Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Holmes Behind the Modern Sherlock

The Holmes Behind the Modern Sherlock

We’re lousy with Sherlock Holmeses right now: the Robert Downey Jr. version on the big screen, the competing television interpretations of Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) and Jonny Lee Miller (“Elementary”) and all the Holmes-inspired geniuses in current and recent TV shows like “The Mentalist,” “Psych,” “House” and “Monk.” So “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution,” released this week in a new Blu-ray and DVD package, enters a crowded market.
But its Sherlock deserves special consideration because he’s the father of all those modern Holmeses. Besides being a clever comic mystery with an absurdly talented cast, this 1976 film — based on Nicholas Meyer’s playful novel imagining the meeting of two great Victorian detectives, one of whom is Sigmund Freud — established the template for all the twitchy, paranoid, vulnerable, strung-out Holmeses to come.
It may be hard to countenance now, but for much of the 20th century there was just one Sherlock Holmes on screen: the hawk-nosed British actor Basil Rathbone, whose Shakespearean elocution and commanding physical presence defined the English-speaking world’smost famous detective in 14 movies in the 1930s and ’40s.
The Rathbone Holmes, familiar to generations of late-night TV viewers, could be energetic and impetuous, but he was decidedly rational, and his behavior was always in bounds — there was not much evidence of the Bohemianism and eccentricity the character exhibited in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories. Humor in the films was supplied by Nigel Bruce’s clueless Doctor Watson, a lovable buffoon who was always bewildered by the case at hand.
In his novel and his screenplay, Mr. Meyer reacted against the Rathbone films’ ossified notions of Holmes and Watson, giving the story a postmodern spin while in some ways returning the characters to their Conan Doyle roots. “ ‘The Seven-Per-Cent Solution’ is not a Sherlock Holmes movie,” he says in an interview included with the new release (Shout! Factory, two discs, $26.99). “It’s a movie about Sherlock Holmes. That’s different.”

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Charles R. Rutledge said...

I've been waiting for them to re-release this one. I'll have to go order the blu-ray.

Mathew Paust said...

Loved the 7% Solution. Don't like the Downey versions - too much flash-bang and superheroics. Give me the contemplative, nuanced Holmes and Watson any day.