Zero Effect is a fairly straightforward updating of A Case of Identity; Bill Pullman plays the brilliant but unbearably eccentric detective, Ben Stiller is his long-suffering sidekick; together they investigate the beautiful woman blackmailing wealthy Ryan O’Neal and Pullman falls in love with her.
And that covers it. Feel free to toss off the movie names and impress your friends.


Filed under Comics, Movies, Reading, Sherlock Holmes

5 responses to “And now I flaunt my superior knowledge

  1. Pingback: Modernizing the classics « Fraser Sherman’s Blog

  2. Pingback: Movies, TV and Books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: A whole lot of Watsons (and Holmeses): A Study in Charlotte | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  4. Pingback: Be he never so humble, there’s no place like Holmes | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  5. Pingback: What is the point of Sherlock Holmes? ⋆ Atomic Junk Shop

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