Sunday, December 27, 2009

"Quickly, Watson, get your service revolver!"

Took Chris and LawMom out to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie today; and we all three loved it.

Is this movie an accurate depiction of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous literary invention? That depends.

If you are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes of the books, then yes. If you are a fan of the Hollywood version of the detective -- then no.

This is going to come as a shock to some folks, but Basil Rathbone was a lousy Sherlock Holmes.

Sir Arthur penned a Sherlock Holmes who was a young man -- probably in his late twenties, but no older than mid-30's -- who was a genius, yes, but also manic-depressive.

In "A Study In Scarlet", Sir Arthur -- through Dr. Watson -- described how Holmes would be seized by melancholia and would lie upon his sofa, in the dark, for days without speaking or moving; in other stories, Holmes would be "seized by an intensity" and go for days without eating or sleeping, until he fainted.

He is -- as written by Doyle -- an eccentric, who kept his unanswered mail nailed to the mantel with a pen-knife; his tobacco stored in the toe of a shoe; and his cigars in a coal-bin.

He is an addict, who self-medicates his depression with a 7% solution of IV cocaine, with occasional forays into morphia use.

He is also a prize-fighter. In "The Sign of the Four" McMurdo, a retired prize-fighter of some renown is acting as a servant to a house. He refuses to allow Holmes and company into the house because he doesn't know them, until Holmes announces that he is shocked that McMurdo doesn't recognize Holmes as the amateur who went three rounds with him at a fighting club in London. McMurdo responds that if Holmes had stepped up and hit him with his right cross to the jaw, McMurdo would have immediately recognized him; and goes further to announce that Holmes had wasted his fighting skills by not becoming a professional.

And I think my earlier post regarding "Baritsu" covers stick-fighting and such.

As for Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle wrote Dr. John H. Watson as a survivor of the Second Anglo-Afghan War, where he was injured by a jezzail bullet during the Battle of Maiwand. While not a genius (as is Holmes), Watson is not only intelligent enough to solve mysteries himself (The Hound of The Baskervilles), but astute enough to easily follow Holmes' reasoning.

Capable and courageous, Watson was a ladies man, a combat veteran of a particularly nasty war, a respected medical professional, a gentleman of the Victorian Age and a crack shot whom Holmes regarded as his best friend and trusted as his back-up for 56 published adventures and uncounted others from 1887 to 1914.

He was neither a bumbler nor a fool, and he was definitely not an incompetent as Hollywood has tended to portray him.

If you are a fan of the Sherlock Holmes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's books, then go see this movie.

If you are a fan of the Hollywood Sherlock Holmes, go see Avatar.

If you are a Hollywood movie critic who claims that a pugilistic Sherlock Holmes isn't "faithful to Doyles vision" then I'd like to make one little comment:

You're supposed to read books, not eat them.



Anonymous said...

Yep, ya kin buy 'em books and buy 'em books, but all they do is chew the covers.

Gerry N.

Sevesteen said...

I don't mind the Hollywood portrayal of Holmes all that much, even though it isn't perfect. The Nigel Bruce Watson is almost as bad as the film version of Starship Troopers.

On a Wing and a Whim said...

Okay, okay, I give! I'll drag Bayou Renaissance Man off to the theatre and see it!

Borepatch said...

The Mrs. and I both saw this, and enjoyed it very much. For a while, I was kind of rooting for a "Army Of Darkness" sort of finale. Not that that would have been a bad thing ....

One thing we couldn't decide was whether the riverboat captain was played by the actor who played Baldrick in Black Adder.

JPG said...

Couple of things I particularly liked about the current movie - -
Holmes smoked a straight briar pipe; not a gourd bowl in sight.

Watson and Holmes both consistently packed their pocket revolvers and weren't bashful about using them.

Sevesteen - - I'm with the 'Dog. I like the Doyle Holmes A LOT better than the film version. And Heinlein's Juan Rico is far better than the film persona.

Old NFO said...

I'll go see it, as I LIKE the book version better than any Hollywierd version I've seen...

JPG said...

Oh, yeah - - Another Good Thing: In the movies, the calabash pipe was usually "complimented" by a tweed deerstalker cap. Not in this one. ;)

pdwalker said...

Great punchline. GREAT punchline.

I hear that Sherlock Holmes stories go great with a pinch of salt.

Strings said...

A friend decided to treat us to this one tonight, as a late Christmas present.

I'll be honest: I've never read any of the Sherlock Holmes books, because of the Hollyweird versions that everyone knows about. Just didn't strike my fancy.

