Category Archives: Sherlock Holmes

The Story Behind The Story: Questionable Minds

As today is the launch date of my first published novel, Questionable Minds (available as an ebook or paperback), my usual Monday political post will go up tomorrow. For now, it’s the story of how I came to write it.IIRC, the original idea for what became Questionable Minds was born sometime in the early 1980s. I’d seen Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery my junior or senior year at Oberlin and much enjoyed his role as the roguish thief organizing the first robbery from a moving train. In his trial, after a judge demands to know what could have led him to violate every principle of law and decency, Connery simply shrugs and says “I wanted the money.”

My initial idea was to take the Connery character (based on a real character in the Michael Crichton nonfiction account of the theft) and have him work for the government — go where the police can’t go, do things the police can’t, that sort of stuff. The initial adventure, prompted by some nonfiction I’d read, would have involved the Hindu Thuggee cult setting up shot in London. In hindsight I’m very glad I never sat down and wrote it as I can’t think of any way it wouldn’t have been racist as shit.

Instead the idea lay fallow in the back of my brain. When it finally resurfaced it had two key differences. First, my poacher-turned-gamekeeper protagonist had become Sir Simon Taggart, baronet, old-money and impeccable pillar of the establishment. Second, the concept that Simon lived in an England where psychic powers — mentalism — worked. My original concept had been intrusion fantasy — supernatural elements intruding into the mundane Victorian world — but my revised idea meant the world was no longer mundane.

What led to the change? I’m not sure, but most likely reading some of my reference books about the Victorian age jump-started my original idea.  The book’s villain became Jack the Ripper, then I threw in Jekyll and Hyde, Helena Blavatsky, and multiple other elements. Plus lots of borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle, being the Holmes fan that I am.

At the time I finished the original draft — late 1990s, I believe — steampunk was still a new concept. I hoped building my book around psi powers rather than tech would make it stand out. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hadn’t come out so me incorporating assorted fictional characters into the book would, I thought, be a plus too. Of course, as some of them were Sherlock Holmes characters (though not Holmes or Watson himself) and they were still under copyright, perhaps it’s good I didn’t sell it, though I imagine the publisher would have red-flagged that.

In any case it didn’t sell. I was particularly frustrated by one publisher who asked for like three chapters at a time, asked for more whenever I prodded them, then finally said no. That stretched the process out waaaay beyond what was reasonable.

Ditto a company who held the book for a long time, then told me, when I checked back, that they’d reserved it for the publisher’s personal review — expect an answer in four months. When six months passed I checked … and checked again … and again … and finally said that having had no answer, I chose to withdraw it from consideration. Late can happen for legit reasons; not responding when prodded is, in my experience, a huge red flag. The publisher’s curious response was that she was sorry we couldn’t reach an agreement — meaning what? They’d sent me an offer and I hadn’t heard back? Or that she and her people couldn’t reach an agreement whether to buy? I’m guessing the latter.

Finally, success! I submitted to an e-book publisher, got accepted and they told me they’d be back in touch by the following summer to discuss edits and possible changes. Summer passed, no contact. I checked back, they were going out of business. They apologized for not notifying me sooner but did return all rights.

I tried a couple more publishers after that without success, but I still believed the book was good (after all, at least one publisher liked it!). So finally, rather than chase after small publishers who probably didn’t have that much to offer me (not a slap at small publishers, honestly. But when the submission package calls for me to submit a marketing plan — well, if I could draw up marketing plans, I can’t see what I’d need them for) I opted to self-publish. I rewrote the book, rewrote again, edited the book and sent the manuscript through Draft2Digital for the ebooks (they’ll be available on Amazon eventually) and Amazon’s Kindle publishing for the paperback. Plus using One World Ink for promotional services. Plus, of course, my friend Samantha Collins who designed the awesome cover.

And now it’s done. Let’s see what happens …

#SFWApro. Copyright on cover is mine, rights remain with me.


Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Story behind the story, Writing

It is the little rift within the lute, that by and by will make the music mute

(title taken from Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Which is to say, small problems can grow into big ones, which explains some of why my weeks feel like suet.

In theory, I take an hour for lunch. That includes walking the dogs (or co-walking if TYG’s available), eating and then reading, relaxing or doing useful around-the-house stuff. This works out fine if lunch hour is 11-12, but due to TYG’s new schedule, we frequently walk the dogs around 10-10:15. I’m not ready for lunch, but instead of relaxing after walkies I just go back to walk, intending to make it up when I sit and eat. Only instead I do the equivalent of eating at your desk — eat (taking my time, I note), then get back to work.(No, that cover has no thematic connection to my post, I’m just fond of it).

The result is that I don’t take much of a lunch break. Then around 2 PM I burn out for the day. This is not unusual: I’ve had the same experience in the past when I keep pushing without a pause. “I’ll get it all done, then break” isn’t as effective for me as regular small breaks. So I need to remind myself to take a full break at lunch, even if it’s chopped up into separate pieces.

That said, the week went well. I finished my rewrite and proofing of Southern Discomfort and read the first chapter to my writing group. The verdict: Starting with Maria’s story and putting it in first person really improved it. They made several other suggestions, such as giving readers her name sooner and making it clearer this is a fantasy; I made those corrections the next day and mailed it off. Wish me luck. Even if it doesn’t sell, it’s a better book for the added work.

I also completed another draft of The Adventure of the Red Leech. I think it’s done, so I’ll print it up next week and go over it in hard copy. That should get me a solid final draft and spot any typos. After that, off to the Holmes anthology I’m submitting to. Plus I once again submitted Fiddler’s Black to the umpteenth market.

And over at Atomic Junkshop, I ponder the appeal of trains and models as kids’ toys. I didn’t get it as a kid, still don’t get it now.

#SFWApro. Cover art by Dick Dillin, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, Time management and goals, Writing

The week that dropped out of time

As far as writing goes, this was a waste of a week.

For starters, I’d forgotten I had my six month medical checkup Monday morning, so there went all that writing time. On the plus side, everything checks out good, so that’s a win.

As TYG wrapped up her last week at her old job (as I mentioned this mornning), the amount of work she put into prepping her team ramped up. So more doggy care and running errands (if they had to be run) devolved to me. Which is fair — she did as much for me when I was wrapping up The Aliens Are Here — but still exhausting. Even when I had time to write, I felt too drained to get much done.

And I had to rewrite one of the Accounting Seed articles I’d done earlier this month. Perfectly reasonable, but that much more time.

I did get a good deal further in rewriting Southern Discomfort, though nowhere near as far as I’d expected. I also rewrote Adventure of the Red Leech and read it to the writer’s group on Tuesday. They really liked it, but did have a couple of suggestions how to improve things. For example, give more of Watson’s perspective on Holmes, which is, of course, a major part of the original stories. They also spotted one point where the logic didn’t hold up, but it’s fixable.

I’d thought I might make up a little time today but we had a thunderstorm this morning so Plushie was freaking. While he hid under the coffee table some of the time (as in this photo from a couple of weeks back), he also decided to climb up with me and demand cuddles for security. Cuddling a 20 pound dog is not compatible with work but obviously I wasn’t going to refuse.

This is how things go pearshaped, of course. A day here, a day there and suddenly everything’s behind. But TYG has started a new and better job and that’s a great thing.

#SFWApro. Cover by Irwin Hasen, all rights remain with current holder.

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Filed under Personal, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Southern Discomfort, The Dog Ate My Homework, Writing

A cover reveal and thoughts on goals

Much to my surprise — they hadn’t told me — McFarland has already picked a cover for The Aliens Are Here. I’m not sure what the illustration is from, because it’s not one of the ones I submitted for the book. But that’s fine, because it looks fabulous and captures the tone better than anything I would have chosen.

