In the Shadow of Rathbone: Sherlock Holmes Movie Reviews

In the Shadow of Rathbone

Readers of my Help for the Haunted: A Decade of Vera Van Slyke Ghostly Mysteries will likely find parallels between ghost hunters Vera Van Slyke and Lida Parsell — and crime fighters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson. Reviewer Nina Zumel mentions the similarities, and Katherine Nabity  goes so far as to say, “If I were given the opportunity to hang out with Sherlock Holmes or Vera Van Slyke, I’d choose Vera.”

Now, Vera and Lida were American women of the Progressive Era who hunted ghosts, not English men of the Victorian Period who hunted criminals. Still, I’m very much a Holmes fan, and I’ve become especially interested in films depicting him made after the 1939-1946 series featuring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Since Rathbone established such an enduring image of the great detective, all films to follow do so In the Shadow of Rathbone. I’ve taken that name for a series of reviews of post-1946 Holmes movies.

Click on each film’s title to find a review with much more depth than the mini-reviews below. As I write more reviews, I’ll update this list. You might start with the introduction to my In the Shadow of Rathbone series.


cushing-as-holmesThe Hound of the Baskervilles (1958), starring Peter Cushing as Holmes and André Morell as Watson. This film adaptation of the famous novel will keep those who have read that novel guessing about whodunit this time. Cushing makes a good Holmes.


neville-as-holmesA Study in Terror (1965), starring John Neville as Holmes and Donald Huston as Watson. Holmes meets Jack the Ripper in this sometimes good, sometimes bad, movie. It’s a bit too “Hollywood,” but it’s fun to spot the stars.


stephens-as-holmesThe Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970), starring Robert Stephens as Holmes and Colin Blakely as Watson. This pastiche is smart and funny. Watson is played too broadly, but it has Christopher Lee and the Loch Ness Monster!


williamson-as-holmesThe Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), starring Nicol Williamson as Holmes and Robert Duvall as Watson. An early appearance of what I call the Compulsive Detective, meaning Holmes plagued by addiction and neurosis.


moore-as-holmesSherlock Holmes in New York (1976), starring Roger Moore as Holmes and Patrick Macnee as Watson. A Holmes capable of romantic attachment and a Watson incapable of grasping American ways tackle an interwoven pair of crimes.


plummer-as-holmesMurder by Decree (1979), starring Christopher Plummer as Holmes and James Mason as Watson. Holmes meets Jack the Ripper in one of the best Holmes films, one that explores what might push Holmes to tears. Plummer and Mason’s rapport is delightful.


richardson-as-holmes1The Sign of the Four (1983), starring Ian Richardson as Holmes and David Healey as Watson. Revealing the culprits before Holmes is introduced gums up this film, but Richardson’s multi-level interpretation of the great detective makes me wish this series has lasted longer.


ian-richardson-holmes-2The Hound of the Baskervilles (1983), starring Ian Richardson as Holmes and Donald Churchill as Watson. Despite a truly chilling attack scene early on, the ending of this film falls flat. Sadly, Watson is presented as a bumbler.


young-nicholas-roweYoung Sherlock Holmes (1985), starring Nicolas Rowe as Holmes and Alan Cox as Watson. A fun origin story about the meeting of Holmes and Watson with a bit more action and adventure than usual — but the right Sherlockian spirit.


michael-caine-as-holmes-sortaWithout a Clue (1988), starring Micheal Caine as Reginald Kincaid/Holmes and Ben Kingsley as Watson. A funny spoof involving Watson’s invention of a character named Sherlock Holmes and the bumbling actor hired to prove he’s real.


heston-as-holmesThe Crucifer of Blood (1991), starring Charlton Heston as Holmes and Richard Johnson as Watson. Heston’s familiar presence and limited range and other actors’ age differences give this movie the feel of a community theater production.


Brett as HolmesThe Master Blackmailer (1992), starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and Edward Hardwicke as Watson. Stretching Doyle’s “Charles Augustus Milverton” to movie-length causes some confusion, but this adaptation has many nice moments.


barrymore-as-sherlock1Sherlock Holmes (a 2001 re-edit of 1922 raw footage), starring John Barrymore as Holmes and Roland Young as Watson. The original lost — the surviving footage reassembled — this film might disappoint Holmes fans for taking too many liberties.


matt-frewer-as-holmesThe Royal Scandal (2001), starring Matt Frewer as Holmes and Kenneth Welsh as Watson. Some of the casting is odd, but the interesting blend of “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Bruce-Partington Plans” pushes this toward the top of an unpopular series.


richard-roxburghThe Hound of the Baskervilles (2002), starring Richard Roxburgh as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. The mood is great, but Holmes’s use of drugs serves no purpose beyond continuing the Compulsive Detective interpretation.


james-darcy-as-sherlockSherlock, a.k.a. Sherlock: Case of Evil, (2002), starring James D’Arcy as Holmes and Roger Morlidge as Watson. The 1970s collides with the Victorian period in a street-drug saga that collides with a strained Holmes origin story.


rupert-everettSherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (2004), starring Rupert Everett as Holmes and Ian Hart as Watson. The mystery’s solution is hokey, but putting a dark, disillusioned, hard-boiled spin on Holmes is innovative — if uncomfortable.


downey-as-holmesSherlock Holmes (2009), starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Holmes and Watson are kicked up a few notches in terms of action and adventure, but also in terms of characterization and the mystery.


mckellen-as-holmesMr. Holmes (2015), starring Ian McKellan as Holmes. (Watson remains mostly off-screen.) In retirement and plagued by a failing memory, Holmes struggles to accurately narrate the tragedy of his final case. A pleasure to watch.


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