Sunday, February 5, 2012

Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes
Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes

Arthur Wontner (1875 – 1960) starred as Sherlock Holmes in a total of 5 productions from 1931 to 1937: The Sleeping CardinalThe Missing RembrandtThe Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes’ Greatest CaseThe Triumph of Sherlock Holmes, and Silver Blaze. One of them The Missing Rembrandt is officially a lost film.

Wontner made a very stately Holmes and has a striking resemblance to Sidney Paget’s portraits. Wontner was 56 when he starred in his first Holmes adaptation and despite his advanced age, Wontner’s Holmes has a great sense of humor. Even while reading the Canon, I was always enamored by Holmes’s levity that came to the fore time and again in so many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.

A discussion of Holmes is never complete without Watson. Ian Fleming (not the author) played Dr Watson in all the productions excepting The Sign of Four, where Ian Hunter replaced Ian Fleming. Fleming plays Watson as nice but little bit dense. Thankfully he stops short of making his Watson a laughing stock a la Nigel Bruce.

Ian Fleming as Dr Watson with Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes
Ian Fleming as Dr Watson

I have seen couple of Wontner’s movies: The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes and Silver Blaze. A noticeable feature is that Holmes’ archenemy Moriarty is the recurring villain in almost all of these movies.

In Silver Blaze, he engineers the disappearance of Silver Blaze in order to ensure the success of his client in winning the lottery. This adaptation takes a liberty, by setting the story 20 years after The Hounds of Baskerville. Henry Baskerville still resides at the Baskerville hall and has a young daughter, about to be betrothed. Tragedy strikes as the famed horse, Silver Blaze is missing and his trainer is found murdered. Inspector Lestrade suspects the prospective son-in-law of Baskerville. As luck would have it, Holmes and Watson are visiting Baskerville and Holmes solves the case. The rest of the plot is pretty faithful to the canon.

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Silver Blaze is my all-time favorite among the 56 short stories. The story contains 2 of my favorite lines of all time, regarding “The Curious incident of the dog at night” and “The sudden epidemic among the sheep”. Both of these lines appear verbatim in this adaptation much to the joy of the Holmes fan inside me!

Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming as Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson
Holmes and Watson decipher the message in 'The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes'

The “Triumph of Sherlock Holmes” is based on The Valley of Fear. Next to The Hound of BaskervillesThe Valley of Fear is my favorite novel. Holmes’s deduction of the identity of the victim and the murderer is in my humble opinion, one of the best works by Sir Doyle.

I have seen many different adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and unfortunately, there are very few adaptations of The Valley of Fear so far. Other than this one, the only others I have seen are the one with Ronald Howard in the 1954-55 series (titled “The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun”) and an animated adaptation in 1984 with Peter O’Toole voicing Holmes. Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (Christopher Lee and Thorley Walters) as Holmes is also very loosely based on The Valley of Fear.

The adaptation with Wontner is probably the best of the lot and Professor Moriarty makes a direct appearance at the end. In the Canon, he sends a letter to Holmes instead.

This series is highly recommended for fans of Sherlock Holmes. Wontner is an excellent Holmes on-screen!

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Image Sources: The Baker Street BlogAveleymanMystery Movies Online
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