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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: At the Movies with Basil (Rathbone)

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: At the Movies with Basil (Rathbone)

RathboneColor_RathboneeditedI started writing a regular column for Black Gate in March of 2014. I’ve covered a lot of ground, but today we’re going to try something new. Earlier this year, I was watching Casablanca (yet AGAIN) on TCM, and I decided to do do a running commentary about it on my FB page. I know a LOT about that movie. TCM showed it again a little over a month later, so I did it again. It was fun.

I decided to do the same thing with a Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movie. But I watched it on Youtube, which let me pause it while I typed comments, and took screenshots. That worked satisfactorily. During Casablanca, I was so busy (mis)typing comments, I missed half of the movie.

So, this is a mix of my running commentary, with more information and fun stuff added in during composition of the essay. It’s a hybrid, but not as detailed as I normally write. We’ll see how it goes as we look at two films: Terror By Night, and The Scarlet Claw. I already wrote a full post on the second movie. I just felt like watching it again.

Of course, all fourteen Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce were black and white. But colorized versions, both official and not, have been around for a while. I watched colorized versions of both films, via Youtube. Terror By Night was done by TCC (Timeless Classics now in Color). They’ve got a bunch of movies on their website. And the quality of this one was excellent. The best colorized Holmes I’ve seen. The Scarlet Claw was by ATC, and it was muddy.

TERROR BY NIGHT

We start with number eleven of twelve in the Universal Pictures series. Only one more Holmes movie remained, as Rathbone, tired of being typecast, walked away from the franchise (and the associated radio show).

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: “The Adventure of the Tired Captain”

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: “The Adventure of the Tired Captain”

CuriousIncidents_CoverEDITEDTwenty years ago, I had a short story published for the first time. Charles Prepolec and J.R. Campbell had not yet put out their four Gaslight collections of Holmes horror stories. Their initial book outing was a little collection called Curious Incidents. For some reason that escapes me now, I thought it would be clever to have a story in which Arthur Conan Doyle plays Dr. Watson. The part that made it really clever, was that he would be assisting William Gillette as Holmes. And they’d be solving one of Watson’s untold cases! I’ve since gone on to write ‘straight’ Holmes pastiches – several of them published. As well as short stories featuring Solar Pons, and others with Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. But getting my name in print began with a twist on Sherlock Holmes.

It was a blustery evening in the Fall of 1901 when I received an unexpected visitor to my hotel room. I had come down to London to meet with my editor at The Strand, Martin Greenhough Smith. Dining at the Westminster Palace Hotel, where the fare is always excellent, we had discussed some particulars relating to the new Sherlock Holmes story that I had, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to provide him with. Returning to my home in Southsea upon the morn, I was still debating upon the merit of bringing Holmes back to life, albeit for only one more adventure.

I arose at the knock upon my door and opened it. To my considerable surprise, I found myself gazing upon the face of Sherlock Holmes. Well, not quite Sherlock Holmes, but the man who had become most identified with him on two continents. The talented actor William Gillette had come to pay his compliments to me.

I shook his hand and relieved him of his wet coat and cap. I bade him make himself comfortable in the over-stuffed armchair by the lamp and poured him a warming glass of good brandy. William Gillette was a famous actor in America. He had starred in several plays and was quite popular. In 1899 he had rewritten an offering of my own, entitled it ‘Sherlock Holmes – A Drama in Four Acts,’ and achieved new levels of success. It had been the toast of New York City and every show had played to a full house. He had recently brought it across the ocean and presented it at our own esteemed Lyceum Theater. It came as no surprise that it was an even bigger smash here in London. Though I considered these detective stories as less important than my other writings, Sherlock Holmes was immensely popular and, I had to admit, financially profitable.

Ensconced in my own chair, Gillette regaled me with his tales of Holmes in America. He certainly made an excellent portrait of the sleuth. Of course, Sidney Paget had drawn a more handsome Holmes than I described, but that had probably been for the best, as it attracted more female readers to the stories. Gillette was tall and lean, with a very distinctive profile. His nose wasn’t quite the hawkish affair that I had pictured, but I could easily see how playgoers had come to identify his visage with that of Sherlock Holmes.

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What I’ve Been Reading Lately: December/2019

What I’ve Been Reading Lately: December/2019

Oden_MenBronzeEDITED“What have I been reading lately, you ask?” Oh. You didn’t say that. Well, I’m going to tell you anyways.  When I ‘get into’ something, I jump in full-bore for a short time: up way past my elbows. That’s how most of my series’ here at Black Gate start. Fortunately, I can be reading a couple different books simultaneously, and I also listen to audiobooks to help cover more ground (though I ALWAYS prefer reading to listening).

