As a Sherlock Holmes reader, I have wondered from time to time just why the character of the Napoleon of Crime, Professor Moriarty, has become so prominent in so many Sherlock Holmes adaptations. Look at some of the most recent Holmes films and TV shows: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows included Moriarty, both Sherlock and Elementary have featured interesting twists on Moriarty (Andrew Scott's younger, crazy version and Natalie Dormer's female version), and even the recent animated film Sherlock Gnomes included an odd pie mascot version of Moriarty.
And yet, looking at the Holmes canon, it is surprising to see how seldom Moriarty is mentioned. Obviously, he features prominently in "The Final Problem." But the few other stories that mention him limit themselves to exactly that: just a mention. So the status of the Moriarty character, like that of Irene Adler, is quite disproportionate to his actual status in the canon.
Several years ago, when my older daughter was a lot smaller, we watched a mildly humorous children's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, entitled Gnomeo and Juliet. I remember, as a five year old, she was entertained, and there were enough tongue-in-cheek Shakespeare references to keep me entertained as well. In March 2018, a sequel to Gnomeo and Juliet was released, this time a spoof on Sherlock Holmes: you guessed it...Sherlock Gnomes. The film is part sequel, involving Gnomeo and Juliet in new adventures, but it is also (of course) a spoof of the Sherlock Holmes mythology. Sherlock (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a garden gnome detective (that is, a detective who happens to be a garden gnome), who is sworn to protect all of London's garden gnomes. He finds himself pitted against his old archenemy, Moriarty: a sort of "Bob's Big Boy" type of pie mascot (don't ask). Sherlock is a kind of self-absorbed character, who doesn't treat his sidekick Watson with the respect he deserves. Their paths cross those of Gnomeo and Juliet, whose family of garden gnomes has been abducted by the evil Moriarty.
Honestly, I found the film pretty entertaining. There were all kinds of goofy nods towards the Sherlock Holmes canon: Doyle's Doll Museum, Wisteria Lodge Florist Shop, a grating with "221B" on it, that type of thing. And of course, the obligatory deerstalker cap, Inverness cape, and magnifying glass. In a little homage to the BBC's Sherlock, perhaps, Mr. Gnomes occasionally retreats into a "mind palace" of sorts, with a different style of animation for those sequences. The voice cast is a panoply of celebrities: James McAvoy (Gnomeo), Emily Blunt (Juliet), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Watson), Michael Caine (Lord Redbrick), Maggie Smith (Lady Bluebury), and many more. Even Ozzy Osbourne has a brief role, as a somewhat befuddled ceramic fawn. The animation is done well, and the aforementioned "mind palace" sequences were bizarre and fun. The story is packed with enough action and silly humor to keep children entertained, while there are enough pop culture references sprinkled throughout to keep adults from being completely bored. As a Holmes fan, I found it enjoyable enough, if not particularly brilliant. The film only received a 28% on film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, and I've seen much worse films with higher scores.
For your entertainment, I've shared the film's trailer below. If you have young children, you could do a lot worse. Oh, and did I mention that most of the soundtrack is made up of Elton John songs?
I actually think Howard Marion-Crawford (who played Watson to Ronald Howard's Holmes in the 1950s) was one of the better Watsons I've seen. He balanced some of the humor of a Nigel Bruce with the intelligence of a David Burke or Edward Hardwicke.
Back in 2016 (remember back then? I know, it's been awhile), I did a series of posts detailing my Top 5 Actors Who Have Played Sherlock Holmes. At the time, the list was as follows:
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!
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.