Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Top 10 Greatest Sherlock Holmes Films (Of All Time) Part II

Alright, let's keep this rolling, so without further ado, we move onto number five...

#5 - Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror (1942) - Seventy-two years after its release, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror still divides fans. Was Universal Studios justified in taking Sherlock Holmes from his familiar trappings and dropping him into the twentieth century? Were they even more justified in having Holmes fight the forces of the Third Reich? That is certainly not for me to decide. What I will say is that Voice of Terror is my favourite Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes film.

What strikes the viewer straightaway is the brilliant look of this film. Brimming with shadows, angled shots and close-ups, this movie strongly resembles a Film-Noir. The atmosphere of the movie compliments its style, and there's a dark, yet glossy texture to the scenes. There are expert performances abound - Evelyn Ankers turns in a fine performance as a patriotic lady-of-the-night and Henry Daniell and Reginald Denny do their best with the fine roles of the suspects. But, this movie is stolen by Thomas Gomez as Nazi spy Meade, who with delusions of grandeur is one of the most compelling performances in any Sherlock Holmes film. Voice of Terror draws from Doyle's His Last Bow, and the closing coda is extremely touching as Rathbone expertly delivers the famous "East wind is coming" speech. Propaganda piece or not, Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror is the best acted, best looking and hands down best Sherlock Holmes movie of the 1940's.

#4 - The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) - I've discussed this film a few times on this blog already, but I really do love this particular adaptation. Positively dripping with Gothic horror atmosphere, this movie is the most bombastic version of Hound which has ever been filmed. Aside from being, what the posters proclaim as being "the most horror-dripping tale ever written," the movie plays out as fine Sherlock Holmes piece, due to Peter Cushing's fine turn as the detective.

Though playing the part as thorny as a cactus, Cushing is a fine addition to the cast, delivering his best performance as the detective. Cold, aloof and condescending, this turn foreshadows other fine characterisations in years to come. Cushing is flanked on all sides by fine performers. Most notably is Andre Morell whose performance as Dr. Watson is one of the best, and one of the most accurate. There's also Christopher Lee as a humane Sir Henry Baskerville, and for the first time Lee gets to play a leading man in a Hammer Horror film. Despite some dodgy special effects (the hound itself is pretty...well...the less said the better), there are plenty of moments to chill the blood in a viewer's veins - fifty-five years after its first release. Overall, The Hound of the Baskervilles is an incredibly entertaining, wonderfully executed bit of Sherlockian entertainment, and though not doggedly faithful to Doyle's novel, surely the best of the lot. Click here to read some further thoughts on this adaptation as well as other versions of Hound.


#3 - Murder by Decree (1979) - Sherlock Holmes vs. Jack the Ripper has been done to death. Yet, back in 1979, the idea was still relatively fresh. This luckily begat what I consider one of the finest Sherlock Holmes films ever made, and one of the finest movies I have ever seen. Murder by Decree is one of the most moving Sherlock Holmes films ever produced, and the gambit of emotions which this movie can spawn are unparalleled. What makes Murder by Decree an absolute stand-out is Christopher Plummer's performance as the detective. Though certainly at odds with Doyle's original, Plummer's sympathetic detective is a masterpiece of Sherlockian acting. The actor so brilliantly balances the emotional depth with the cold, calculation which is paramount in any Sherlockian portrayal. I highlight this interpretation especially since Murder by Decree does provide the detective with a plot-heavy mystery to solve, whereas our final two selections, though featuring brilliant performances on the part of the Sherlockian actor, are truly more character studies than whodunits.

Murder by Decree is also perhaps the most well-cast Sherlock Holmes film of all time. Opposite Christopher Plummer is the ever welcome James Mason as Watson, who gives an outstanding performance, and Murder by Decree features one of the best portrayals of the Holmes and Watson friendship. Anthony Quayle, Frank Finlay, David Hemmings and even Sir John Gielguud all put in appearances, as do Donald Sutherland and Genevieve Bujold, in what amounts to a truly heartbreaking performance. Murder by Decree isn't just one of the best Sherlock Holmes movies ever made, but one of the finest dramas I have come across.

#2 - The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976) - Prepare for more gushing! The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, based off of the incredibly successful novel by Nicholas Meyer, is a virtual roller coaster ride of a film. In terms of plot, the movie manages to combine an evocative character study with a rip-roaring adventure. As I wrote before, the greatest thing about this film is Nicol Williamson's outstanding performance as a drug-addled Sherlock Holmes. Williamson's turn as the detective is almost indescribable, and really must be seen to be believed. Despite the fact that Williamson outright stated he had never read a Sherlock Holmes story, his turn is brilliant, coupling the usual confident demeanour with a fragile centre, seldom seen in the great detective.

Williamson is supported on all sides by fine performers - Alan Arkin jiving for top honours as Sigmund Freud, tasked with curing the detective of his cocaine addiction. Robert Duvall makes for a fine Dr. Watson (obviously fake English accent not withstanding), and Laurence Oliver's brief role as Professor Moriarty is a real pleasure to watch. The screenplay of the film was adapted by Meyer, so fans of the great detective will revel in the canonical references with are scattered throughout the film. There is also the now infamous credit sequence which feature not only the original Sidney Paget illustrations, but describe the characters...using footnotes!

The time has now come to reveal number one - the greatest Sherlock Holmes film of all time. If you're a regular reader of this blog, my choice may not be a big surprise...nevertheless, here we go:

#1 - The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) - It would be a Herculean feat to find fault in this mesmorising film. Director Billy Wilder's slightly tongue-in-cheek character study masterfully combines humour and drama, and is in all beautifully realised. The star attraction, as has been the case with most of these films, is the actor playing the detective. In this case, Robert Stephens' performance as a humane, flawed individual truly sets him apart from nearly all other interpretations of the great detective. While The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes may not stringently adhere to Doyle's canon, it adds new layers to the familiar characters and adding new material to the Sherlock Holmes mythos is a gift in itself.

The rest of the cast enforce the ever-changing mood in the film. Colin Blakely's over-the-top Dr. Watson is excellent, and the scene in which the good doctor is confused as Holmes' lover at the Russian opera is shear comedic gold. Genevieve Page reinforces the melancholic atmosphere, and Christopher Lee's cocky, never-to-be-trusted Mycroft Holmes is a fine characterisation, once more adding new layers to Doyle's originals. Everything about The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes just strikes the right chord with me, and to read further musings on this masterpiece of Sherlockian cinema, I direct your attention here - my first installment in the Portrait of Perfection review series on this blog.

And so, my list of the greatest Sherlock Holmes films of all time comes to and end. Yet, these top 10 lists are not yet through. Coming soon - The Top 10 Greatest Television Sherlock Holmes (Of All Time) where I shall look at the finest bits of Sherlockian TV which have appeared over the years. In the meantime, what do you think of my top five picks? Feel free to comment below!

1 comment:

  1. I see that we agree on some and disagree on others, Nick. I have always been a major fan of SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR. I don't understand the furor over bringing Holmes into 'modern' times - it's a common affair now. Keeps being done. This was just the beginning of the trend the way I look at it. I loved the cast in SHATVOT. Most especially Reginald Denny and Henry Daniell....boo...hissssss....!
    I love the short patriotic speech Holmes makes at the end in the ruins of that church.

    'Thorny as a cactus.' Yes, a perfect description of Cushing in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. This version, for me, equals the Basil Rathbone version. Though both are lacking in the genuine chills of the orginal story in my view. I've yet to see a film of the original story which matches the brilliance of it. But maybe that's just me.
    The Jeremy Brett version was ruined for me by the abysmal casting choices.

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