Saturday, March 31, 2012

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes



Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

There are few actors who have as fervent a fan following as Jeremy Brett and Sir Basil Rathbone is one of those privileged few.

Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were cast as the legendary duo in 14 films in the 1940s. Most of these movies were updated to reflect the times in which they were made rather than the Victorian times in which the novels were originally written. The makers wanted to make Sherlock a heroic figure during those tumultuous times faced by the Great Britain. Some of the movies, such as “Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror” and “Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon” were in fact based on real-life events.

Rathbone was actively involved in World War II and had even donned disguises as part of his duties. These experiences no doubt made Rathbone the perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. His tall and gaunt appearance and aquiline features give the impression that he just leapt right out of Sidney Paget’s drawings. Rathbone’s deep voice and the mischievous twinkle in his eyes are only the icing on the cake.

One of the often overlooked Holmesian habits in the adaptations is his addiction to drugs. The needle is mentioned very briefly at the end of the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The series makers obviously did not like the reception to this (seemingly unsavory) trait of Holmes and there is no mention of this in the next 13 movies in the series. 

The actor playing Dr Watson always gets second billing and is very vital to the success of the series. Vitaly Solomin was as much a highlight of the Russian adaptation as Vasily Livanov himself. In the same vein, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke greatly enhance the appeal of the Granada series. As for Rathbone, he is saddled with the gentleman below:

Nigel Bruce as Dr John Watson
Nigel Bruce as some old bumbling fool called John Watson

Nigel Bruce (bless his soul) makes the most comical Watson I have ever seen and this is not a compliment at all.. Sir Doyle created Watson as a competent doctor and an able ally/friend of the Bohemian detective. Dr Watson is the everyman that readers can relate to and he is our guide to the enigma that is Sherlock Holmes.

Making Dr Watson a bumbling fool is in my humble opinion, a big disservice to the genius of Arthur Conan Doyle. But to be fair to Bruce, he does share excellent on-screen chemistry with Basil Rathbone and this results in some truly memorable moments, mostly at the expense of Bruce's Watson!

Thankfully, Mary Gordon is the canonical Mrs Hudson: caring, affectionate and grudgingly tolerant of her Bohemian tenant.

Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson
Mary Gordon as Mrs Hudson
Scotland Yard detective Lestrade is portrayed by Dennis Hoey who is even taller than Rathbone. It is an amusing sight to watch a Lestrade taller than Holmes, as Lestrade is defined as being a man of small build in the canon.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, Nigel Bruce as Dr Watson and Dennis Hoey as Lestrade
Dennis Hoey as Lestrade with Holmes

Of the 14 movies, the only one based on the Canon is the adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. This is one of the best adaptations of arguably the most famous Sherlock Holmes novel. Incidentally, this was the first movie to star Rathbone and Bruce as the famous residents of 221B Baker Street. Basil is in top form as Holmes here and it is sheer pleasure to watch him leave his imprint on the role.

The supporting cast is good and does justice to their respective roles. There are some deviations from the Canon, such as Beryl Stapleton being the step-sister of John Stapleton (she is his wife in the novel) and Dr Mortimer is quite aged (he is described as being quite young in the canon). There is a séance sequence, where Mrs Mortimer acts as the medium. This scene is a nice touch and adds to the atmosphere.

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Most of the remaining movies are based on one or more of the canonical stories. “The Pearl of Death” is based on The Adventure of the Six Napoleons. “Sherlock Holmes faces death” is based on The Adventure of the Musgrave Ritual. “Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear” is based on The Five Orange Pips.

Another significant fact is that there are a lot of recurring actors who portray various supporting roles in many of these 14 movies. I will not go into too many details, but suffice to say that it is quite disconcerting to watch no less than 3 different actors portray Professor Moriarty and interestingly he dies in each of these 3 incarnations!

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes
Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes

The series is still a recommended watch for the sole purpose of enjoying Basil Rathbone’s superb portrayal of the world's premier fictional detective. 

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davis


Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davis

This is a review of the Kindle version.

David Stuart Davies is a big fan of Brett’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes and his admiration leaps right out of the pages. His book gives great insight into the inception and making of the Granada series. The book delves on how Michael Cox, the producer cast Jeremy Brett and David Burke. David Burke had to leave the series due to some pressing personal concerns and the mantle passed on to Edward Hardwicke (who was suggested for the role by Burke himself).

The series makers have taken the utmost pains to make as faithful an adaptation of the canon as possible. Right from the casting of the principal characters to the sets and locations, the series does great justice to the stories. Jeremy Brett was passionate about his work and did considerable research to make the best possible adaptation.


