The Mystery of Sherlock Holmes Part 2
After Conan Doyle had finished with his creation, the public clamour for more stories was such that his son, Adrian Conan Doyle, tackled the cases which were mentioned in the canonical stories with John Dickson Carr, and ‘The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes’ and ‘More Exploits of Sherlock Holmes’ continued the legacy.
Such was the power of the Holmes stories that volumes of other ‘Holmes’s were published, edited by Hugh Greene. These, ‘The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes’, featured various detectives popular at the same time, and included stories by Guy Boothby, Arthur Morrison, Baroness Orczy and William Hope Hodgson. Who could resist the title of a story like ‘The Affair of the Avalanche Bicycle & Tyre Co., Limited’? The mere mention of Holmes was enough to make the stories bestsellers once more, and Thames Television turned them into a hit TV series.
By now, the film world had discovered the consulting detective, and through the 1920s and 1930s stories proliferated from the UK, Hollywood and the rest of the world, some in modern dress. Holmes fought the Nazis, courtesy of Basil Rathbone, and appeared in the guise of Peter Cushing. Then in 1970 Billy Wilder tackles him. With a 260-page script and a budget of $10 million, this was set to be a 165-minute picture with an intermission.
The shooting schedule ran for six months and resulted in a rough-cut that came in at three hours and 20 minutes. The film was originally structured as a series of linked episodes. The opening sequence was to feature Watson’s grandson in London claiming his inherited dispatch box from Cox & Co. and there was also a flashback to Holmes’ Oxford days to explain his distrust of women.
All were shot, but deleted from the final print. So what happened? Well, it appears that United Artists suffered a number of major film flops in 1969 that scuppered the format for Wilder’s massive project. Studio execs ordered the film to be cut to fill a regular theatrical running time, whittling it down to a 125-minute version. The episodic format made the pruning process simple, so cut were the opening sequence, the Oxford flashback and two full episodes entitled “The Dreadful Business of the Naked Honeymooners” at 15 minutes and “The Curious Case of the Upside Down Room” at 30 minutes. A full print is not thought to exist.
And along came the definitive Holmes, with Jeremy Brett’s hawk-nosed, hard-eyed sleuth in the British TV version – a faithful big-budget recreation of the stories brought about because its producer argued that the stories should be taken seriously as literature. They’ve just been remastered and released in total on DVD.
After that the timeline drops and we languish – Holmes is suddenly out of fashion in the 1980s. We’re all too hip for a fusty old set of stories. Instead, parodies abound – in ‘The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother’ Gene Wilder explains; ‘Sherlock? Sheer luck!’ There are endless spoofs and mickey-takes. There’s a musical by Leslie Bricusse (quite good) and even a Disney version starring ‘The Great Mouse Detective’. ‘Young Sherlock Holmes’ is the first Holmes feature to flirt with CGI, although the emphasis is still on character – but it flops. Perhaps the best of the send-ups is the charming ‘Without A Clue’ in which a penniless actor (Michael Caine) is hired to be a stooge to the real detective, the smart but invisible Watson (Ben Kingsley).
The world was moving away from remembrance of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and it seemed time to put Holmes to rest. What happened next can be attributed to an entirely modern phenomenon.
(To be continued)