Arthur Conan Doyle

Without a Clue (1988, Thom E. Eberhardt)

Without a Clue has an amusing premise–what if Sherlock Holmes is a buffoon and Dr. Watson is the genius–and generally succeeds in executing it. Director Eberhardt brings very little to the film (one wonders if his single goal was keeping Michael Caine in the center of each frame), but the production is handsomely enough mounted, even if there is a lack of scope. Most of the film’s action takes place indoors, where Eberhardt goes for cheap laughs. Outdoors, at least, Alan Hume’s cinematography gets to breath.

Caine is hilarious as Holmes, but he’s nothing compared to Ben Kingsley as Watson. Kingsley brings intelligence, suffering and sympathy to the role, while still maintaining a commanding lead presence. Unfortunately–except for Peter Cook in a bit part and Nigel Davenport in a slightly bigger one–the rest of the cast has little to offer.

That problem is two fold. The script gives the supporting players, except Pat Keen, almost nothing to do. Watching third-billed Jeffrey Jones run about is painful, especially since his comic scenes are so poorly written and Jones loses his forced accent explicitly during his comic scenes. Lysette Anthony is mostly useless as the damsel in distress, though she does some quality; it seems Clue failed her.

Henry Mancini’s score is a lot of fun for the period; Mancini excels at the comedy scenes. He doesn’t do so well for the action-packed finale, but neither does Eberhardt so no foul.

Clue‘s a lot of fun.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Thom E. Eberhardt; written by Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Peter Tanner; music by Henry Mancini; production designer, Brian Ackland-Snow; produced by Marc Stirdivant; released by Orion Pictures.

Starring Michael Caine (Sherlock Holmes), Ben Kingsley (Dr. John Watson), Jeffrey Jones (Inspector Lestrade), Lysette Anthony (Leslie Giles), Paul Freeman (Professor James Moriarty), Nigel Davenport (Lord Smithwick), Pat Keen (Mrs. Hudson), Peter Cook (Norman Greenhough), Tim Killick (Sebastian Moran) and Matthew Savage (Wiggins).


The Man with the Twisted Lip (1921, Maurice Elvey)

The Man with the Twisted Lip is not a particularly exciting narrative to begin with, but director Elvey does keep the story moving at a decent pace. He paces most of Lip like a play, albeit one with flashbacks. Elvey cannot, however, make it interesting.

Some of the problem is the adherence to the source material. Most of the short is told in flashback, which cuts down on the narrative’s urgency–especially since Ellie Norwood’s Sherlock Holmes keeps important details from Hubert Willis’s Watson and Watson is the viewer’s entry into the short.

Norwood mostly stands around doing little. Willis sits around doing less. As the main characters in the case, both Robert Vallis and Paulette del Baze are good.

Elvey inexplicably gives away the mystery’s solution with a showcase of movie special effects magic in the first few minutes.

It’s not much good, but Lip does move. A little.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Maurice Elvey; screenplay by William J. Elliot, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Germain Burger; released by Stoll Picture Productions.

Starring Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), Hubert Willis (Dr. John Watson), Robert Vallis (Neville St. Clair), Paulette del Baze (Mrs. Nellie St. Clair) and Mme. d’Esterre (Mrs. Hudson).


The Dying Detective (1921, Maurice Elvey)

Given the terrible attempts at humor and Eille Norwood’s histrionic performance as Sherlock Holmes, one might think The Dying Detective is a farcical adaptation.

Unfortunately, I doubt director Elvey gets farce as he doesn’t get pacing or filmic storytelling. Almost every shot in Detective goes on too long. He’s not just holding the shot until interest wanes, he’s holding it five or ten seconds are interest has completely vanished. He does it with establishing shots too; Elvey’s composition is so confusing, one can easily forget what he or she is waiting to see.

Screenwriter William J. Elliot feels the need to include a painfully long sequence of red herrings at the end, with Holmes and the villain trying to upstage each other. It probably drags Detective out another five minutes, like there was a length requirement.

Cecil Humphreys gives the only good performance as the villain. Otherwise, Detective‘s the pits.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Maurice Elvey; screenplay by William J. Elliot, based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Germain Burger; released by Stoll Picture Productions.

Starring Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), Hubert Willis (Dr. John Watson), Cecil Humphreys (Culverton Smith), Joseph R. Tozer (His Servant) and Mme. d’Esterre (Mrs. Hudson).


The Devil’s Foot (1921, Maurice Elvey)

To call The Devil’s Foot inept is too complementary. Some of the stupider story elements come from the Conan Doyle story, so one cannot really fault screenwriter William J. Elliott. Instead, the fault lies entirely with director Maurice Elvey.

The short does show how important sound is to a procedural investigation narrative, but Elvey’s incompetence comes to the close-ups. Sherlock Holmes, reasonably well-played by Eille Norwood here, walks around the sets and looks at various objects around the rooms. But Elvey includes to close-ups of the items, so the clues are entirely hidden from the viewer. It sort of kills the interest level.

