|And so it begins -The Hound at the IU Cinema|
My first exposure to Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, years after I'd begun reading the Canonical tales, came on a small-screen television. It didn't matter that the movies were black and white - so was the TV set.
As others have noted, watching the Rathbone movies on a big screen in a theater full of Sherlockians was an entirely different experience, a wonderful one. We gasped together and laughed together. One could feel the love.
I'm describing the Gillette to Brett IV conference at Indiana University in Bloomington last month, which celebrated the 75th anniversary of The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by screening the two films on successive nights.
They were the Rathbone's first outings as Holmes and, unlike the 12 films that followed, were set in the original Victorian time frame of the stories rather than in the 1940s. Nigel Bruce's hair is darker and his performance as Watson less buffoonish (though only slightly).
Gillette to Brett IV organizers billed this 1939 version of The Hound as the greatest Sherlock Holmes movie ever made. Although I haven't seen all the others, it's easy to believe that they are right. It's a great flick.
But, still . . . One can respectfully quibble. Why add the séance scene that didn't appear in the book? It adds nothing. Why not build up more suspense with The Man on the Tor? And why end with story less action than the dramatic chase across the moor in the novel?
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is less open to criticism from purists because there is no story to compare it to - it's a complete fabrication of the screenwriter, and quite a good one. Never mind that Professor Moriarty isn't quite the Moriarty of "The Final Problem."
At some point one has to forget purity and enjoy these films for what they are. And what they are is just plain marvelous. I'm grateful to Gillette to Brett IV for the chance to enjoy them with like-minded enthusiasts.