The Original Sherlock Holmes

I have a longstanding adoration for Basil Rathbone, not just because he is – very probably – the sexiest man who’s ever lived, but also because I love his performance as Sherlock Holmes:

Basil Rathbone

I have a box set of the fourteen Sherlock Holmes films Rathbone made with Nigel Bruce between 1939-1946, and it is the most oft-watched box set I own. House of Fear and Terror by Night are my all time favourites, and I have watched both those films over and over again.

For many people, Jeremy Brett is the definitive Sherlock Holmes and it is, indeed, the case that the Brett version is far more true to the books than the Rathbone one. Rathbone’s Holmes is warmer – there is no evidence of a cocaine addiction, or much in the way of Holmes’s depressive nature. Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes lacks the cold asceticism Jeremy Brett brings to the part. These films are done with a much lighter touch, and there is much more of a sense of very close friendship between Holmes and Watson:

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the Jeremy Brett version – I do, very much, and have the box sets for that one as well, but I would not be able to watch them over and over again the way I do with the Basil Rathbone ones. This is partly because the Rathbone films have a much greater air of nostalgia. Most of them are set in “modern day” – meaning the 1940’s, which, I think, gives them a sort of sophisticated elegance that the Victorian setting lacks. Plus the fact that they’re filmed in black and white, which makes them even more effective, especially in the spookier films, such as The Scarlet Claw.

Basil Rathbone’s Sherlock Holmes may not be as cold and clinical as Arthur Conan Doyle’s original, but he is still a master of deduction, and ferociously intelligent (you can tell just by looking at him!):

Inspector Lestrade and Dr Watson are both portrayed as bumbling – if good natured – fools in these films which, of course, is not accurate to the books, but allows for plenty of fine, surprisingly understated, comic moments. There is also the odd bit of accidental comedy when the story runs into the most delicious melodrama that seems quite over the top by today’s standards but – I won’t lie – I love a bit of thunder and lightning, and villainous laughs, and da da da theme music from time to time.

In short, the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films may not be the most accurate portrayal, but I think they bring something very special to the stories in terms of style, warmth, cosiness and nostalgia.

Anyway – what sparked this blog post was that it was my birthday yesterday and my lovely Mum bought me a Basil Rathbone bracelet and matching necklace from the utterly fabulous Alternative Boo Teek (for whom I have already expressed my love here):


How unbelievably cool? The photos really don’t do these pieces justice – they’re both literally stuffed with all manner of ghoulish charms – but they are totally gorgeous and combine two of my favourite things – Basil Rathbone and the macabre. Jewellery doesn’t get any better than this.  

And – because it’s beyond awesome – here’s a snap of my birthday cake, lovingly baked for me by my Mum. As anyone who knows their nursery rhymes will recognise, it is the notorious pie from sing a song of sixpence:

Yes, indeed, one of the only things that can come close to Basil Rathbone + macabre, is cake + macabre. Where possible, I always prefer my birthday cake to be just a little bit macabre, ghoulish, sinister or otherwise disturbing.

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La Vie En Rose

When my Dad announced that he’d taped a subtitled French film for us to watch on a Saturday night I was, I will admit, dismayed. One might even go so far as to say that I was appalled. A French film? French? Really? Oscar-winner my foot – I just wanted to watch Kung Fu Panda . . .

I was determined not to like the film, and nurtured a faint hope that if I fidgeted about in my seat enough, it might get turned off and replaced with something better.

The fact that the recording had cut the first few minutes off didn’t make it any easier to get into for it seemed to start with a little kid running amok in a brothel – how very French, right? But then she was taken away by her father to join the circus, and suddenly the film was interesting. I’ve never been so engrossed in a film that wasn’t in English before. What I loved so much about it was the sense of melancholy captured not only by the truly outstanding acting, but through the music and cinematography as well. It reminded me a bit of Chaplin in terms of its nostalgia. The locations, too, were stunning, ranging from the slums of Paris to the glittering theatres of New York, spanning the 1930’s to the 1960’s and perfectly recreating a sense of lost glamour from yesteryear – all long gloves and cigarettes from when smoking was still elegant rather than a mark of – dare I say it – silliness (hurriedly apologises to all my smoking friends – you know I love you guys really).

Marion Cotillard is amazing as Edith Paif. Whilst I was watching it I half thought that perhaps the older version of the singer was being played by another actress altogether. It wasn’t just the effect of make up but the way she moved and spoke – even her voice sounded different. Her transition from vulnerable, wide-eyed teenager to a strong, forceful woman is incredible. A performance utterly deserving of an Oscar if ever I saw one. The sad parts of the film are gut-wrenching but the occasional sweet, tender moment is all the better for the fact that it is understated and never becomes cloying.

I thought about this film for days after watching it and ordered the DVD the same night. I can tell it’s probably going to become a film I obsess over a bit – the same way I obsess over Amadeus. I can watch that film and enjoy it; be fascinated and intrigued by it; totally lose myself in the magic of the story; read up all about Mozart (or, in this case, Edith Paif) and his life (or hers) . . . and then feel thoroughly miserable for the next week. But it is totally worth it.

Really, it just goes to show that when it comes to music, books or film, my dear ‘ol Dad really is my Sam-I-Am, and I’m a fool for ever hesitating to trust his excellent judgement. La Vie en Rose is a masterpiece and I’m extremely glad he made me watch it.

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