Portraits of Sherlock Holmes
by Alan Rettig, Webmaster
Editta Sherman, the New York photographer of celebrities, marked her 100th birthday in July 2012 with an exhibition at the 25CPW Gallery in Manhattan. Four of the portraits in the show give us glimpses of actors who have played Sherlock Holmes. Editta Sherman's Carnegie Hall studio has been a fixture on 57th Street for decades, so it was only natural that so many faces of Holmes would pass before her lens. In celebrating her birthday milestone, Sherman says simply that she's thrilled to be able to share her life's work with all of us.
Below are the four Sherlocks photographed by Editta Sherman. The dates of the photos are not given, and no correlation is claimed with the dates of the actors' Sherlockian portrayals.
Douglas Fairbanks The Mystery of the Leaping Fish (1916)
Fairbanks portrayed a "version" of Sherlock Holmes in the 1916 silent parody called The Mystery of the Leaping Fish. In this very funny three-reel spoof, made while Conan Doyle was still very much alive and while the Holmes character was protected by law, the detective is renamed "Coke Ennyday." This remarkable reference to Holmes' drug of choice is a stunning reminder of what was fair game in the movies long before the advent of talkies, the Motion Picture Code and the Hayes Office.
The film has been nicely restored and is available for you to watch for free by clicking here. Your webmaster recommends that you turn off the audio and watch the film without the poorly-conceived modern soundtrack.
Basil Rathbone14 Films (1939 - 1946)
To many Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts, especially in America, Basil Rathbone remains the embodiment of the Great Detective. Certainly part of his ongoing popularity stems from the sheer quantity of Rathbone's portrayals: 14 films and eight seasons of radio plays. The first two films, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes were done in Victorian period at 20th Century Fox. The final twelve were done at Universal and produced as contemporary works, bringing Holmes into World War II London, complete with autos, airplanes and Nazis. In all the films Dr. Watson was played by the lovable if bumbling Nigel Bruce. The quality of the scripts varies, but Rathbone's portrayal of Holmes remains engrossing and compelling. The relatively recent restoration and remastering of all 14 films by UCLA has given them new sparkle and life as Basil Rathbone's Holmes continues to fight terror, death, fear, and secret weapons for each succeeding generation.
Editor's Note: Sharp-eyed reader Gary Heiselberg points out that the photo identified in the show (and to the left) by Ms. Sherman as Basil Rathbone actually isn't. The best evidence seems to indicate that the photo is of another actor named Arnold Moss. A case of identity, indeed. Thanks to Gary for his detective work.
Christoper Plummer Murder by Decree (1979)
Sherlockians have pondered for decades why Conan Doyle never set Sherlock Holmes in pursuit of his criminal contemporary, the evil Jack the Ripper. Murder by Decree is a distinctly non-canonical tale that tackles the task with Christopher Plummer as the detective and an endearing James Mason as Watson. This is a film with many admirers and perhaps just as many detractors, but it does sport a fine production design, a first-rate cast and an intriguing script. There are some stellar dramatic moments and the musical score, though seldom mentioned, is quite superb. While Plummer's performace earned mixed reviews, Murder by Decree is clearly worth a look.
The film is widely available.
Charlton Heston The Crucifer of Blood (1991)
The Crucifer of Blood is a made-for-TV film adapted from Paul Giovanni's 1978 play of the same name, which is in turn based on a number of canonical themes, most notably The Sign of the Four. Mr. Heston's Holmes is amazingly wooden which may be because of (or in spite of) the director, Heston's son. It is difficult to find anyone who thought it worthy, including your webmaster.
Still, it is easily available for the curious.
All photos © Editta Sherman