If this movie is (as you say) fairly true to the books, then it looks like I'll have to pick up some more books!

Drang said...

the Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke Holmes and Watson, usually shown here on A&E, are pretty good, because, among other reasons, Hardwicke does not play Watson as a fool.

I believe that, when Doyle had Holmes smoke a pipe, it was usually cherry; I have a cherry wood pipe, they are usually sold "bark on", because that seems to insulate the bowl a little. They're cheap, almost as cheap as corncobs, and last about as long...
The calabash pipe was introduced to the Holmes epic not by Doyle, but by an actor in a stage version who wanted a prop that would be easily recognizable in the back of the house.

"gunner" said...

...and did they show watson's "service revolver"? i used to own a mkI webley .455, fun to shoot.

Dan G. said...

The first "grown up" books I read as a kid were Sherlock Holmes books - the first of which was Hound of the Baskervilles. So I fully agree with your assessment of the previous depictions of Holmes/Watson, and the fact that you so heartily endorse this movie just makes me that much more eager to see it.

pax said...

I read through the complete Sherlock Holmes canon before I was 12 -- more than once.

Your final sentence is so sadly spot-on! So as a general rule, I aggressively avoid any movie that uses characters from books I've loved.

But on your recommendation, I'll risk this one.



Jeff the Baptist said...

Ditto Drang's comment. I don't really like the Basil Rathbone movies, but the Jeremy Brett series is something else again.

Vaarok said...

Actually, I think Watson was using a .450 Bulldog. I liked the movie, though the mechanism of the mechanism at the end seemed a bit advanced, and the bad-guy kinda died in a fashion with a bit too much artistic license.

8/10 and well worth seeing. Fun, and the characters weren't caricatures.

Sevesteen said...

Of *course* Doyle's Holmes is better than the Rathbone version--Ian Flemming is the only author I'm aware of who managed to create a world popular enough to be adapted to movies, yet bad enough that the movie could improve on it.

Anonymous said...

I think Guy Ritchie may have overcome the Madonna years.

Crucis said...

I bought my daughter the complete set of Sherlock Holmes for her 12th birthday. We're going to see the new one together. SIL can take care of the G'kids.

If you want some inside info on Doyle, take a look at this I posted in January.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for commenting on the Jeremy Brett versions. I last saw the Basel versions so many years ago that I've forgotten all but the lone face standing out in B&W. Now a days I go by the JB versions for comparison.

Admittedly, the trailers for the movie put me off. Sherlock handcuffed to a bed? But, on this series of reviews, I'll go see it.

B Woodman

Lergnom said...

The film version of 'Starship Troopers' is why some of my friends will not see a movie in the theater with me anymore.
I thought Hollywierd had a lot to answer for when they plunked in a happy ending for 'Destination Moon', but 'Starship Troopers' took desecration(yes, I chose the word carefully) of Heinlein's novels to a whole new level.
'Murder on the Orient Express' was the only movie I have ever seen which was not butchered by the film version, but I've never read 'The Maltese Falcon'.

PPPP said...

I have a collection of Holmes that belonged to my mother. Two of the long stories and enough of the short ones to fill a 2" thick book. I also have a separate, complete collection that, if I recall, was the first book I ever bought for myself. Roughly 35 years ago as a teenager.

Now I'm going to have to dig it out and read it all again.

I've always loved Holmes as written by Doyle, and agree that Hollywood really blew it. Mind you, I liked the few Rathbone movies I saw, but none of those seemed to be actually based on true Doyle stories. Of course, I haven't seen one in probably 40 years, so my memory could be a bit fuzzy.

Anonymous said...

Yay! first time I've seen a review of this new movie that I didn't want to scream "go read the books!" at. not that I've seen the movie yet, just that I object to the "but Holmes isn't supposed to be young/athletic/crazy..." who can forget, after reading the books, the random gun shots in the wall, the experiments that involved stabbing a full pig to get a feel for the strength to stab a man, the women who pursued him, and even the resolving a blackmailing case by breaking into the blackmailers house to burn his documents?

glad to see someone else who has read the books and recognizes that holmes is not a miss marple type of detective!

Kristophr said...

Lergnom: Starship troopers was desecrated because the director, Verhoeven, thought Heinlein was a closet Nazi.

The bugs were the heroes in his film.

Sarah said...