SCOTT ODEN

And I recently went on a short Sword and Sandals kick. Scott Oden and I have become friends through our mutual love of Robert E. Howard: he did the “Devil in Iron” entry for Hither Came Conan. I grabbed the digital version of Men of Bronze (a STEAL at $3.99!). It’s historical fiction (non-fantasy) set in 529 BC in ancient Egypt. It’s near the end of the time of the Pharaohs and Egypt is trying to hold off the encroaching Persian Empire. As is often the case with faltering empires, it is relying heavily on mercenaries to keep order.

Hasdrabal Barca is the protagonist; the deadliest mercenary of them all, leading the fight to stop the betrayal of Greek mercenaries, and the ambitious Persians. I had trouble keeping the various names straight, but I very much liked this book. It’s got a grand sweep, and I love Scott’s depiction of Egypt. There’s a rough scene early on, but fortunately, that not the norm for the rest of the book. Much recommended. I also bought his Greek historical novel, Memnon, at the same time (same price). It’s on my massive To Read list.

HOWARD ANDREW JONES

Of course, I couldn’t just read one book of a type, and move on. That’s not me! Howard Andrew Jones was Black Gate’s first Managing Editor (a post recently assumed by Seth Lindberg) and is currently receiving rave reviews for his epic fantasy, The Ring-Sworn Trilogy. I had not yet read his two fantasy Sword and Sorcery novels, featuring the wise and learned scholar Dabir and the brave man of action, Asim (I was not totally unfamiliar with them – more on that below).

So, I got the audiobook for Desert of Souls, the first novel. The adventures take place in a fantasy-real version of Arabia, with sorcery and monsters. And there’s a Robert E. Howard Easter Egg near the end. I like the main characters, and their world, so I have started on the audio book of Bones of the Old Ones.

I had already read The Waters of Eternity; a collection of six short stories featuring the two men. I re-read it, and I actually prefer it to the novels. They are really mysteries, set in that fantasy Arabia. I like the mix of fantasy and detective work, and also the shorter length. You should check them out.

NORBERT DAVIS

For months, I have been listening repeatedly, to an audiobook of the five Max Latin short stories. I simply never get tired of them. The woefully under-appreciated Davis, who I wrote about last week, as well as last year, is on my Harboiled Mt. Rushmore. And the stories about the not-as-crooked-as-he-pretends Latin are the best of the bunch. I listen and read them throughout the year.

I also picked up volumes one and two of The Complete Cases of Bail Bond Dodd, the first series character that Davis created for Dime Detective Magazine. The Dodd and Latin collections are from Steeger Books. You should be reading some Davis.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes on the Range

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Holmes on the Range

Hockensmith_HoRCoverEDITEDThat’s right: The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes is back! Well, for one week, anyways. A (Black) Gat in the Hand will resume next Monday. There were quite a few topics I never got around to covering during TPLoSH’ 156-ish week run. (Wow!) And one was Steve Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range series. I recently got around to finishing the short story collection that I bought for my Nook back in 2011 (I’ve got a bit of a reading backlog, ok?!), and I decided I needed to finally write a post about it, before it got buried in the To Write list again. So, here we go!

There are a lot of ways to go about writing a Sherlock Holmes story. Some folks attempt to very carefully emulate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s own style, and turn out a tale that feels as if it might have been done by the creator of the great detective himself. Of course, success varies greatly. Hugh Ashton and Denis O. Smith are the best I’ve found in this regard. You can find stories ranging from pretty good to not suitable for (digital) toilet paper. I’ve had three of my own stories published with ‘meh’ results.

Some folks write whatever the heck they want, often with the name of Holmes being the only similarity to the famed detective. It is possible to find good Holmes stories that sound nothing like Dr. Watson’s narrative style, of course. And Holmes has been placed in different eras, and even worlds.

There have been Holmes parodies around for over a hundred years. I’ve written a couple myself, and they were fun!

There are Holmes-like successors out there, of whom August Derleth’s Solar Pons is the best. Yes, I’m aware that’s a subjective judgement, but it’s mine, and I’m the one writing this essay, so it stands. I’ve written about Pons more than once (here’s a good overview), and even contributed introductions and pastiches to anthologies.

