"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" seems to be a favorite with many readers, despite its many obvious plot holes (snakes don't drink milk or climb ropes, for example). Holmes's cool head in the face of the belligerent Grimesby Roylott's threats and the middle-of-the-night stakeout waiting for "the speckled band" to arrive are fairly dramatic and entertaining scenes, and the gothic horror of Mr. Roylott's messy end is rather gripping.
The Granada adaptation is quite well done, and it adheres very closely to the outline of its source material. There are a few changes that the viewer will notice in comparison to the original story. A few examples:
As I mentioned above, the nasty confrontation with Mr. Roylott at the Baker Street flat is one of the more enjoyable scenes in the original story, and the adaptation in the TV episode does not disappoint! The little twitchy half-grins that Jeremy Brett flashes, as the angry Grimesby delivers his monologue, are absolutely priceless. Brett's gleeful laugh in the face of the verbal onslaught is the cherry on top of the sundae. And, of course, the lovely moment when Holmes bends the poker back into shape is delightful as well.
Just a bit later in the episode, when Holmes and Watson meet up with Helen Stoner again, the writers add a funny little moment in which Watson, clearly still very impressed with his friend's handling of Mr. Roylott's bullying manners, tells Miss Stoner that "Holmes sent him off with a flea in his ear!" I'm not 100% sure what that phrase actually means, but it made me chuckle. David Burke's excellent portrayal of the faithful sidekick never ceases to impress me.
Before Holmes and Watson encounter the deadly snake face-to-face, there is an intense monologue from Jeremy Brett that is very effective in setting up the scene to come, as he meditates aloud on the dangerous nature of the evil Grimesby Roylott, a doctor gone wrong. The monologue is very nearly word-for-word from Doyle's orginal:
When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper...
My only real quibble with this particular adaptation is the scene that comes after Mr. Roylott meets his demise. After the horror of the snake, Holmes's brief explanation of how he put together the last few details seems just a bit anti-climactic. His somewhat emotionless statement that the death of Grimesby Roylott does not weigh heavily on his conscience, followed by the whistle of the train, is a bit too abrupt an ending for the episode. Overall, though, I found the episode a very engaging one, and quite a bit more interesting than the previous episode, "The Naval Treaty." A faithful adaptation and well worth my time.
First of all, I apologize for the brief "hiatus" in posts here on Baker Street Babble over the past few days. Things just got really busy for a short while. (They're still busy, but I'm carving out a little niche for blogging today.) Fortunately, my hiatus was not as long as the one Sherlock Holmes took after the Reichenbach Falls incident!
Moving right along, though, when I was at work the other day, my wife and kids apparently watched the Disney film The Great Mouse Detective, an animated film that I've never seen. Apparently my girls enjoyed it, so I will have to give it a watch sometime soon, and give a full report here on the blog. In Sherlock Holmes on Screen, Alan Barnes calls the film "an entirely joyful, well-observed piece that numbers among the best of Doyle-inspired parodies." The film follows the adventures of a mouse detective named Basil, who lives in the walls of 221B Baker Street. The flat's more famous resident appears in the film, voiced by Basil Rathbone! Basil (the mouse) is assisted in his investigations by a portly mouse named Dawson, and faces off against a nefarious rat named Ratigan (the Moriarty of the film), voiced by Vincent Price. All in all, it looks like a delightful adaptation, and Barnes mentions that Basil the mouse detective is "more acceptable and engaging lead than many human Sherlocks."
In other kid-related Sherlock news, my younger daughter was watching the PBS show Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood (an animated spin-off of the famous Mister Rogers' Neighborhood), and I was amused to see Daniel Tiger using his imagination to pretend to be a detective. Guess how he was dressed? You got it: deerstalker cap, matching cloak, and holding a magnifying glass! Detective Daniel is keeping the game afoot.
I know The Great Mouse Detective is a pretty old film now (1986), and Daniel Tiger wasn't actually playing Holmes per se, but thanks to streaming video on Netflix and PBS, today's children are still being exposed to the characters and themes of the Holmes stories. It truly is a remarkable time to be a Sherlockian, and the next generation will likely have its share of them to carry the torch!