Mom introduced me to Sherlock Holmes years ago, when I was a pre teen. They were fantastic stories and I was really hoping that this film would at least try to capture Doyle's vision of the characters. Now that you've said that it does, I'm looking forward to catching it. Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say thanks for the review, LawDog!! I'm definitely going to see it. As someone who knows the books by heart I am always willing to see, and mostly hate, yet another film version - this one, at least, sounds like fun. (There is also a 2-part miniseries with Christopher Lee as SH - quite wonderful, although it is not based on ACD's books). Regarding Watson's revolver, I'd say Webley RIC - I don't think Bulldogs were used in the army, were they?

LabRat said...

I'm another who read the entire canon when I was about twelve. I am SLAVERING to see this movie after years of "god dammit Watson wasn't a pussy or an idiot' bitterness.

Oddly enough, one movie prior actually DID get things fairly right as regards to characterization- and it was based on what is politely called a pastiche and was frankly fanfic. If you can find it view the movie version of "Seven Percent Solution"; worth it for the scene with Sigmund Freud playing tennis alone.

Anonymous said...

Lawdog, i'm surprised you don't mention Jeremy Brett's long time impression of Holmes in the Granada series made between 1984 and 1994. Those are, to my mind the BEST Holmes that has been on any screen.

The portrayal of the more recent Holmes as a womanizing action hero grossly misses a key point of Holme's attitude towards women. That is a decidedly uninterested view aside from his respect for the Woman from the Scandal in Bohemia story..

threadbndr said...

Don't get me started on Starship Troopers.

I, too, was a teenage Holmes fan - Those of you that haven't had the pleasure of the written version are in for a treat.

All of the storys are out of copyright, so they are up on project Gutenberg.

Have fun!

ravenshrike said...

Womanizing implies that he goes after more than one woman, and that he's actually in a functional relationship. This is decidedly not the case.

Nathaniel Firethorn said...

LD, I'm afraid that my mileage may vary on this one. On your reco I looked at the trailer on IMDB. There must have been about twenty wire stunts in just two and a half minutes. Not a good omen.

OTOH, it is good to see that many of the folks here are educated enough to know the difference between a cherrywood and a calabash, and even something about the smoking characteristics of the former.

Unknown said...

I saw this one on opening day. In the car afterwards, I was telling my friend (who had seen a different movie), "You know, I can't think of a single bad thing to say about this film." That's not something I say often about what Hollywood produces.

There was one moment in the film where a villain is discussing "taking back" the American colonies, and says, "Their recent civil war has left them weak." I braced for the usual jarring, out-of-place political dig that always shows up in Hollywood films... and it didn't. Not even a single throwaway line. The line about the American civil war was just talking about the Civil War, no more, no less.

As for the womanizing thing: the woman from the Scandal in Bohemia story was Irene Adler, and the relationship between Adler and Holmes portrayed in the film, though not found explicitly in Doyle's novels, was quite faithful to the characters.

And @Nathaniel Firethorn: never trust a trailer. The trailer I saw looks like an action flick, which the movie definitely was not. Some good fight scenes, but a lot more investigating and piecing together the villain's plans from small, subtle clues.

Mathew Paust said...

Been many years since I read Doyle, but I've enjoyed most of the film versions mainly for the atmosphere and the quirkiness of the characters and stories.

I liked Ritchie's version, too, but mainly for the acting. There seemed to be a tad too much James Bond/Mission Impossible for my taste, but, hey, I'm not trying to be picky.

Did so love watching Lord Coward popping at Homes through the smoke with his howdah, except that the damned thing seemed to be firing .22s stead of the big balls.

LaMigra said...

Damn! Guns and Sherlock Holmes _and_ Heinlein!

I think I _like_ this place!

And recipes, and fruit/booze mixes too!

I _know_ I like this place!

threadbndr said...

Look what I found while surfing around the internets! A time line of the original stories as reconstructed by some people who are WAY bigger fans than I am!

VW = Lanterr - close enough to what Holmes used in place of a MagLite LOL.

Justthisguy said...

"Holmes! Not that horrid cocaine again!"

Hey, Dr. Maturin had some problems like that there, too. My fave Doc Maturin line:"This is not addiction, but is just on the right side of it."

Concur on Troopers, and how verhoeven needs to be met on the deck of a junk on a river in China, in a movie about 1920s China Sailors, by Steve McQueen wielding an axe.

WV: beree. Actually, I'm, more, uh beery.

Kevin said...

I saw it yesterday. Not bad! I'd like to add that the special effects used to produce a wholly believable nineteenth-century London were seamless.

alan said...

LD, I agree for the most part but I hafta to say on a personal note that as I'm getting a little longer in the tooth I'm having a harder time letting go of the scumbagness of the actors. Robert Downey Jr. is a nastypiggy on his very best days.