This was a good week for writing. I put in a lot of work rewriting Don’t Pay the Merryman (oh, it so needs a better title) and read the first section for the writing group. They loved it; now I just have to get the rest of the story up to that level. Several people said the section would work fine as itself if I strengthen the character arcs, so I’ll think about that option.

I rewrote The Adventure of the Red Leech and finally fixed the plot. Holmes is able to crack the mystery and thwart the killer without having to conveniently have a suitable mystic talisman (the rather hand-wave finish of the original published version). Still needs work, but it’s getting there.

I’ve also considerably reworked the plot of Impossible Takes A Little Longer and I’m pleased with it. No more long stretches of talk without compensating action. I managed to restore a lot of the characters who fell out of the previous draft — Rachel Chang, Darla Jeffries — and I think some of the key turning points are better placed. I shall start the next draft this month, with 25,000 words as the minimum goal. Plus fixing the remaining plot issues later in the book.

I didn’t achieve as much on my writing goals (or others) as I wanted to. I keep setting a goal to be more aware of local politics but I just can’t seem to make time. I did, however, send off another 60 postcards encouraging people around the country to vote (while this isn’t the exact link, you can find opportunities to help out here). I didn’t finish Red Leech or get Don’t Pay the Merryman as far along as I wanted. But the goals were ambitious enough to push me: everything’s progressing, even if it’s not as fast as I’d like. There are times when no matter how much I rewrite a story, I end up not improving. That’s not the case now. So setting the goals is doing the job it’s supposed to.

Oh, and I finished the tax forms. Now it’s just a matter of signing them and mailing them out. Once again I made a mistake in the write-off for our HSA, which upped our taxable income by $5,000. I caught that today, so yay!

Overall, I did complete enough goals to reward myself by buying the second Epic Iron Man Collection, which runs from midway through his time in Tales of Suspense through the launch of his own series (Gene Colan provides the cover).

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.



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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Sherlock Holmes, Short Stories, Story Problems, Time management and goals, Writing

Sherlock Holmes and Shang-Chi: Movies viewed

THE TRIUMPH OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1935) has Arthur Wontner’s Sherlock Holmes (last seen in Sign of Four) retire to the country while Watson (Ian Fleming — no relation) likewise retires from sidekick to spouse. When there’s a murder in the neighborhood, however, Holmes investigates and gets plunged into a good adaptation of Valley of Fear (from which Frank Wiles illustration here is taken). When he realizes Moriarty (Lyn Harding) is entangled in the plot, it becomes another chance to bring his nemesis down.

Wontner’s Holmes lacks Rathbone’s energy and charm but he does have an imposing sense of intelligence and gravitas that made him, justifiably, the definitive Holmes between the silents and Rathbone’s debut. Harding is over-the-top as Moriarty but they do play up his role as a “consulting criminal” parallel to Holmes.

His performance here isn’t consistent with his staying hidden in Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour, but hell, Moriarty dies here and still comes back next film with Watson and Lestrade still refusing to believe he’s a master criminal. Consistency wasn’t a big deal for this series. “The important thing about the case, Lestrade, is that Mr. Douglas liked to exercise in the morning.”

Also known as Murder at the Baskervilles, SILVER BLAZE (1937) has Holmes and Watson revisiting their old friends at Baskerville Manor, twenty years after defeating The Hound of the Baskervilles. Once again there’s a convenient local murder — someone murdered a local jockey and stole the prize horse Silver Blaze — and once again Moriarty’s in the middle of it (this uses some of the great dialogue with Holmes from The Final Problem). Throwing Moriarty in complicates the plot of Doyle’s Silver Blaze and reduces the mystery (we have some idea what’s going down from the moment the Professor is hired) but it’s still a good movie. “That was the curious incident.”

SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021) introduces us to Shang-Chi (Simon Liu), seemingly an ordinary parking valet who spends his time goofing off with BFF Katie (Awkwafina) — until a team of martial artists attacks them to steal Shang-Chi’s pendant and he kicks their butt. Katy learns her buddy is the son of the immortal leader of the Ten Rings, a League of Assassins-type secret society named for the energy-blasting armbands he wears. And for some reason, Daddy’s very interested in a reunion …

I really appreciate that unlike Dr. Strange this didn’t bog down in the origin and training montage, doling it out gradually throughout the movie. And I really appreciate that Katie and Shang aren’t secretly hiding feelings of love for each other and are genuinely just friends. Beyond that the movie is good and entertaining, with some funny line such as when Dad complains about the exploitation of his image in Iron Man III (“The Mandarin? Americans were scared of an orange!”). Ben Kingsley returns as the fake Mandarin and Michelle Yeoh shows up as Shang’s heroic auntie. I spotted a few Easter Eggs and suspect there’d be more if I were more familiar with Shang Chi in the comics. “A guy with a freaking machete for an arm just chopped our bus in half!”

#SFWApro. Cover by Gil Kane, all rights to images remain with current holders.

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A Christmas of Holmes!

My Christmas gift from my friend Ross this year was The Sherlock Holmes Archive Collection, three DVDs of obscure Holmesian material. I’ve been watching the mix of films, short films and TV episodes gradually through the month, waiting until it was all done to make a total review. So here we go, starting with the films.

THE COPPER BEECHES (1912)is an uninspired adaptation with George Treville getting very little chance to show what he can do as Holmes. By focusing on the backstory in this mystery — a villain’s scheme to get his daughter’s inheritance — and leaving Holmes out until midway through, it becomes less a Holmes story than a dull melodrama.

Norwegian Eille Norwood was one of the first actors to be hailed as a Definitive Holmes. THE MAN WITH THE TWISTED LIP (1921) is the first time I’ve seen one of his films, a fairly faithful silent adaptation. Norwood has more screen presence than Treville, but he doesn’t hold up to Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone.

Or for that matter, Arthur Wontner, who launched a series of Holmesian adventures with SHERLOCK HOLMES FATAL HOUR (1931), known when it was made in England as The Sleeping Cardinal. A mix of The Final Problem with The Adventure of the Empty House, it has Holmes’ investigation into the criminal mastermind named Moriarty (“He has a thousand disguises — many men know Moriarty without being aware of it.”) overlaps with Holmes and Watson’s efforts to cure a compulsive gambler of his habit. I can’t help thinking this was influenced by Dr. Mabuse — The Gambler, which likewise involved gambling, cheating, a villain with a hundred faces and communication with his henchman while unseen.

The film, alas is very talky, with some of the scenes running way too long. As I recall, the later Wontner films were better. “Never give way to sudden impulses — they’re more dangerous to you than I am.”

Next, the shorts.  THE LIMEJUICE MYSTERY or WHO SPAT IN GRANDFATHER’S PORRIDGE (1930) is a fairly plotless (and dialog-less) puppet-show short in which Herlock Sholmes investigates a Limehouse riot (the opium den really was ubiquitous in Chinese stereotypes back then) and encounters the puppet Anna Went Wrong (a joke on Anna Mae Wong, a Chinese actor of the day). Barely worth mentioning.

THE STRANGE CASE OF HENNESSY (1933) is a ringer as the detective is “Silo Dance,” a takeoff on W.S. Van Dyne’s Philo Vance, so there’s no Holmes connection. The brief musical comedy about Vance searching for a vanished wealthy man was amusing enough, though. “Make a note of it.”

LOST IN LIMEHOUSE or LADY ESMERELDA’S PREDICAMENT (1933) is a melodrama parody in which lecherous Sir Marmaduke Rakes kidnaps Lady Esmeralda as Step One to forcing her into marriage. Can Sheetluck Jones and a poor but honest suitor save the day? Watching this made me realize I’m familiar with this kind of melodrama almost entirely through parodies like this; pretty funny but the Chinese stereotypes (more opium dens!) and names such as Hoo Flung have not aged well. This was one of several shorts made by the Masquers, a Hollywood actors’ club. “I trow he is an honest youth, for he has an open face that bespeaks a noble soul.”

