Rathbone and Holmes


So…I am nearly finished reading one of the few autobiographies I have ever read, titled “In and Out of Character”. Who’s is it? Basil Rathbone’s, who is most famous for his many films in which he starred as Sherlock Holmes.

Honestly, Rathbone makes the ideal Holmes. Simply take a look at him! As someone said in “Starring Sherlock Holmes”, he looks just like the Paget figure from the original books. It really is amazing, to me. He even has the Holmes attitude. Cool, calm, and precise. And to join him, he’s got the absolutely hilarious Inspector Lestrade (favorite, favorite!), dear, lovable Mrs. Hudson (she’s just like his grandmother, seriously) and oh, the bumbling, swing-the-cane, mutter-chuckles, ‘Coming, Holmes!’ Dr. Watson (who always takes the cake, for me).

I had always been mad at Rathbone for not doing more than fourteen Holmes films. Honestly, they are so jolly fun to watch. Only fourteen?!?!?!?!? But when I read the chapter in his book, titled, “Hi there, Sherlock, how’s Dr. Watson?” I didn’t blame him any more for not wanting to continue as the Great Detective. Here’s why…

Rathbone had been a stage actor before hitting the screen. One of the things he liked about the stage was that he could act many different characters and not get bored (he put it much more eloquently than that). But when he was doing Holmes film after Holmes film, he found that he was playing the same character over and over again in different circumstances. He didn’t enjoy it after a while nor did he like being tagged with the Holmes title after so many films. As he said in his book, ‘My fifty-two roles in twenty-three plays of Shakespeare, my years in the London and New York theater, my scores of motion pictures, including my two Academy Award nominations, were slowly but surely sinking into oblivion: and there was nothing I could do about it, except to stop playing Mr. Homes, which I could not do owing the existence of a long-tern contract.”

After I read that, I thought, “Poor guy. I don’t blame him one single bit.”

He compared himself to Mr. Holmes’ own creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, who felt that he could not escape Holmes either and ending up ‘killing’ him with Moriarty. Of course, the public got so upset at this that he ended up bringing him back from the grave and continuing the adventures. I can see both of them trying to start fresh…but never quite succeeding.

However, there is one thing that Rathbone liked about the series that I find quite assuring and pleasing to hear. He liked Nigel Bruce’s way of portraying Dr. Watson. So maybe Dr Watson wasn’t such an idiot in the books. This isn’t a book, though, this is a movie and Bruce’s Watson is my most favorite!!!! He is so hilarious, and I often wish I could remember all the funny things he says. Many of my friends get upset of the portrayal of Watson in the movies . . . all I can think is, “Good grief, he’s a hoot to watch! He’s so lovable! He’s one of the best parts of the entire series!” And Mr Rathbone agrees with me!!! Quote: “And lastly, there is no question in my mind that Nigel Bruce was the ideal Dr. Watson, not only of his time but possibly of and for all time. There was an endearing quality to his performance that to a very large extent, I believe, humanized the relationship between Dr. Watson and Mr. Holmes. It has always seemed to me to be more than possible that our “adventures” might have met with a less kindly public acceptance had they been recorded by a less lovable companion to Holmes than was Nigel’s Dr. Watson, and less engaging friend to me than was “Willy” Bruce.”

However, it is not Bruce who makes the series a success in my eyes. Nor Rathbone’s Holmes. It was the two of them together! They make the absolute best pair for screen. And the amazing and most wonderful part is, is that while they show two great friends on camera, they are also two great friends off set!

~Jamie Joyce

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