As for your Avatar mention, well I personally was blown away by the special effects and utterly seething at the portrayal of the marines. Even worse was the happy clapping from the audience when it came to the benevolent native folks killing the murderous caricature of the Marines. It was all I could do to not stand up and scream: "Don't you left wing arseholes ever dare to pretend that you support the troops!"
The whole thing was one big smack in the face with a Leftwing political stick.
Butt the view wuz sure pretty!

Justthisguy said...

Alan, please see my post above in which I write of Steve McQueen wielding an axe on a left wing arsehole.

"The Sand Pebbles", remember?

There was no personal animosity, just military necessity made more painful by the recognition of the face and the thought: "You?!"

WV: euresser. German guy who likes to chew on Euro notes?

Irishdoh said...

On your recommendation, the wife and I went to see the movie and loved it. Having gotten the Complete Sherlock Holmes book for my birthday at the beginning of December, as well as the complete Jeremy Brett series on DVD for Christmas, I still have Doyle's version fresh on my mind. I still enjoyed it and look forward to a sequel.

Alan, I learned long ago to separate actors from their jobs. Far too many of them strike me as idiots far removed from reality, which is why I don't listen to them for political advice. But I do enjoy their movies and TV shows.

Crucis said...

Y'all have to remember. Robert Downey, Jr., may be an asshole, but he's a CONSERVATIVE asshole. That forgives a lot. Not all, but still a lot.

There was a list of conservative actors released earlier in the year. Kelsey Grammer, Tom Selleck, John Voight and Robert Downey, Jr. There were others on the list but I've forgotten their names.

Ted said...

Had a ton of fun at Sherlock, went to see it on opening night. Kick ass fun and hope they do a sequel that kicks ass too.

Saw Avatar at a cheap matinae...metana...matinya... Day showing. Hated the way the Marines were portrayed too, wanted to scream and scarface and the NCO that had his sleeves cut off. Drove me nuts.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

I also saw this in the theater Sunday night based on your recommendation, and loved it. Quoted you in the review on my blog and linked here to your your review.

Like Pax, I read the whole series before I was twelve (more than once, in fact). I always did get pissed about how Hollywood would leave out his bouts of depression and drug use - the weaknesses just complete the character, and make him human, rather than a living supercomputer or some kind of inhuman paragon.

The previews made me wary, but your recommendation tipped the balance. Thanks!

Nate said...

So true but see I saw both the same day so that conclusion does not quite fit!

overall, however you are quite right

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the character of Holmes that they created and agree that they did a lot of things well, like his quirkiness, attention to detail, and boxing ability. However, I was annoyed by two very modern elements that were grafted on, in my opinion.

One, the insertion of modern technology by "steampunking" it. You're going to blow up Parliament with a radio controlled chemical weapon in the late 1800s? Really? I've seen this in other movies, particularly "League of Extraordinary Gentleman", and I don't like it.

Two, the complex occult plot. Sherlock Holmes dealt with secret societies and some crazies but I don't recall one with such an overt occult theme. Even if it did turn out to be faked.


Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

"You're going to blow up Parliament with a radio controlled chemical weapon in the late 1800s? Really?"

Actually, it's not that farfetched. The Tower Bridge - which started construction in 1886 and was completed in 1894 - looks to be about halfway completed, or more. This would place the movie around 1890 to 1892. Experiments with radio waves were well underway by that time.

Heinrich Hertz was demonstrating the production and detection of radio waves by 1888 (and all that would be needed for that device). Guglielmo Marconi was transmitting morse signals over a range of about 1.5 km by 1896, and his apparatus used already existing technologies.

I did get a bit irritated over the "taser" though. If there had been a wire to a generator or storage bank I could have bought it, but anything that could store enough charge to throw a man across the room more than once would not be small enough to hold in one hand - probably not even with today's technology.

As for the plot, while Holmes may not have dealt with anything as overtly occult as this in the books, I don't think it's out of line for the character or the genre, either.

Crucis said...

That "Taser" was more like a cattle-prod. Ever get hit with one? Really smarts.

Of course, all the pitching of bodies is faked. I'd much rather they just fell over. That'd be realistic.

Bob Annis said...

Jeremy Brett did a truly fine job of portraying Holmes, to the extent that the BBCs budget would allow. He took pains to study the character as depicted in Doyle's books and to attempt to give a vivid and realistic portrayal of Holmes. He is sorely missed.

