Considering the perennial popularity of the character, I was rather surprised to find out that up until the recent CBS series Elementary, there has been only one American television series based on the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Produced for syndication in 1954 the series, simply titled Sherlock Holmes, starred Ronald Howard as Holmes and Howard Marion Crawford as Dr. Watson. The series was produced by Sheldon Reynolds and filmed in France by Guild Films.
A total of 39 episodes were produced. Most of them were original stories written specifically for the series, though a few were based, at least loosely, upon Conan-Doyle’s stories. Less irascible, but still with the unpredictable flair that is requisite in any portrayal of Holmes, Howard presents a relatively youthful and blithe portrayal of Holmes who retains a certain charm of character that is more relatable the infinitely obsessed and at times quite distancing modern interpretations. As Watson, Crawford, though clearly outmatched by Holmes’ keen powers of observation and deduction, is nowhere near the bumbling blitherer he was often relegated to in earlier Homes interpretations. As in the novels and short stories, this Watson is keen of intellect (and thus an appropriate companion for Holmes), who is simply outpaced by the detective.
All-in-all, this series is quite entertaining, and a worthwhile watch for any Holmes fan. Here’s the first episode, from October, 1954, “The Case of the Cunningham Heritage”. The first part of the episode, you’ll note, is a fairly straightforward adaptation of the first meeting of Watson and Holmes from A Study in Scarlet, though it does eventually veer from that plot into a completely original story.
The good news is that since this series has actually become part of the Public Domain, all of the episodes are pretty readily available for viewing, and have actually had a number of different DVD releases, as well as being pretty easy to locate on YouTube and are also available for download at the Internet Archives.
He has that rare quality, which can only be described as glamour, which compels you to watch an actor eagerly even when he is doing nothing. He has the brooding eye which excites expectation and he has also a quite unrivaled power of disguise. My only criticism of the films is that they introduce telephones, motorcars and other luxuries of which the Victorian Holmes never dreamed.
Those were the words used by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself to describe the actor whose name is the answer to the question in the headline above.
From 1921 to 1923, Stoll films actually produced a total of 45 silent short (approximately 30 minute) films and two feature-length films starring Eille Norwood as the famous detective. These silents were actually produced as three series of 15 films each year (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Further Adventures…, and The Final Adventures…), and the two features (The Hound of the Baskervilles, and The Sign of Four) were released in 1921 and 1923, respectively.
The films proved to be incredibly popular not only with movie goers, but also with critics, especially since they (with perhaps the unfortunate exception of The Hound) tended to stay very close to the source material. Again, though, even Doyle enjoyed the Baskerville adaptation, stating that
On seeing him [Eille Norwood] in The Hound of the Baskervilles I thought I had never seen anything more masterly.
Unfortunately, it appears that only four of these short films are still extant today, and they only seem to have been released as part of a couple of low quality public-domain-Holmes devoted discs, meaning that they haven’t been given anything like the kind of loving restoration they deserve. Nonetheless, I’m embedding three of them below in order to give you at least a taste of one of the few adaptations of the canon that even the character’s creator lavished such praise upon:
I’ve mentioned before, and those who know me well will also be aware, that I used to run a blog called Professor Damians’s Public Domain Treasure Chest. There were a lot of reasons that I let it sort of fall by the wayside, but one of the biggest factors was that as time went on, and I began to try to move beyond some of the movies that were obviously PD, it became harder and harder to try to untangle just what I could and could not responsibly feature on the site. That’s why the article “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Public Domain“, written by Mark Litwak for the Independent Filmmaker Project or IFP caught my eye.
In the article, Litwak does an excellent job not so much untangling the copyright issues surrounding both Holmes the character and the Holmes canon, as explaining why it’s such an entangled mess in the first place.
I’m not going to go into extensive quoting from the article here, but instead I’m simply going to suggest that if you have any interest in Holmes, Copyright, or the Public Domain, you go read it. You may come away from it more confused than ever, but that’s, unfortunately, the state of copyright not only in the U.S, but around the world right now. It’s also part of the reason that real copyright reform is needed.
Unfortunately, that’s a problem that… eh, I don’t even really have to say it, do I?