According to The Guinness Book of World Records, Sherlock Holmes is the most portrayed literary character in film, the most portrayed detective, and one of the top 10 most portrayed characters in film, period.
It is in the classic films of Holmes that the phrase, “Elementary my dear Watson” was coined (Fun Fact: this line is never actually said in the stories. The closest any dialogue comes to is Watson, “’Excellent,’ I cried. ‘Elementary,’ said he”) Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce not only did the famed radio stories together but they also did 14 movies from 1939-1946. Bruce was a consistent Watson, playing him as a good natured, bumbering oafish Santa Clause, though Rathbone eventually passed the role of Holmes onto Tom Conway.
There have even been movies of what Holmes might have been like as a youngster. The classics with Buster Keaton called Sherlock Jr. and one in particular called Young Sherlock Holmes by Steven Spielberg is one of my personal favorites, and even some animated films have been made. He is the inspiration for several TV shows such as House and Monk, House even living at the same address as Holmes (221B).
Now of course we cannot forget Holmes’s own country and her additions to the Holmes legacy; BBC currently has a series, Sherlock, which sets Doyle’s stories in the modern day. Folks, I am not writing reviews here, I know, but I must take a pause from our stroll down Entertainment Blvd in the town of History to say a few words on BBC’s show… It. Is. Gold. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Holmes with Martin Freeman (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) co-staring as Dr Watson, with writing by Martin Gatiss and Steven Moffat (Doctor Who). And if you’ve never seen any of these peoples’ prior work, let this be the first!… ok and we’re back; the use o f modern technology in this show is amazing. Instead of writing for a magazine, Watson has a blog. In keeping with his anti social behavior, Holmes prefers to text people rather than actually talk to them. Even the use of modern language for classic lines like, “The game’s a-foot!” is now “The game is on!” and after Holmes tells Watson the way he deduced his army history, his family, and his psychosomatic limp all from his face and his phone:
Watson: That was amazing.
Holmes: You think so?
Watson: Of course it was extraordinary, quite extraordinary.
Holmes: That’s not what people usually say.
Watson: What do people usually say?
Holmes: “Piss off”
It’s quirky, funny, fast paced, and brilliant. And most importantly the best part is not solving the crime, it’s finding out how Holmes solves the crime.
And last but not least we have the new Sherlock Holmes movies starring Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law, (as if Holmes and Watson couldn’t get any better, now they are sexy).
Something that both these movies and BBC’s Sherlock have in common is they bring the characters back to the basics. As wonderful and as priceless as the classic movies and even the radio dramas are, they take some liberties with the characters, like the deerstalker hat so associated with Holmes, and the bumbling sidekick of Watson. I feel these recent adaptations of Doyle’s stories are the most faithful to the original characters. Watson was very popular with the ladies, not a player, just a real catch. Holmes has a drug addiction, not exactly proper for cinema back in the day. The classic movies have him as a gentleman but new ones remind us that he is a man.
Obviously there is something about Holmes that has endeared him to so many generations and spanned over every popular form of entertainment. Why do we love him so much? My dear old dad believes, and I happen to agree, that we love him because there is a Holmes in all of us.
“Wait, what?” you might be saying, “I’m no detective, I am not anti-social, and I don’t have a drug addiction, etc” (or you do, I don’t know) but Holmes is deeper than that. He’s all the things that make a super hero, just without the radio active spider; the observation skills that he developed over time seem almost psychic (um Psych much?), he has a wealth of information that makes him an almost living encyclopedia/internet, he is even skilled in several fighting styles and can manage just about any disguise that a situation might call for, and let us not forget he has a loyal friend and side kick who goes on his adventures with him.
At the same time Holmes is just a man, flesh and bone, a mirror to us of our vices that inhibit our better parts from winning out sometimes; Holmes is irritable, quirky, struggles with drug addiction, has hermitic tendencies and sometimes neglects his personal hygiene. But he is us. He is ours. Larger than life. Powerful enough to take over his creator’s life so as to continue living on after both of their deaths.
So there you have it! Sherlock Holmes’s journey through time and entertainment. What Throwback shall we explore next week? Leave a suggestion in the comments! I’d love to hear your suggestion!
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