But today I’m going to talk about one of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries; albeit, quite different and far away. Steve Hockensmith had been writing short stories for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Christmas issue, and wanted to sell more to the venerably magazine. EQMM does an annual Sherlock Holmes issue, so he figured that was the way to go. But he wanted to write more than just another Holmes story.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks (Vol 2) & The Thinking Engine

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Cthulhu Casebooks (Vol 2) & The Thinking Engine

Lovegrove_MiskatonicLast December I wrote about Sherlock Holmes & the Shadwell Shadows, volume one of James Lovegrove’s Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy. And this December, it’s on to book two, Sherlock Holmes and the Miskatonic Monstrosities. I wasn’t quite as fond of the second installment, though not because it’s a bad book.

As I wrote in that first review:

The basic premise of the… trilogy is that Watson made up the sixty stories in the Canon. He did so to cover up the real truth behind Holmes’ work. And that’s because the truth is too horrible to reveal. In a nutshell, Watson has written three journals, each covering events fifteen years apart, to try and get some of the darkness out of his soul.

The darkness exists because Holmes, with Watsons’s assistance, waged a career-long war with the otherworld beings of the Cthulhu mythos.

Somewhere in another Black Gate post, I calculated the percentage that Holmes is absent in each of the four novellas which Doyle wrote featuring the great detective. Lovegrove chose to use that novella model and it’s my biggest complaint about the book. Holmes and Watson find a journal and read it. It reminds me of the Mormon interlude in A Study in Scarlet and it takes up thirty-five percent of the book.

Fully one-third of this novel has nothing to do with Holmes or Watson. It provides background to the mystery, but it could be a standalone story and it would have no more tie-in to Holmes than an account of my going out to lunch yesterday.

The flashback takes place in Arkham and it is essentially a Cthulhu short novella. Lovegrove got to write a Lovecraft pastiche within a Holmes pastiche. Of course, these three books are aimed at fans of the Cthulhu stories, so it’s not totally out there. I’ve read stories by Lovecraft, Derleth and others. I don’t mind them, but I’m not a particularly big fan. So, I’m not the target audience for the trilogy.

Those who are avid Holmes and Cthulhu fans are likely to enjoy this second book more than I did. But the fact is that this was a third of the book with no Holmes and/or Watson.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons – The Complete Basil Copper

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Solar Pons – The Complete Basil Copper

I’ve posted a few times about Solar Pons, whom Vincent Starrett called, “The best substitute to Sherlock Holmes known.” Since I created www.SolarPons.com and founded The Solar Pons Gazette, it’s fair to say I’m a big fan of the ˜Sherlock Holmes of Praed Street.’

Erikson-Lees cov copy

August Derleth wrote seventy-something stories about his creation before passing away in 1971. Derleth’s Arkham House publishing company had printed some works by British horror author Basil Copper and Arkham editor James Turner, in response to a Pons-related letter from Copper, suggested that the British writer compile the entire Pons collection into a two-volume Omnibus. Copper did so, making some 2,000 edits to Derleth’s originals to ‘correct errors.’ Copper referred to this Omnibus as “a veritable feast for Pontine enthusiasts.”

Sure. Except that there was a major outcry from said enthusiasts at Copper’s hubris in rewriting the master’s work (reminds me of L. Sprague de Camp ‘revising’ Robert E. Howard’s original Conan writings). It seems to me that the split was never healed. Meanwhile, Turner asked Copper to continue the Pons saga. Copper wrote four collections of stories and one partially completed novel over the next few years (he would go on to release two more collections of originals and complete the novel).

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Post

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Post

Halloween_HolmesBatman
Me and my little superhero

The plan was to put up a linked index of all three years of The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes posts today, but I didn’t get it finished. Hopefully, the powers that be at Black Gate will let me post an irregular PLoSH column now and then and I’ll get that up. As well as the ‘Sherlock Holmes: A to Z’ post that never quite got written.

When I started this column three years ago, the BBC’s immensely popular Sherlock had just finished the divisive season three, from which it never recovered, and CBS’ Elementary was in season two. Sherlock seems to be done after four episodes in the past three years and the fans are still in opposing camps (love/hate). Elementary is finishing up season five with ratings way down and may well not be back for another year, though it will have run for over 100 episodes and made it to syndication.