Also interesting is the lack of British flavor. Foot often looks like it was shot in Los Angeles, on very boring locations.

It does start reasonably well, until the actual investigation starts. Then it’s a continuous stream of disappointments.

Better source material might’ve helped.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Maurice Elvey; screenplay by William J. Elliott, based on a short story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Germain Burger; released by Stoll Picture Productions.

Starring Eille Norwood (Sherlock Holmes), Hubert Willis (Dr. John Watson), Harvey Braban (Mortimer Tregennis) and Hugh Buckler (Dr. Sterndale).


The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977, Joseph McGrath)

The Strange Case of the End of the World as We Know It was a TV special, which might explain for the awkward structure. It has the elements of a strong spoof and some excellent scenes, but the pacing is dreadfully off.

It opens with Ron Moody’s Henry Kissinger stand-in being assassinated (no spoilers, it’s the film’s inciting event). Moody’s great in the role, with so much presence he’s the one who establishes the film. Joss Ackland then shows up as Gerald Ford. Ackland’s mildly amusing, but he’s too broad.

After Ackland, Denholm Elliot arrives in the next scene and runs a short sequence. Director McGrath does everything he can to delay the appearance of John Cleese and Arthur Lowe as the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Maybe McGrath’s waiting because he knows there’s not much coming.

Cleese plays Holmes like Basil Fawlty. He even repeats some of the “Fawlty Towers” physical comedy. Lowe’s great as a moronic Watson (the funniest thing in Strange Case has to be the commentary on that relationship). Connie Booth has a small role as the housekeeper and she’s funny too.

But Cleese, saddled with a moron sidekick, is supposed to be too sympathetic. The film’s never mean enough to him.

The end features cameos from various TV detectives. It’s a lengthy sequence with a couple smiles, no laughs; McGrath’s painful when he needs to show modernity.

McGrath’s direction, for television anyway, is good. But Cleese’s non-performance makes the film best avoided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGrath; screenplay by Jack Hobbs, McGrath and John Cleese, based on an idea by Hobbs and McGrath and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Kenneth Higgins; edited by Rusty Coppleman; music by Ivor Slaney; produced by Humphrey Barclay; released by Independent Television.

Starring John Cleese (Arthur Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Lowe (Dr. William Watson, M.D.), Ron Moody (Dr. Henry Gropinger), Joss Ackland (President), Val Pringle (Black CIA Man), Bill Mitchell (Klein), Christopher Malcolm (The Other CIA Man), Gyearbuor Asante (African Delegate), Denholm Elliott (English Delegate), Nick Tate (1st Australian), Josephine Tewson (Miss Hoskins), Burt Kwouk (Chinese Delegate), Stratford Johns (Chief Commisioner Blocker) and Connie Booth (Mrs. Hudson).


Silver Blaze (1977, John Davies)

Christopher Plummer makes a strange Sherlock Holmes—he’s almost too much of a movie star to play him. Plummer has a great time, creating a mildly mischievous Holmes who willfully appears eccentric. It’s too bad he’s the only interesting thing about Silver Blaze.

I suppose some of Davies’s establishing shots are good, but it’s not him, it’s the scenery. Otherwise, his direction is awkward. The Paul Lewis music is sometimes good, more times bad.

But the big problem is the script. Julian Bond’s adaptation is boring and confusing. He gives the story a prologue and it’s so nonsensical, Davies can’t fit it with the rest of the film.

Some weak performances don’t help. Gary Watson is particularly bad, but Thorley Walters’s Watson is no great shakes either. He mostly just blusters; it’s impossible to believe he and Plummer are friends.

It’s a misfire, but Plummer makes it worth a look.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by John Davies; screenplay by Julian Bond, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle; lighting cameraman, Bob Edwards; edited by Alex Kirby; music by Paul Lewis; production designer, Disley Jones; produced by William Deneen; released by Harlech Television.

Starring Christopher Plummer (Sherlock Holmes), Thorley Walters (Dr. Watson), Basil Henson (Colonel Ross), Gary Watson (Inspector Gregory), Richard Beale (Straker), Donald Burton (Fitzroy-Simpson) and Barry Linehan (Silas Brown).


The Speckled Band (1931, Jack Raymond)

I think The Speckled Band is a period piece but maybe not. There aren’t any exterior establishing shots in London, so no automobiles. It’s a question because the Sherlock Holmes in this film isn’t some recluse… he’s got an office and three secretaries.

The film has a very episodic feel to it, but not in the traditional sense–it feels like an entry in a film series, but it’s Raymond Massey’s only Holmes appearance. Massey does a fantastic job, infusing the character with an affable, melancholy feel. His Holmes feels the outcast due to his intellect–not the traditional approach to the character.

