July 7th is the 83rd anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death. While it might seem morbid to celebrate an author on the anniversary of his death instead of the anniversary of his birth, considering Doyle’s fascination with the supernatural and the afterlife, it’s appropriate. And there is no better way to celebrate the author than to celebrate his greatest creation, a character who spawned 60 canonical stories, over 250 TV and Film adaptations, as well as novels, radio programs, the Game: Sherlock Holmes.
Sherlock Holmes is far and away my favorite fictional character. I was so enamored of him that I dressed as him for my 4th Grade Halloween – fortunately, the Halloween when it snowed. At first, I fell in love with the atmosphere of Victorian London through Doyle’s pen – the foggy streets, the macabre crimes, and the Machiavellian masterminds that perpetrated them. But the best part was Sherlock himself – the master intellect who outsmarted his enemies rather than simply pummeling them. To an awkward elementary school nerd who was picked on by her peers (and worried over by adults) because she read during recess rather than socializing, Sherlock was better than Superman. Sherlock could out-think his enemies, using those parts of him that were odd – his intensity, his constant search for knowledge, in short, his giant brain – as his greatest assets. But best of all, he didn’t do it alone; he had someone who not only accepted his quirks, but loved him for them.
Throughout the original series, Sherlock’s relationship with his friend and biographer John H. Watson humanizes him. Sherlock is often accused of being cold, but with Watson he is loyal, witty, and open. Watson is unfortunately under-appreciated, but his role in the Holmes stories is crucial; often he supplies the emotional core, not only in his appreciation for his friend but also in their developing friendship, which survives even as Watson moves in, gets married, moves out, is widowed, moves in again, marries again, moves out again, and is possibly widowed again. Holmes and Watson are the original Victorian bromance.
But enough about the books! This is, after all, a blog about movies! Like I mentioned, there are a lot of adaptations of Holmes on film and TV. I cannot, unfortunately, track all 250+ down for the blog, but I can pick the three strangest-but-greatest adaptations to share with you. (A quick note: if I was doing the three best faithful adaptations, the list would read: 1. Jeremy Brett 2. Jeremy Brett 3. Jeremy Brett. Since that wouldn’t be much fun for either of us, I’ll take this opportunity to say watch the Jeremy Brett series if you haven’t already, but forgive me for not covering it this time.) So, in honor of my favorite detective, and with extreme personal bias, here are the three great adaptations that will consume the rest of July:
7/13: Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1942) – (Part of Cinema Hub’s Dynamic Duos In Classic Film Blogathon) Sherlock vs. the Nazis, starring the duo who would define Sherlock and Watson for decades to come: Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.
7/20: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) – Inspired by the canonical discussion of Holmes’s cocaine addiction, this film has Watson taking Holmes to Sigmund Freud to get cured. Sounds like a silly premise, but never underestimate a Sherlock Holmes story.
7/27 Sherlock – Moffat blows the dust off of Sherlock’s tweed lapels to update the story to present time, losing none of the atmosphere and adding the cutting-edge forensic science-feeling the stories originally had when they debuted. This Sherlock is younger, sexier, but still familiar to fans.
In order to best compare these films, I decided to create a game of my own: Sherlock Bingo! Each square has a trope of the Sherlock story, so we can tick off the various allusions as they appear. Eagle-eyed observers will notice three non-canonical additions to the Bingo cards. I added them because at this point, they may as well be canon. I will be playing with the Red Card, but if you want to do a viewing party of your own, there are several other cards to play with as well. Let the games begin!