Friday, February 1, 2013

Guest Starring as Mr. Holmes

Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley in "Without a Clue"
The name Sherlock Holmes has been able to lure some of the biggest names in show business. Famous actors have taken to donning the deerstalker and Inverness to take on the role of the great detective. In today's analysis, I will be taking a look at some of the most famous thespians ever to take on the role of Holmes. Today I will not discuss such actors as Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett since they are so intertwined with the role of Holmes, they needn't really be looked at in depth.

I suppose the place to truly begin is with one of the earliest chronological guest turns as Holmes. After he appeared in 1959's "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Christopher Lee turned to taking on the role of Holmes in the rather dreadful "Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes" better known to English-speaking audiences as "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace." I sad that I have to begin this analysis with such a bad film as this, but it is honestly a very disappointing film. This surely stems from the fact that the movie was a French/German/Italian production. The script is a strange combination of "The Valley of Fear" and pastiche as Holmes and Moriarty race against the clock to retrieve the necklace of Cleopatra.

Christopher Plummer as Holmes in "Murder
by Decree" from 1979
Then during the '70's, when Sherlock Holmes was making a real comeback (perhaps partly thanks to Nicholas Meyer's "The Seven-Per-Cent-Solution), Stewart Granger was given the role of Holmes in a t.v. production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." Granger, a star during the 1950's in such swashbuckling epics as "The Prisoner of Zenda" and "Scaramouche." Granger is a good actor, but perhaps mis-cast in the role of Holmes. He doesn't exactly  come across as the cold, calculating genius of Doyle's detective.

Perhaps, I ought to look at some of the good star turns as Holmes. Beginning in 1979, Christopher Plummer took over the role of Holmes in the movie "Murder by Decree." Perhaps at the time of release, Plummer wasn't the biggest star, however Plummer has risen to stardom today. Plummer's performance is one of the very best - although at odds with Doyle's original characterization. This is a very humane Holmes, however for this story to really work, Holmes has to be a caring character. "Murder by Decree" tells the story of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (played wonderfully by James Mason) as they wind their way through Britain's aristocracy in the search for Jack the Ripper. I give high praise to Plummer's performance, and to the movie on a whole, as it is surely one of the greatest Sherlock Holmes movies ever committed to celluloid.

In 1988, Michael Caine turned up as Sherlock Holmes (well sort of) in the comedy, "Without a Clue." The premise for the film is original and very enjoyable. Dr. Watson (played by Ben Kingsley) is actually the brains behind the detective duo and hires a drunken, dim-witted actor (Caine) to play Holmes. Despite the fact that "Without a Clue" isn't the ideal Holmes film for fans of the great detective, Caine's performance is both comical and at times moving and he surely provides a great performance.

I could go on and on with a list of stars to have turned up as Holmes: Tom Baker, Leonard Nimoy, Jeremy Irons, Richard E. Grant, Jonathon Pryce etc... But what would an analysis of stars in the role of Sherlock Holmes be without a mention of Robert Downey Jr.? Downey Jr. may not be every Sherlockian's cup of tea, but you do have to acknowledge that his performance (which coincided with the release of BBC's "Sherlock") really regenerated interest in Holmes. Even though 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" presented the detective as more of an action hero akin to James Bond than the intellectual master, there were some very nice references made to Doyle's canon, which could excite any true Doylean.


  1. Outside of Basil Rathbone, I only craved seeing and collecting one other Holmes portrayal and that was Christopher Plummer's performance in "Murder By Decree!" My skin still crawls thinking about what went on in the back streets of London 100+ years ago! Nice blog here! I just created a few myself including a mini homage to "Doctor Who, Blake's 7, & Batman!" Good luck with yours! -

  2. Thank you very much! I agree that "Murder by Decree" is excellent and you do get a real creepy sensation watching it.

    I'll have to check your blog out soon. It sounds very interesting.


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