The Definitive Sherlock Holmes

With all the current debate about who is the definitive Holmes (Rathbone, Brett or Cumberbatch?), I thought it was worth reviewing Basil Rathbone’s fourteen films as the Great Detective which have been carefully restored in The Definitive Collection.

These films updated elements of the Canon to the early part of the 20th century (except for the first two which remain in the Victorian era and were the first films to portray us in Victorian times) in a similar way to the 21st century updating that has taken place in the BBC Sherlock series.

The fourteen films (in order of release) are:

  1. The Hound of the Baskervilles, based on the story of the same name. As this was Rathbone’s first film as Holmes, and he wasn’t as well known as Richard Greene (who played Sir Hennry Baskerville), he only achieved second billing! In The Definitive Collection, this film also has an added commentary version by David Stuart Davies providing lots of useful background to the film, the script, the actors, the scenery, the clothes, the music (or lack of it!) and to Rathbone’s portrayal.
  2. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was supposedly based on the stage play by William Gillette but little of the original plot remains apart from the conflict between  Holmes and Moriarty. This film also has a version with a commentary by Richard Valley (wrongly credited to David Stuart Davies on the DVD packaging).
  3. Sherlock Holmes and The Voice of Terror is based on His Last Bow.
  4. Sherlock Holmes and The Secret Weapon is inspired, rather than based on, The Dancing Men.
  5. Sherlock Holmes in Washington
  6. Sherlock Holmes Faces Death is based on The Musgrave Ritual and there is a version with audio commentary by David Stuart Davies (the packaging this time saying it is by Richard Valley). This film brings back the familiar dark mystery for Holmes to solve.
  7. The Spider Woman starts with the demise of Sherlock Holmes (similar to The Final Problem) and is followed by his surprise return (as in The Empty House). The following story is then based on elements from The Sign of Four and The Devil’s Foot. The theatrical trailer is included on the DVD.
  8. The Pearl of Death is based on The Six Napoleons. Again the theatrical trailer is included.
  9. The Scarlet Claw uses the device of a killer using a supernatural entity to cover up his crimes borrowed from The Hound of the Baskervilles. This has an audio commentary by David Stuart Davies and the theatrical trailer is included.
  10. The House of Fear is based on The Five Orange Pips. The theatrical trailer is included.
  11. Pursuit to Algiers. This is based on the affair concerning the steamship Friesland that I mentioned in The Norwood Builder.
  12. The Woman in Green is an adaptation of The Empty House but also includes elements from A Case of Identity and The Final Problem plus the first appearance of the Persian Slipper first mentioned in the Musgrave Ritual. This film has a version with an audio commentary by David Stuart Davies.
  13. Terror by Night is loosely based on The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax and the Blue Carbuncle. This includes the theatrical trailer.
  14. Dressed to Kill. This was known as Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Code in the UK. The theatrical trailer is included.

As well as the extras mentioned above The Definitive Collection also carries a “featurette” about the painstaking restoration of these films and how some missing elements were carefully replaced. Each film is accompanied by production notes by Sherlock Holmes devotee Richard Valley (who sadly died in 2007) and a photograph gallery.

Those who are critical of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of me in these films should not forget that up until this point, Watson had either not appeared alongside Holmes or had been relegated to a minor role. Nigel Bruce ensured that from then on, Holmes would have his Watson and that it would always be a two-handed performance as it had mostly been in real life!

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