Over the weekend, I took part in the Great Sherlock Holmes Debate, a fund-raiser for Stepping Stones School (located at Undershaw, former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), and Happy Life Children’s Home in Kenya. You can watch it all on You Tube.
Each of us was to defend our favorite interpretation of Sherlock Holmes in 90 seconds. Here’s my pitch for Basil Rathbone:
If you ask Sherlockians of a certain age how they first encountered Sherlock Holmes, a large number will say it was through watching Basil Rathbone movies on TV.
For me, it’s a different story. I read much of the Canon before I ever saw a Rathbone movie. And when I did, I was shocked at the imbecilic Watson and the non-Canonical plots. So, my love of Rathbone’s Holmes has nothing to do with nostalgia. I think his interpretation is the best for the following reasons:
· First, he looks like Sherlock Holmes. That is, he looks like those iconic Sidney Paget illustrations.
· Second, he sounds like Sherlock Holmes. That’s why other actors who took over the part on radio tried to sound like him. And that’s why his voice is the voice of Sherlock Holmes in The Great Mouse Detective.
· Third, he acts like Sherlock Holmes. He is – by turns – hyperactive, superior, sardonic, didactic, supremely confident, and sometimes even self-critical. These all are characteristics of the Holmes that we know from the Sacred Writings. And, unlike some actors who assumed the role after him, Rathbone never overplays the part. Not for him the strange facial twitches or the manic leaps.
I’ll give the final word to Vincent Starrett. He wrote in the 1960 edition of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that Rathbone “has given us a believable, an unforgettable Holmes.” More than half a century later, Basil Rathbone’s Holmes is still unforgettable.