THE SCREAMING BISHOP (1944) is one I’ve seen before, on PBS’ Matinee At the Bijou series, a cartoon in which HHairlock Holmes and Gotsome investigate the theft of a dinosaur skeleton and discover the zany thief is using the bones to make the world’s largest xylophone. Loony but entertaining. “The best bones of all go to symphony hall!”

And then the TV (not in chronological order). The one I wanted this set for was THE ELGIN HOUR: The Sting of Death an episode adapted from HF Heard’s first novel about retiree-turned-beekeeper “Mr. Mycroft.” Here, Mycroft (Boris Karloff) discovers beekeeper Martyn Greene has bred a deadly strain of killer bees and is feeling the itch to test them on human beings; can he be stopped? Karloff’s not one of the great Holmes but he’s satisfactory. I blogged about this in more detail over at Atomic Junkshop. “I am a man whose loquaciousness makes him a constant martyr to a sore throat.”

THE MAN WHO DISAPPEARED was a British one-off adaptation of The Man With the Twisted Lip. John Longden makes an adequate Holmes but throwing in murder and blackmail on top of the original plot makes this overly complicated. “In your heart of hearts, do you think Neville is alive?”

A CASE OF HYPNOSIS was another one-shot in which master detective Professor Lightskull and his sidekick Twiddle battle a criminal psychiatrist. Forgettable except that it uses chimps in all the roles, with Paul Frees and Daws Butler providing the voices. “It’s not that he saw anything worthwhile through that magnifying glass, I think it just made him feel like a detective.”

YOUR SHOW TIME: Adventure of the Speckled Band does a decent job adapting the story with Alan Napier — later Alfred to Adam West’s Bruce Wayne — as Holmes. “That sir, unless you are a crystal gazer, you shall never know.”

Finally another ringer,  SCHLITZ PLAYHOUSE OF STARS: The General’s Boots. This has Basil Rathbone as an arrogant, officious general flying home from the Far East with former subordinate John Dehner on the same plane. When the plane goes down in the ocean, Rathbone takes charge of rationing the water — or is he really planning to drink it all himself? A good cast, but minor (the series was well-regarded but this episode came from its years of decline). In a type of advertising I’m familiar with, the series’ host waxes prolific about the wonders of drinking Schlitz beer — just as the general set high standards for his men, so Schlitz sets high standards for its brew! “I believe every individual is put on Earth with a purpose, to help with the survival of his species!”

#SFWApro. Illustration by Sidney Paget.


Filed under Movies, Sherlock Holmes, TV

Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and a senator: books

THE BEEKEPER’S APPRENTICE or, On the Segregation of the Queen is the first in Laurie R. King’s long-running Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series. The premise is that when the retired Holmes meets 15-year-old Mary (and their first encounter is quite delightful) he recognizes her as his intellectual match and makes her his protegé (in a later book his wife). After Mary proves herself solving cases with Holmes, then without him, someone with a grudge against Holmes targets her, Watson, and everyone else close to Holmes. Can they figure out Who before Who leaves them dead?

This was a very mixed bag for me. I enjoy the Holmes/Mary relationship (I could have done without making it romantic — matching minds or not, a fifty year old and a teenager?) and the main plot, particularly how the villain plans to destroy Holmes even beyond the murders. However I hate the way King writes Watson as a good-natured duffer; he’s a good deal more than that, and it feels like she’s trying to prove nobody could ever be as good a partner for Holmes as Mary. And the early mysteries aren’t terribly interesting, serving no purpose other to establish Mary has the right stuff. But that may be just the awkwardness of an origin story, so I’ll try this series at least once more.