A book, "Bending the Willow", is an excellent read and an in-depth discussion of Brett as Holmes.

I try to stay away from movies made of my favorite books. So I don't see many movies, as the best of them heavily mine the library.

For what it's worth, the Maltese Falcon with Bogart is damn close to the book. If you haven't read it, you should.

KK said...

I loved the movie. Thought it was the only Holmes movie I've ever seen that remotely captured what the author put forth.

dr mac said...

Astute critical commentary. Another reason to read the Lawdog.

Ah, but you bring joy to the grateful reader.

Anonymous said...

George C. Scott as Justine Playfair as Sherlock Holmes with Joanne Woodward as Dr. Mildred Watson in "They Might Be Giants" from the 70s is worth a look, I think.

Dawg, and gang, thanks for the heads up. Haven't been to the thee-ate-er in years. Am off to pack the car for the hour long drive to the nearest movie house.

Best to all from Cave 16.

YenRug said...

@ Bob Annis

The Jeremy Brett versions were not produced by the BBC, though there have been BBC productions over the years, but by Granada instead. It's one of the ITV (Independant TeleVision) group of companies, effectively the commercial broadcasters opposite the public-funded BBC.

As to the perception of Sherlock Holmes, here in the UK, whilst we've had the Hollywood versions we've also had a strong history of the "correct" depiction of him; we might enjoy the bumbling version of Dr Watson, most of us realise he is meant to be a capable companion to Holmes, not a distraction. I've not gotten around to seeing this new version, yet, I was a bit wary of the high action level depicted in the trailers, the assertion that there is in fact a proper investigation does bode well and encourages me to seek it out; I am aware that he is capable of being a man of action, though I always felt that he would be disappointed that he had to resort to using violence to resolve a situation.

With regard to his age, I don't recall any specific mention when I read the stories (have to get around to reading my reproduction of the Strand originals, sometime), but I think the idea of him being late 20's to early 30's is a bit off. It's more likely that he would have been establishing his reputation by his late 20's and Watson would have met him early to mid 30's (remembering Watson is a retired Army surgeon, he would have had to have attended medical school and then done at least 9 years military service), with the books probably covering a period into his 40's.

Jake (formerly Riposte3) said...

If I understand correctly from the description in "A Study in Scarlet," Watson didn't complete his first tour of duty - he was wounded shortly after arriving in Afganistan (his first posting after completing his medical training), then caught a "fever" while recovering from that and ended up being retired for medical reasons. I think his total time actually in the army was 2-3 years at the most (and more likely about 1-2 years), most of which was spent either in transit or in recovery.

Holmes' age I think is based on the fact that, when they met in "A Study in Scarlet," he was still a student - albeit an advanced student - in the University. Which would probably put him roughly in his late 20's, or his very early 30's at the most. It's difficult to see someone still considered a "student" beyond that, and not really likely even in his early 30's. Watson probably met him in his mid to late 20's.

Trusty Trocar said...

Larry said...

As for the womanizing thing: the woman from the Scandal in Bohemia story was Irene Adler, and the relationship between Adler and Holmes portrayed in the film, though not found explicitly in Doyle's novels, was quite faithful to the characters.


Irene Adler Norton was a professional actress and singer, an opera diva to be exact, and was not a master criminal. To portray her as such is an insult to the original character.
There was never anything romantic between Adler and Holmes, they were in fact adversaries. Holmes respected her because of her skill and wit, but had no romantic aspirations towards her at all. All of that was invented by people other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
That was the biggest flaw in the movie for me, the second was that Downey's Holmes did not know who Mary Morstan was, even though she appeared in the SECOND BOOK! of the Sherlock Holmes saga as a client.
Those two things threw the whole "willful suspension of disbelief" out the window for me. So, while the characters portrayed by Downey and Law are otherwise mostly "in character" some of the elements in the story were not. But at least it appears that one or two of the writers actually bothered to read one or two of the stories.

Dr. StrangeGun said...


You know, I'd have to watch it again closely to make sure, but I swear I caught a little pop in the action where one or the other checked their revolver... accompanied by a j-frame open-shut sound effect, and my attention was elsewhere on the screen. I honestly do think I may have seen out of the corner of my eye one of them swing open the cylinder, check it, and press it closed.

That's going to bug me until I confirm, or forget...

Anonymous said...

First: I think I love you.

Second: This is the best review I have seen of the movie. I loved the fact that Watson was himself from the books. I have had a hard time with the movies because I didn't think Holmes would have a friend that couldn't keep up.

Third: Bookmarked. Can't wait to read more from you.