David illustrates this by citing the example of The Hound of the Baskervilles where Holmes observes Watson’s reflection in a shining coffee pot. Brett realized that he could not see the reflection in a coffee pot, but in the lid. As can be seen in the Granada adaptation, Holmes points to the lid of the coffee pot. This is but one of the many trifling details that Brett painstakingly worked on to give what is considered by many as the definitive portrayal of Sherlock Holmes.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada adaptation
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

To his credit, David gives a fairly objective critique of the series. He candidly agrees about the deterioration in the performance of Brett as his physical tribulations worsened considerably even as the series kept chugging on. I have often considered that the Holmes as portrayed by Brett was as much a reflection of Brett’s personal characteristics as much of Holmes.

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In the adaptation of The Adventure of the Creeping Man, Brett’s Holmes is quite hostile towards the army personnel. There is no such description in the canon. David explains the reason for this hostility: Brett’s father was in the army and never approved of his son’s decision to take up the acting profession. Jeremy in fact had to change his family name from Huggins to Brett in order to take up the acting profession at the insistence of his father. The lack of approval from his father seems to have had a significant psychological effect on Jeremy and unfortunately comes out quite strongly in the aforementioned episode.

The same issue crops up again when Brett imagined the childhood of Holmes. As per his description, the younger Holmes was a social outcast while his brother Mycroft was always ahead in studies and settled in life nicely. Sherlock would have been a school dropout and finally became the only consulting detective in the world. The interesting fact to be noted is that even here, Brett imagined Holmes’s father to be “an army toad”.

As the series progressed (as did Brett’s manic depression), more and more of Brett came into his portrayal of Holmes, making the real Holmes almost an afterthought. The book delves quite a bit into the physical hardships Brett had to undergo and it is quite depressing to read. Brett suffered greatly and still insisted on donning the grease-paint.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada adaptation
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes.

This book is a must read for fans of the Granada adaptation and/or Jeremy Brett.

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Image Source: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies

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Canonical References in "A Study in Pink"
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Great Horned Owl - Tiger of the Woods



Great Horned Owl

Kingdom : Animalia
Phylum  : Chordata
Class : Aves
Order : Strigiformes
Family : Strigidae
Genus : Bubo
Scientific name : Bubo virginianus
Protection status : Least Concern
Diet : Owls are carnivores
Habitat : Forests, woodlands and shrublands.
Life span : 5 to 15 years


The Great Horned Owls are the largest owls in North America. They are also referred to as Cat Owls. They are nocturnal hunters. They can be easily identified by their large piercing eyes and their horn shaped ears.

These predatory birds are fearless and aggressive by nature and frequently attack prey that are large and heavy, including cats, rabbits, porcupines and even skunks. If their nesting areas are threatened, these birds will counterattack even when they are faced with large dogs or even humans. The male owls are smaller than their female counterparts and have a much lower-pitched call.





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Photo and Video were taken at Maymont Park, Virginia.


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Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes


Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes in the Granada adaptation
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes 

Considered by many to be the definitive Sherlock Holmes, Jeremy Brett needs no introduction to his legion of fans. For the uninitiated, Brett played Sherlock Holmes in the acclaimed Granada TV series (1984 – 1994).

Brett presented a considerably dark version of the character. Unfortunately, Brett suffered from physical tribulations and his performances in the later episodes were markedly different. It was painfully obvious that his work had become an all-consuming obsession. Brett continued to play Sherlock Holmes before his untimely demise in 1995.

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His work is nicely complemented by Edward Hardwicke (who replaced David Burke after the first 13 episodes) as Dr Watson. A refreshing feature of this adaptation is that Dr Watson is portrayed as a competent doctor (as described in the canon). The Granada TV adaptation stands right along with the Russian adaptation in making this right choice of portraying Dr Watson and both these series are my perennial favorites.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes and Charles Gray as Mycroft Holmes in the Granada adaptation
The Holmes brothers
Charles Gray is a charming Mycroft Holmes, every bit the superior of Sherlock in the powers of observation and deduction.

Eric Porter makes a good Moriarty. We can believe this version of Moriarty to be the criminal mastermind, worthy of being the archenemy of Sherlock.

Supporting cast include Rosalie Williams as Mrs Hudson and Colin Jeavons as Inspector Lestrade. Both the actors are well cast and leave their imprints on their characters.

Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes with a rose in the Granada adaptation


In total, 41 out of the 60 works by Sir Doyle were adapted and barring a few episodes, most of them are loyal to the canon. The sets and the locations are strikingly similar to the stories. The cast and crew have put in their best to create one of the best adaptations of the world’s foremost fictional consulting detective.

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Image Source: Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes by David Stuart Davies

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