ARTHURIAN ROMANCES, TALES AND LYRIC POETRY: The Complete Works of Hartmann von Aue collects the works of a medieval German poet I’d never heard of before, though that’s certainly not a reflection on him: his versions of Chretien’s Erec and Iwein are good, and show a deadpan sense of humor at times, like the line from Poor Heinrich, “You would have to have a virgin of marriageable age willing to suffer death for your sake. Now it’s not the usual behavior of people to do this eagerly.” I imagine him delivering that to the audience and everyone laughing.

THE CANING OF CHARLES SUMNER: Honor, Idealism and the Origins of the Civil War by William James Hull Hoffer looks at the once legendary assault by South Carolina politician Preston Brooks on Massachusetts Senator Sumner after the latter’s “Case for Kansas” speech mocked some of South Carolina’s legislators (including one man’s speech impediment) and suggested if South Carolina had never existed that wouldn’t be any great loss. Hoffer does a good job looking at how Sumner’s moral principles and Brooks’ code of honor steered them towards each other (what for Sumner was a moral denunciation of slavery was to Brooks a smear on his beloved motherland) and thereby captured the conflict between North and South in miniature. However the ending chapter chronicling the rest of the incidents that led up to the Civil War wasn’t necessary or relevant; the ending conclusion that by the time of the book (end of the last century) North/South conflict was a thing of the past (we even have military bases named after Confederate generals!) hasn’t aged well.

As I didn’t really care for any of those covers, accept this Gervasio Gallardo cover for illustration:

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Sherlock Holmes: I Never Make Exceptions

Once again I’m getting inspiration for a blog post from the quotes on my Sherlock Holmes mug (available via the Philosopher’s Guild).

Holmes states in The Sign of Four that “I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.” Once again, I think there’s useful advice for writers in that (but also some bad advice).

Most obviously, whatever rules you set up for your fantasy world, you need to follow them. If cold iron cancels magic or kills fae, it has to do so consistently. If your hero lives by an oath of nonviolence or non-killing, he has to stick to it (Superman writers in the Silver Age keep forgetting he doesn’t kill and having him blow up enemy spaceships or the like). If you do make an exception you’d better explain it logically. And you have to make readers care: I have a hard time worrying that someone’s violating rules the writer made up, no matter how impossible the characters say it is.

The same principle applies to mainstream fiction. I read a thriller back in the 1990s which went to great lengths to provide realistic detail on bombs,, their effects and how to disarm them. So at the climax having the protagonist caught when the bomb blows off but turn out to be standing just far enough away it simply lifts her off the grounds and drops her unharmed with tousled hair … it didn’t fit.

Similarly, He’s Just Not That Into You annoyed me by setting up a rule — guy doesn’t chase a girl relentlessly, he’s not interested — but then it breaks its own premise in the various romances.

In marketing, I take the quote two ways, one valid for writing and one not. As countless how-to articles have observed, never assume that your manuscript is so awesome that an editor will ignore that it’s the wrong length/genre/style. Even though some people do break the rules, it’s wise not to assume we can get away with the same.

The not-valid is the insistence I also see in how-to articles that whatever genre you’re writing for, you should mimick what everyone else is writing. As I discuss at the link, that’s not always the best idea and sometimes a bad one.

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They are the Napoleon of the Public Domain, Watson!

All but the last 10 or so Sherlock Holmes stories are now out of copyright, so everything up to that point is public domain .. but not in the eyes of the Conan Doyle Estate. Several years ago they fought public domain on the grounds that the characters weren’t completely fleshed out and developed until the very end of the canon. Ergo, all post-Doyle portrayals of Holmes depend on every single story, so if some of them are still in copyright, all of them are. Even one as early as The Final Problem, illustrated below by Sidney Paget.

They lost on appeal. Judge Richard Posner argued that if the early and later Holmes and Watson are distinct from each other (due to the way the final stories fleshed out the characters) then there’s no issue with riffing on the Holmes of the earlier stories. If they’re not distinct, the later stories don’t add anything. QED.

But copyright holders are often a determined bunch. The estate is now suing Netflix for Enola Holmes and also author Nancy Springer for the books the film was based on. The argument is that Holmes in the film is in touch with his emotions in a way he wasn’t in the earlier tales, and also “he began to respect women.”