It seems appropriate in February, which is Black History Month, to point out another recent adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes story: Watson & Holmes, a comic book published by New Paradigm Studios. Described by the New Paradigm website as "a modern urban take" on the Sherlock Holmes stories, the comic book reimagines Sherlock Holmes and Jon Watson as African-American characters living and working in Harlem.
The title Watson & Holmes is apparently quite deliberate, as the focus of the comic book is Jon Watson, a former para-jumper in the U.S. Air Force. This brief preview of the comic book's first issue gives you an idea of the style of the book. (You can see a preview of the second issue here.) As with many contemporary renditions of the Holmes source material, I imagine some fans will find this unique update too foreign to appreciate, but it's certainly no bolder than Elementary or Sherlock, which both seem to be doing quite well these days. Meanwhile, the urban setting may stimulate new interest in the characters, leading new fans to discover Conan Doyle's stories, who may not have naturally gravitated towards them otherwise.
The Kickstarter page for the comic book's fundraiser, which raised twice the money they were hoping for back in May of 2013, has more information (and several sketches of the artwork), and was promoted by the popular Baker Street Babes podcast. So the comic book clearly has support from some very devoted Sherlockians. More proof that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are two literary character that will presumably live forever, in one form or another.
I remember well when I was a teenager and I saw Jeremy Brett's portrayal of Sherlock Holmes for the first time. In the 1980s I don't think I had seen any of the Rathbone films, though my grandfather talked of Rathbone as if no other actor could possibly play the detective. Come to think of it, I don't recall if I had ever seen any screen versions of the Holmes stories at that point in my life. All I knew was, when I saw Brett, he was exactly how I had pictured Holmes, having read my facsimile edition of the stories as they appeared in the Strand Magazine, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Brett seemed to have that perfect balance between dignified and manic that Holmes displayed in the stories, and God knows, he looked just like the Paget drawings, if perhaps a bit less handsome.
Since those days of having to wait until episodes were aired on PBS, I have seen most of the adventures from Granada TV's Adventures and Return of Sherlock Holmes, as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles, on DVD. Most, if not all, of the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett, are available on YouTube as well. For the most part, the adaptations hold up very well, even if Cumberbatch and Miller have stolen much of my affections. I've read that, as Mr. Brett became more and more ill, the Granada series began to suffer. But, ever the true professional, Brett soldiered on.
I would be remiss if I didn't say a few words about the Watson(s) to Jeremy Brett's Holmes. I really liked David Burke in the first series: he was the first Watson I remember seeing who broke out of the stereotype of Nigel Bruce. Burke was handsome, intelligent, and perfectly believable as someone whom Holmes would want to work with again and again. When Burke was replaced by Edward Harwicke for the second series and onward, I remember being a bit confused (there was no IMDB to go to, to look up what had happened with the casting). I think Hardwicke was more than adequate, but he couldn't hold a candle to Burke's portrayal, and there have been much better Watsons since. (Martin Freeman is particularly good, I think.)
Since starting this blog, I have gone back and watched a few of the Jeremy Brett Holmes adventures, and I would like to watch more, especially of the later episodes that I don't have on DVD. After all, the man was my favorite Holmes for the better part of three decades, and he's still definitely in my top three. For Sherlock Holmes in his original Victorian setting, I don't think you can do any better.
Surely one of the more unusual Sherlock Holmes adaptations to be aired on TV was the animated series Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century. In a nutshell, Holmes is resurrected in the 22nd century, in order to assist Beth Lestrade in her investigation of a clone of James Moriarty. "Watson" in this version is a robot (sorry, a "compudroid") wearing a mask of John Watson's face, and programmed to act like Watson.
Meanwhile, several of the episodes have titles borrowed from the canon of ACD's stories, e.g. "The Adventure of the Dancing Men," "The Musgrave Ritual," etc. (See the Wikipedia article about the series for more information.)
You can see this bizarre mix of Saturday morning action cartoon and Holmes characters on YouTube. The first episode is below:
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 Mr. Sherlock Holmes.