Sherlock Holmes on Screens 1
1929 - 1939
"The well-remembered voice" (empt)
To inaugurate its new Holmesian collection, the Sherlock Holmes Cyclopædia, Mycroft’s Brother is proud to publish the first of a series entitled Sherlock Holmes on Screens, intended to encompass productions broadcast on cinema, television and other screen media.
Volume 1 covers the period from 1929 (the advent of talking pictures) to 1939 which marked the release of Basil Rathbone’s first cinematic outings in the role. It was a crowded decade: sixty or so representations of Sherlock Holmes are identified in this new work, nearly five times the number previously listed in specialist filmographies.
The reader will “behold the fruit of pensive nights and laborious days” spent by American Sherlockian, Howard Ostrom. For years he has researched and assessed archives of all kinds, unearthing original, unpublished, and occasionally surprising information that now contributes to a clearer understanding of the significance, fame and influence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation for international audiovisual culture. Film by film we may follow the irrepressible rise of the Great Detective to motion picture celebrity status.
Prior to 1929, “the well-remembered voice” of Sherlock Holmes could only be heard fleetingly at live performance on theatre stages; he was visible but silent on film. That first talking decade brought Holmes to the masses in all his multi-dimensional glory. Holmesian turns of phrase, rarely canonical and often born on the stage, like “Elementary, my dear Watson”, permeate the imagination of moviegoers, prompted by the foregrounding of such dialogue in advertising and journalism.
The full Sherlock panoply begins to take precedence over Holmes’ personality; his calabash pipe, deerstalker and magnifying glass are seized upon as a visual shorthand, snaring the customer whatever the film’s content or quality. We see this now; then, it was irresistible novelty.
In this hardcover album, Howard Ostrom enriches his discoveries with a stimulating commentary and tasty anecdotes. Thierry Saint-Joanis, President of the Sherlock Holmes Society of France, has illustrated the text with more than three hundred unpublished or rare images that animate the author’s listings and supplement dozens of contemporary press clippings provided to record critical reception.
It is hoped these documents, collected for the first time from international press archives, will delight fans who may enjoy the comments and mistakes of journalists, and serve researchers who will finally have a rich source to confirm or refute the genesis of certain notions and legends that to this day often distort the original Sherlock Holmes imagined by Conan Doyle.
Naturally, Volume 1 contains all the famous names such as Clive Brook, Arthur Wontner and Basil Rathbone who gave a voice to Holmes between 1929 and 1939.
The reader will also encounter a whole gallery of actors (and actresses!), familiar and obscure, donning the mantle of the Great Detective (for better or for worse), all contributing in myriad ways to the burgeoning cinematic reputation of a seemingly inexhaustible character.
Perhaps these early lights of the talking screen help illumine the impact of those stellar Sherlocks of our own time like Robert Downey Jr., Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller.