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Retrospective is elementary

The many faces of Sherlock Holmes -- classic, cunning and even cocaine-addicted -- will be on screen.

June 27, 2004|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

Though he's anything but humble, there's no detective like Sherlock Holmes.

He first appeared with his partner Dr. Watson in two Arthur Conan Doyle novels, "A Study in Scarlet" in 1887 and "Sign of Four" in 1890, and made his screen debut in the long forgotten 1903 American short, "Sherlock Holmes Baffled." Over the century, the brilliant, unorthodox resident of 221 Baker St. has popped up in countless movies, TV series, plays, radio shows and even new stories based on his uncanny exploits. Some have played up his fondness for the 7% solution, others explore his lack of luck in love and or pit him against the Nazis. And with his brilliant, analytic mind, Sherlock Holmes gets his man -- or woman.

A new retrospective, "Elementary, My Dear Watson -- Sherlock Holmes on Film," explores the various incarnations of Conan Doyle's legendary literary creation. It's being presented Friday through next Sunday by the American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre in association with the British Academy of Film & Television Arts/Los Angeles.

The game is afoot Friday with "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the 1939 chiller based on Conan Doyle's celebrated novel and the first vehicle to feature the most famous movie Holmes and Watson, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Produced by 20th Century Fox and directed by Sidney Lanfield, "Hound of the Baskervilles" is classy, fun entertainment. The tall, angular Rathbone, who was usually cast as a villain, is Holmes personified. Bruce, who excelled at playing upper-class buffoons, turns Watson into a ninny. But his goofy characterization often comes across as befuddled charm. Rathbone and Bruce would go on to make 14 Holmes films and appear in 200 radio shows. The screening will be preceded by a rare filmed interview with Doyle.

Also set for Friday is a double feature of 1943's "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death" and 1944's "Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman," both of which have been restored by UCLA Film & Television Archive. After Rathbone and Bruce made two Holmes mysteries for Fox, the series moved to Universal, where the budgets were lowered and the action set in contemporary time. These beautifully restored prints illustrate that the Universal vehicles were not just B movies, but beautifully filmed, exciting little programmers. Especially enjoyable is "Spider Woman," which features a juicy, scene-stealing performance by Gale Sondergaard.

England's inventive Hammer Studios also delved into the Holmes universe with its vivid 1959 thriller, "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which screens Saturday afternoon. Peter Cushing plays Holmes in this version, and Andre Morell is his understated but intelligent Dr. Watson.

The rarely seen 1965 British thriller "A Study in Terror" rounds out the double bill. James Hill directs John Neville ("The X-Files") in this snappy mystery, which finds Holmes encountering the vicious Jack the Ripper. Veteran British actor Donald Huston is on hand as Dr. Watson.


A romantic turn

Nicholas MEYER penned the bestseller "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution" in the early 1970s and wrote the screenplay adaptation for the handsome 1976 production directed by Herbert Ross. In this lushly romantic mystery, which screens Saturday evening with 1979's "Murder by Decree," the cocaine-addicted Holmes (an intense Nicol Williamson) meets with Sigmund Freud (Alan Arkin). Robert Duvall is a seemingly miscast but effective Dr. Watson; Laurence Olivier is on hand as Holmes' nemesis; and Vanessa Redgrave plays one of the rare women in Holmes' life. John Addison's vibrant score is icing on the cake.

Concluding the festival Sunday is Billy Wilder's magnificent 1970 mystery-romance "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," which was not a hit commercially or critically and sadly was cut from its original length. Even in its truncated state, "Sherlock Holmes" is Wilder's last great film and a real treat for the eye and the soul. Robert Stephens imbues his Holmes with a great deal of pathos and Colin Blakely more than holds his own as Dr. Watson.

And you can't keep a good detective down. It was recently announced that two British television networks are planning Sherlock Holmes movies this year -- one starring Rupert Everett from "My Best Friend's Wedding" as the detective, the other with Stephen Fry and frequent collaborator Hugh Laurie, who appeared together in the popular comedy series "Jeeves and Wooster."


'Elementary, My Dear Watson -- Sherlock Holmes on Film'

Where: American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre, 6712 Hollywood Blvd.

Price: $9 general admission; $8 seniors and students with ID; $6 for Cinematheque members

Contact: (323) 466-3456 or go to


Friday: "The Hound of the Baskervilles," 7 p.m.; "Sherlock Holmes Faces Death," "Sherlock Holmes and the Spider Woman," 9 p.m.

Saturday: "The Hound of the Baskervilles," "A Study in Terror," 5 p.m.; "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution," "Murder by Decree," 8:45 p.m.

July 4: "The Scarlet Claw," "The Pearl of Death," 2 p.m.; "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes," 5 p.m.

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