But since the film concentrates on the mystery, top-billed Lyn Harding and Angela Baddeley have the most to do. Baddeley is the victim to be and Harding is her vile stepfather, who’s probably going to kill her. I’m not sure a more revolting villain than Harding in this film–he doesn’t have a single moment he’s not plotting something rather nasty.

Director Raymond has some nice compositions and he keeps a great tone to the film. I was never sure if Baddeley, high billing or not, was going to live through the film.

Freddie Young’s cinematography is nice, particularly the outdoor scenes. They made me wish the sequences were longer, as Raymond and Young knew how to make the countryside lush with foreboding.

Athole Stewart makes a good Watson (the film even introduces him before Massey).

Besides Baddeley’s tepid love interest (Ivan Brandt), it’s rather solid.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jack Raymond; screenplay by W.P. Lipscomb, based on a story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Freddie Young; edited by Maclean Rogers; produced by Herbert Wilcox; released by Woolf & Freedman Film Service.

Starring Lyn Harding (Dr. Grimesby Rylott), Raymond Massey (Sherlock Holmes), Angela Baddeley (Helen Stonor), Nancy Price (Mrs. Staunton), Athole Stewart (Dr. John Watson), Marie Ault (Mrs. Hudson), Franklyn Bellamy (Alaine), Ivan Brandt (Curtis) and Stanley Lathbury (Rodgers).


Silver Blaze (1937, Thomas Bentley)

Given Sherlock Holmes is an English creation, I thought Silver Blaze would be a solid, thoughtful portrayal of the Empire’s most famous son. He’s still the most famous, right? But it isn’t. Silver Blaze actually follows the Marx Brothers rule of giving the romantic leads more to do. Here it’s Judy Gunn and Arthur Macrae. He’s a wealthy young man with a gambling problem, she’s the young heiress who loves him (and forgives that gambling problem once she finds out about it). The romance isn’t compelling, nor are their troubles, but they’re film standards. It’s exactly what one would expect from a couple of their position. The unexpected diversion is the lengthy sequence laying out the scene of the crime before it happens. It goes on and on–and all of it is wasted time, as Holmes’s eventual solution reveals.

But these scenes are at least interesting. Is Macrae the killer, will Gunn accept him, will they find happiness? Those three questions are infinitely more interesting than what Holmes does in the film. And the long scene with the trainer’s household is good stuff. The British approach to Holmes, however, appears to turn him into a serial hero–complete with a supervillain (Lyn Harding) who has a secret hide-out. It’s Sherlock Holmes for kiddies, the Saturday morning crowd, which is fine if it’s how the entire film’s set-up… but Silver Blaze doesn’t start out so insipid.

There are some fantastic sequences from the filmmaking standpoint. The British filmmakers of the 1930s had a definite style and Silver Blaze does feature some of it. The scenes on the moor–though obviously on a set, it’s detailed in such a way to defy the viewer to disbelieve it. Unfortunately, the location scenes poorly mesh with the studio-shot outdoors scenes and it gives Blaze a frequently disjointed feel. There are also some great camera moves, which make up for director Bentley’s overuse of the indoors long shot–the actors having no idea what to do with their hands, particularly Ian Fleming as Dr. Watson (but the awkward hands are the least of Fleming’s performance’s problems). But there’s good sound design too, which is nice and effective… until it all comes apart.

Once Silver Blaze solves the original story and gets to the added elements (Harding as Professor Moriarty), it goes to pieces. With the exception of Sherlock Holmes making untoward comments to his housekeeper, there’s nothing good in the last ten minutes of the film–and a lot happens in the last ten minutes.

As Holmes, Arthur Wontner is middling. He can deliver the lines, but he never seems very smart. And he gets real annoying with all the catchphrases, which are the script’s fault, but something about Wontner’s delivery makes them even more annoying. Fleming is useless as Watson. Harding’s performance seems to be the basis for the Hamburgler. The supporting cast is mediocre, but generally fine.

The film’s compelling as a seventy-minute diversion–though I suppose if one knows the solution to the crime, there isn’t much to see. It’s never terrible until the end, when it just keeps getting worse and worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Thomas Bentley; screenplay by H. Fowler Mear and Arthur Macrae, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Sydney Blythe; edited by Michael C. Chorlton and Alan Smith; produced by Julius Hagen; released by Associated British Picture Corporation.

Starring Arthur Wontner (Sherlock Holmes), Ian Fleming (Dr. Watson), Lyn Harding (Prof. Moriarty), John Turnbull (Inspector Lestrade), Robert Horton (Col. Ross), Lawrence Grossmith (Sir Henry Baskerville), Judy Gunn (Diana Baskerville), Arthur Macrae (Jack Trevor), Arthur Goullet (Col. Moran), Martin Walker (James Straker), Eve Gray (Mrs. Straker), Gilbert Davis (Miles Stanford), Minnie Rayner (Mrs. Hudson), D.J. Williams (Silas Brown) and Ralph Truman (Bert Prince).


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