Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.
Here’s one for you Sherlock Holmes fans out there from Professor Damian.
Whodunnit Wednesday – The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)
There have been so many different adaptations, interpretations and reiterations of the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s great detective that it is often quite nearly impossible to keep up with them. Wikipedia lists the first filmed Holmes story as 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled, and since that time there must have been hundreds of different actors portraying the famed investigator right up to last year’s entry starring Robert Downey Jr. Some of these interpretations, of course, have been more faithful (and some more successful) than others. A while back, I wrote about one of my personal favorite portrayals, that of Basil Rathbone in the series of films produced by Universal Studios. Today I’d like to take a look at another, slightly earlier series of films which unfortunately have been overshadowed by those Universal films.
Arthur Wotner was born in 1875 and portrayed Holmes in a series of five films from 1931 to 1937. Of these five films, the first, The Sleeping Cardinal was, until recently, thought to be a lost film. Unfortunately, though prints have been found of this one, his second, The Missing Rembrant is still considered lost. nonetheless, the films that we do have show Wotner as a Holmes that is more cerebral than many interpretations, and who also definitely looks the part. Wotner is not as athletic as some of the later Holmes, relying much more on his deductive prowess, and that serves him in good stead in today’s feature, his fourth outing as the titular detective, The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes.
Of course, a large part of the credit for this must go to the screenwriters who have hewn fairly closely to the original source material, in this case, Doyle’s fourth Holmes novel, The Valley of Fear. One of the trickier aspects of any Holmes story is that since he is truly smarter than anyone else in the room (unless, of course, his brother Mycroft also happens to be present), he has often already figured out the main puzzle of the story before the explanation of the situation is finished. That is why he works better in a short story format than in a longer work such as a novel or film, and why, so often, those longer works feel padded with action scenes or obstacles that do not really belong. In this particular instance, Doyle figured out a unique way to lengthen the story. Almost one third of the book is taken up by an extended flashback to Holmes’s client’s past as a miner in the U.S. The movie makers have kept this flashback, and though it does cause the film to drag a bit in the middle, it also gives the film a feeling of having more substance than other efforts at padding. On the flip side, the producers also felt the need to include Holmes’ arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty in the film, when he does not appear in the original story, but that change does not distract too much from the overall quality of the film.
Note should also be made of Ian Fleming’s (no, not the James Bond author) interpretation of the role of Dr. Watson. Instead of the bumbling oaf that Watson often seems, in Fleming’s hands we see a Watson that lets us understand why Holmes would have kept him around. After all, when compared to the brilliance of Holmes, anyone is going to seem second rate, and it is important to remember that Watson was not only considered a first-rate doctor, but also a highly trained military man.
There’s no embedable trailer online that I’ve been able to find, but here’s a clip from the first part of the movie which introduces not only Holmes and Watson to the audience, but also the detective’s arch enemy:
And now, the Skinny:
Title: The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes
Release Date: 1935
Running Time: 75min
Black and White
Starring: Arthur Wotner, Ian Fleming
Directed by: Leslie S. Hiscott
Produced by: Julius Hagen
Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.