I strongly disagree about women. Holmes was always respectful towards them: he might not want one in his life besides Mrs. Hudson (fan canon about Irene Adler aside), but when his clients come to him, he’s courteous, respectful and protective of their interests. I don’t recall him ever condescending to them or not taking their concerns seriously. British writer Kit Whitfield once described him as an older brother for hire, taking care of things a young woman’s brother or father would normally handle for her.

That said, I have no idea how this will play out; I’m guessing Netflix wins, but I wouldn’t put money on it. Time will tell (I just came up with that phrase. I anticipate it going viral). And check out the Passive Voice copyright blog for some technical legal points such as the choice of venue (“PG doesn’t know how busy these New Mexico judges are, but expects none of them wished for a complex copyright lawsuit involving parties from all over the place to land on her/his docket.”)


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Sherlock Holmes’ sister and other women of destiny

Stranger Things’ Millie Bobbie Brown is ENOLA HOLMES (2020), the teenage sister we never knew Sherlock Holmes (Henry Cavill) and Mycroft had. When mom Helena Bonham Carter disappears and Enola’s brothers seem disinterested in investigating, Enola sets out, counting on the training she’s received from Mom — everything from deduction to combat — to get her past any obstacles. She succeeds, of course, and in the process saves a young nobleman who’s been targeted for death. Based on a series of kids’ books by Nancy Springer, this is fun, and Brown is delightful but Cavill is too bland and too laid-back as Sherlock (not to mention he doesn’t smoke!). Mycroft is simply the requisite stuffy relative determined to make Enola conform to gender standards and eventually marry well (I’ve spent more than a few minutes thinking how I’d rewrite the brothers so they’d be more canonical without stealing the spotlight). So a mixed bag for me, but I’m in a minority. “Look for what’s there, not for what you want to be there.”

WHAT’S UP DOC? (1972) is one of those favorite films I’ve rewatched countless times, enjoying Barbra Streisand getting Ryan O’Neal to buy her a radio, Madolyn Kahn counting to five, Kenneth Mars cheating, Sorrell Booke using his charm and Jonathan Hillerman recommending O’Neal not hang out in the hotel lobby. This time I bought the DVD rather than rewatch my old off-air version, so I got to enjoy Peter Bogdanovich’s discussion of the film on the commentary track: Warner Brothers had offered him the chance to do a drama with Streisand but he’d pushed for a screwball comedy instead, though keeping the idea of Streisand as a brainy polymath. After he and two writers developed the initial script, they turned it over to Get Smart co-creator Buck Henry, who considerably complicated the script (instead of three identical travel bags they had four) but for the better. Always a pleasure. “This man is in unauthorized possession of secret government … underwear.”

THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974) is an excellent SF horror film with a Richard Matheson script that wouldn’t have been out of place on the Twilight Zone (except too much talk of sex, I guess). Barbara Eden is thrilled to discover she’s pregnant, but she and husband George Grizzard are less thrilled when it turns out that no, his vasectomy of three years ago did not fail. Eden insists she hasn’t been with another man, and everyone wants to believe her but … And why is she over-salting all her food, drinking literally gallons of coffee and reading everything she can get her hands on? Could it be that the baby is Not What It Seems?

Yep, it’s another alien pregnancy film, with artificial insemination, like Village of the Damned, taking place through an alien ray beam. While the script gets a little repetitious (Eden keeps going to the hospital for an abortion, the fetus keeps stopping her), Eden’s bizarre behavior creates a sense of something truly alien inside her. However once again the rape aspects get hand-waved. David Doyle (playing a hypnotherapist) declares at one point that there’s no reason to assume the aliens aren’t doing something good, as if Eden being impregnated without her consent and then mind-controlled isn’t the teensiest bit objectionable (you’d think her husband, at least, would have made that point). Overall, though, a good film. “I know what you’re thinking — but there is no other man.”

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