5 Sherlock Holmes films to get us to ‘Sherlock’ series 3

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

As many of you Sherlockians know by now, we won’t get series three of Sherlock until early next year, and while that is a frustrating wait, we also have a plethora of Holmes from which to choose. The wonderful thing about a character as old, as popular and as widespread as Doyle’s great detective is that the catalog for expanded stories is massive. The character has appeared in books, games, television and of course films. In an effort to help fans get to their next Sherlock fix, I’ve compiled a list of five Sherlock Holmes films.

The Great Mouse Detective

For most modern Sherlockians/Holmsians, this Disney animated feature seems to be the gateway drug…so to speak. Based off of the children’s book series “Basil of Baker Street” by Eve Titus, this film gives audiences a Holmes story wherein all of the characters are animals. When a young girl tasks the great mouse detective to find her father, Basil gladly accepts and runs afoul of street thugs, cats and a plot to destroy the crown (through the use of automatons no less). This movie is wonderful and reuses Basil Rathbone Holmes dialogue from his previous films for a cameo appearance from the great detective.

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes

Directed by Hollywood legend Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, Some Like it Hot), this film is fascinating not only for its connection to Sherlockania, but to the Hollywood system. Originally clocking in at around three hours (including an intermission) and intended as a roadshow film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was severely cut upon its release in 1970 to 125 minutes. Featuring Robert Stephens as Holmes, Colin Blakely as Watson and Christopher Lee as Mycroft, the film is essentially formed from two stories. One tale involves Holmes being propositioned to have children with a famous Russian ballerina, so that they will have beautiful AND genius children. The other story involves an international plot concerning Mycroft Holmes and the Loch Ness Monster. This film is fun to watch but remains an uneven cultural oddity.

Without a Clue

This hilarious comedy casts, Sir Ben Kingsley as Dr. Watson and Sir Michael Caine as the derelict actor hired to play Sherlock Holmes. The conceit is that Watson is the real brains, but after no one was interested in stories based on “Watson the Crime Doctor”, he had to change his approach by he hiring an actor to play the part of Holmes. Without a Clue plays out like a Victorian buddy-cop film, with Watson feeding information to the performer who has to put on a show for the public. I can’t stress how fun this movie is to watch. Kingsley and Caine have real comedic timing and I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing a sequel with the two characters as older men. Bloody brilliant.

The Seven Percent Solution

Based off of the book by Nicholas Meyer, this film is famous for examining Holmes’ addiction to drugs. Feeling that his friend has been wearing himself down through drug use, Watson makes an appointment for the detective in Vienna to visit famed psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud. Freud uncovers Holmes’ past; why he mistrusts women and relentlessly pursues Professor Moriarty. This film takes a realistic approach to the character and his supporting players. Nicol Williamson is a sympathetic Holmes, giving us a mix of the man and the machine. Both Alan Arkin as Freud and Robert Duvall as Watson deliver engaging performances. This film should be on any Holmsian’s list as it gives us a side of the detective rarely seen, but often referenced.

Murder By Decree

Directed by Bob Clark (A Christmas Story, Black Christmas). This film is notable for the wonderful chemistry between Christopher Pumber as Holmes and James Mason as Watson. This film takes a popular Jack the Ripper theory and sets it to screen as Holmes tracks down the infamous Victorian serial killer to uncover a plot that stretches all the way to the crown. We’re seeing a much different kind of Holmes in this film, not the relentless hound in most iterations. Plumber’s version of the character is warm, friendly and likes a good laugh. The scene where Holmes mashes a lone pea that Watson has been chasing around his plate, is a favorite.

Honorable Mentions

The Young Sherlock Holmes

Though this movie plays havoc with cannon, turning Watson from military man of action to tubby coward, this film is a blast to watch and has a firm place in the genre of “classic boy’s adventure”. A young Watson and Sherlock meet at a boarding school in London and soon find themselves embroiled in a plot that includes, cults, flying machines and some creative and terrifying hallucinations. Be sure to stay after the credits for a nod to one of Holmes greatest enemies.

What’s on your list for favorite Sherlock Holmes films? Let us know in the comments.

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