Even though Sherlock Holmes is the character who has become one of the most popular in all of literature, it is impossible to consider Holmes without his trusty companion/sidekick, Dr. Watson. In the earliest days of cinematic adaptations, this apparently was not the case. In the earliest film adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, Watson was given a very minor, or even nonexistent role. But ever since the famous Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce partnership of the 1930s and '40s, the story of Holmes has always included Watson. Sure, Bruce gets some flak theses days about portraying Watson as too bumbling, a comic foil for Rathbone's heroic posturing. Certainly some of Bruce's slapstick comedy is a little difficult to watch for long.
I agree with John Trumbull, who wrote this excellent article on the website entitled Atomic Junk Shop: we owe a debt of gratitude to actors David Burke and Edward Hardwicke, who played Watson to Jeremy Brett's iconic portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. They were really the first actors to successfully break out of the "bumbling sidekick" stereotype that had been made so famous by Nigel Bruce.
Not all actors who have played Watson since Burke and Hardwicke have been quite as adept at defying the old Watson stereotype as these two, but some have: Jude Law, Martin Freeman, and Lucy Liu all spring to mind.
After all, where would the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels be without Watson, our trusty narrator? I think most Holmes fans would agree that the tales that have a third person narrator or Holmes himself as a narrator are quite inferior to most of the stories told by Watson. We see most of Holmes's brilliance and ability through Watson's eyes. Sure, every once in awhile Watson shows a bit too much incredulity at Holmes's deductions. But he generally tells the story with grace and flair. He doesn't even seem to mind Holmes's criticisms most of the time. For example, when Holmes says in The Hound of the Baskervilles, "I am afraid, my dear Watson, that most of your conclusions were erroneous," does Watson take any offense? None that he reports in the narrative. Indeed, Holmes often highly praises Watson's gift for stimulating his own deductive powers. As early as A Study in Scarlet, Holmes made the following statement about Watson: "It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.” High praise, indeed.
A lot has been made in recent Sherlock Holmes adaptations of Holmes's cocaine use, and Watson's role in weaning him off the drug. I think the current stereotype of Holmes as drug-addled coke addict is overused much of the time. But certainly, looking at Watson's criticisms of cocaine use, and considering the general public attitude toward cocaine at the time, Watson's point of view seems to have been unusually progressive and forward thinking. Would Holmes's career have had much longevity if the good doctor had not come into his life? One has to wonder...
This article from sherlockcares.com explores the Holmes/Watson friendship quite a bit more than I have in this post. I highly recommend it. I will leave you with this quote from the article...
Bearing in mind that the reflection we see in the mirror is the opposite of what others see, it has been argued that, in fact, our closest friends are not “another self” but those who complement us, whose strongest qualities are those we lack.
An accurate description of the friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I think.
The I Hear of Sherlock Everywhere podcast just recorded a great interview with Jeremy Latour and Arielle Lipshaw, who have a podcast that I'm absolutely going to check out: "Adapt or Perish," a podcast that examines adaptations of books into movies and TV shows. They covered Holmes adaptations twice: one episode dealing specifically with The Hound of the Baskervilles, and another dealing with Sherlock Holmes portrayals in general. You can listen to IHOSE's interview below.
And here is the "Adapt or Perish" episode that examines 15 different actors who have played Holmes over the past century. Enjoy!
As I've mentioned a couple times lately, I have been spending a lot of time on Hulu lately, trying to catch up on the past six seasons of the CBS drama Elementary. Although there have been some episodes of the series that haven't really worked for me, I have really come to love the series. I'm actually glad that they are wrapping up the series this year with their seventh season. I haven't made it to season 6 yet, but it seems likely they will go out while they're still making quality television, unlike many other shows have done.
While I've been working on watching all of the episodes that I failed to catch when they first aired, I've also been looking up interviews and articles that have to do with the show. I found this article from NBC News's website quite well done. The author (Noah Belatsky) presents the idea that the great strength of Elementary is how it handles the relationship between Holmes and Watson,: specifically, how it departs from Doyle's original writing, which presents Watson merely as a sounding board for Holmes to bounce ideas off of. Here's how the author puts it:
Conan Doyle's original Sherlock Holmes tales centered around a brilliant, singular talent — a person who was not coincidentally white, and not coincidentally male. “Elementary” takes that blueprint and turns it inside out. Rather than one genius, the show is about how different people can work to find the truth together. The real genius of “Elementary” is that, in its quiet, comforting, formulaic way, it refuses to believe in genius. It believes in other people instead.
I found the entire article well worth reading. I hope you enjoy it.
