I have often written on Baker Street Babble about some of the more recent portrayals of Holmes: Cumberbatch, Miller, and Downey. And I've spent some time indicating my admiration for Jeremy Brett's Holmes. However, on of my favorite actors to portray Sherlock Holmes was Peter Cushing, who had the distinction of playing the detective in three different decades: the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1980s.
Cushing first played Holmes in the 1959 Hammer Films version of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Despite the film's somewhat sensationalist rendition of The Hound, I find it to be perhaps the best version I've seen. Cushing's Holmes is intense and dashing, with just the right kind of energy and humor for my taste. Reportedly, Cushing was very dedicated to his research of the character of Sherlock Holmes, and was very interested in the details: how Holmes smoked his pipe, how he did his hair, and how he stabbed his correspondence on the mantel with a jack-knife. The Watson to his Holmes in the film is played quite capably by Andre Morell, and we also get the wonderful Christopher Lee as Henry Baskerville. You can get a glimpse of Cushing's performances at the trailer below:
Almost a decade later, Cushing returned to the role of Sherlock Holmes, when he took over the part from Douglas Wilmer for the BBC's 1968 TV series, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes." Wilmer had played Holmes in black-and-white in the 1965 incarnation of the series, with Nigel Stock as his Watson. The 1968 was taped in color, and retained Stock as Watson. The 1968 series was apparently quite popular at the time: Alan Barnes reports in Sherlock Holmes on Screen that The Sign of Four from the series garnered over 15.5 million viewers. Once again, Cushing's portrayal of Holmes is very much on point, and it's a pity that more episodes from the series haven't survived. According to Barnes, the BBC at the time had a policy of wiping tapes of programs that weren't considered significant enough to keep. Still, copies survive of A Study in Scarlet, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Boscombe Valley Mystery, The Sign of Four, and The Blue Carbuncle. You can watch A Study in Scarlet in its entirety on the "Sherls on Film" page here at Baker Street Babble.
Cushing's last hurrah as Sherlock Holmes occurred in 1984 in a made-for-TV film entitled The Masks of Death. By this time, Cushing was 71, and his Holmes no longer has the energy that made his earlier performances so enjoyable. The film works Irene Adler into the plot, though not as a love interest (Cushing was too elderly at this point to make such a plot credible). The film was the last in which Cushing would play a leading role. You can watch the film in its entirety on YouTube (I've embedded it below for your convenience).
Like many people of my generation, my first exposure to Peter Cushing as an actor was seeing him play Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars in 1977. Some of his performances as Sherlock Holmes in the films and TV programs mentioned above are abundant proof of how woefully underused Mr. Cushing had become at that point in his career. Do yourself a favor, and watch Peter Cushing play Conan Doyle's great detective. You won't be sorry.
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.