Robert Downey Jr., who revived the onscreen life of Holmes with his 2009 movie (and a 2011 sequel) is in the early stages of a third Holmes big screen effort. If Sherlock and Elementary truly are done, then the Downey Jr. movie may jumpstart Holmes in the public culture, though many fans don’t like his action hero portrayal.

The Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle sued, and lost, to have Holmes declared under copyright. He and Watson, and the stories before The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, remain in the public domain.

A Holmes short story, supposedly written by Doyle, was discovered. Its provenance remains doubtful. Quite.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Thoughts on The Sussex Vampire

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Thoughts on The Sussex Vampire

Sumatra

Sussex_PagetIt seems somewhat curious that we find three references to Sumatra in the Canon. Two of those are to unrecorded cases, which makes matters even more intriguing. Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world and a part of Indonesia.  Indonesia was ruled by the Dutch for over three hundred years, including the entirety of Sherlock Holmes’ career (Japan occupied Indonesia during World War II and the country gained autonomy after that). I have visited Indonesia twice, as my wife was born and raised there.

In “The Sussex Vampire,” Holmes mentions the Matilda Briggs, “a ship associated with the giant rat of Sumatra, a story for which the world is not yet prepared.” In “The Dying Detective,” Culverton Smith was a planter who lived in Sumatra. We are also told at the beginning of “The Reigate Squires” that Holmes was on the verge of collapse after foiling the colossal schemes of Baron Maupertuis, which involved the Netherland-Sumatra company.

Three references to people or things with Sumatran ties. Could tea somehow be related? Indonesia was one of the world’s leading tea producers until World War II. The region of Sumatra was the second-largest tea producing region in Indonesia. Was the death of Culverton Smith’s nephew somehow associated with the activities of Baron Maupertius, for whom Culverton Smith worked or was otherwise associated?

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Not Impressed With “The Mazarin Stone”

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: Not Impressed With “The Mazarin Stone”

Mazarin_StickCurrent writers of Sherlock Holmes stories (such stories are known as ‘pastiches’) are held to the standard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s originals. And rightfully so. But that’s not to say that all sixty of Doyle’s tales featuring his famous detective are of the same quality. Followers of the great detective debate the merits of various stories. I myself am less than thrilled with “The Dying Detective,” since Holmes doesn’t do much of anything in it. He’s less mobile than Nero Wolfe in that one.

But I can’t think of too many fellow Sherlockians (and I don’t mean followers of the BBC television show) who are enamored with “The Mazarin Stone.” I definitely am not and consider it one of the weakest in the entire Canon. Of course, if you haven’t read it, you probably should do so before continuing. You’re back? Good.

The Play’s the Thing

Jack Tracy’s The Published Apocrypha contains the full text of the play The Crown Diamond, as well as an informative essay. “The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone” and The Crown Diamond are pretty much the same story and share much dialogue, differing only in a few minor details.

One of those details worth noting is that Colonel Sebastian Moran is the villain in play, whereas it is Count Negreto Sylvius in the story. Using Moran makes sense, since playgoers likely would know the character, based on his feature role in “The Empty House.” Both men like air guns and are big game hunters, so the real difference is negligible.

Dennis Neilson Terry starred as Holmes in the stage production of The Crown Diamond.  It’s nowhere near as good as Doyle’s play, The Speckled Band, which I wrote about in this post.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – A New Solar Pons Omnibus

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – A New Solar Pons Omnibus

Copper_OmnibusIf you want to read my thoughts on the season four (and hopefully series) finale of BBC’s Sherlock, click on over and read it at my blog. Because today The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes is going to talk about Solar Pons.

August Derleth, the creator of Solar Pons, passed away in 1971. Derleth’s final collection, The Chronicles of Solar Pons, a mix of previously released stories and ones never published, came out in 1973. Surprisingly, Pons would be back within a decade! In 1979, Basil Copper would release three collections of tales: The Dossier of Solar Pons, The Further Adventures of Solar Pons and The Secret Files of Solar Pons. There would be three more collections, as well as a novella. Copper had written horror books for Derleth’s Arkham House imprint and he seemed like a good choice for continuing the stories.

Unfortunately, Copper’s Pons connection did not have a happy ending. He helped Arkham House editor Don Turner compile an omnibus edition of all of Derleth’s released Pons stories. However, Copper chose to do some ‘corrective editing’ of the originals, which caused a furor among the Pontine faithful. You can read Jon Lellenberg’s essay on this topic in The Solar Pons Gazette (page 45). Peter Ruber also wrote an excellent account, but I don’t have permission to reprint that.

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