Last week we watched the final season of the excellent Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I got a big kick out of one little line from little Sunny Baudelaire, who has all kinds of toddler-babble one-liners that make pithy comments on the action in the story. Her contributions are always subtitled at the bottom of the screen, to "translate" the toddler's speech. In the series finale, the Baudelaire orphans have the following exchange:
Klaus: He's gone...he left his boots--
Well done, Netflix...
Yesterday, I got busy with various household chores, and completely missed the fact that it was the fifth anniversary of the creation of Baker Street Babble! I've had some ups and downs (including about a year and a half of inactivity), but at the moment the blog seems to be going strong. If you've been reading any of my posts lately, thanks a million! To celebrate, here's a video of one of the earliest experiences I had of a Sherlock Holmes spoof: this snippet of Sesame Street, featuring Ernie and Sherlock Hemlock. (This is the very first appearance of Sherlock Hemlock: I would have seen it in reruns, as it first aired when I was about a year old.)
In my recent exploration of Sherlock Holmes chronologies, I stumbled across another Sherlockian blog called The Norwood Builder. His (is it sexist of me to assume the blogger is male?) blog is quite different from mine: he seems to focus mostly on sharing interesting Holmes quotes and pictures, whereas mine is more focused on sharing my thoughts on various areas of the Sherlockian world. Anyway, I thought this photo montage that showed up there was quite interesting: it seems to come from another Tumblr blog entitled Cloudydayaway. I don't often share posts like this, but I found it so visually interesting, I thought it deserved to be shared. Enjoy!
Last week, I finally got around to watching the film Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as an aged, retired Holmes. The film is based on a novel by Mitch Cullin, entitled A Slight Trick of the Mind, which I hope to read in the near future. The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, which I believe were well deserved. Among the "steampunk" portrayals (Guy Ritchie's films) and the modernized Sherlocks (e.g. Sherlock and Elementary), it was refreshing to see film that gave us a much slower paced and reflective Holmes, a Holmes whose mind is no longer quite as sharp as it once was.
The film is beautifully shot, and the acting is top-notch. McKellen does not disappoint, as usual, but the other actors do an excellent job as well: Laura Linney as Mrs. Munro, and Milo Parker as her son, Roger. The film focuses on the relationships among the three characters, and the actors playing them bring those relationships to life in a wonderfully understated and lifelike way. There are no explosions in this film, no dramatic chases. Rather, the retired Holmes struggles to remember his final case, the one that finally convinced him to leave his chosen profession. As he cares for his bees in Sussex, he forms a new friendship with young Roger Munro, who is familiar with the detective's reputation. Holmes's old friend John Watson is only referred to briefly, and shown only partially in one of the flashbacks that happen throughout the film.
Speaking of Watson, one thing I particularly enjoyed about this film was the manner in which it occasionally poked gentle fun at the good doctor's embellishments of Holmes's talents. There is even a scene wherein Holmes attends a film version of his final case that clearly bears little or no resemblance to the way things actually happened. The film-within-a-film is a fun little takeoff of the classic Rathbone/Bruce adaptations of the '30s and '40s. The contrast between reality and fiction, between what really happened and Holmes' s memories of what happened, is a major theme throughout the movie. What was written, for the Strand Magazine or for a film screenplay, often has little to do with the way Holmes works...or used to work.
If you've become overwhelmed with some of the louder, more bombastic adaptations of Sherlock Holmes that have become the rule over the past several years, Mr. Holmes may serve to "cleanse your palate," as it were. I quite enjoyed the change of pace.
Before I get around to sharing the link promised in the title of this post, I have to comment on the awesome cheesiness of the poster for The Scarlet Claw (above). Floating heads, accompanied by the exclamations "New Thrills!" and "New Terror!" Well, I've seen The Scarlet Claw, and I don't recall it being all that thrilling or terror-filled. Still, it's a good bit of Rathbone/Bruce fun, and it's one of the films on the Top 5 list in this article from Den of Geek!
The publication record of Sherlock Holmes stories and novels is pretty straightforward: A Study in Scarlet appeared in 1887, and the last adventures were published in 1927. But if one begins to dig into the chronology of the stories and characters themselves, the process of determining when various cases occurred in history is more of a thorny problem. Several Sherlockians (I am not one of them) have attempted to construct sensible chronologies of Mr. Holmes's life and adventures over the years. The most famous Holmes chronology is probably the one created by W. S. Baring-Gould for his monumental Annotated Sherlock Holmes. There have been others, of course. I don't intend to list all of them here, but here are a few chronologies that are easily available online. It is fascinating to see the many places where they agree, as well as the places where they diverge.
I was watching a bit of the second Rathbone/Bruce film for 20th Century Fox, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, this morning; the quote below never fails to make me chuckle...
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN. And a longtime fan of Sherlock Holmes.