The ongoing popularity of Sherlock Holmes has led to many theatrical and movie adaptations of Conan Doyle’s stories. Guiness World Records regards him as the “most portrayed movie character” with more than 70 actors playing the fictional detective in over 200 films. Of these 70, one of the best remembered is Basil Rathbone.
Basil Rathbone as Holmes
In 1939 20th Century Fox released two Holmes movies, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Portraying the lead roles of Holmes and Dr. Watson were Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. Both films were well received by audiences, in part due to the screen presence of both actors, particularly Rathbone.
The South African born Rathbone, who had often been cast as a villain in previous movies such as The Adventures of Robin Hood was an ideal choice to play the role. His height of 6-1, build, and facial features nearly matched the literary Holmes as described by Doyle. Trained on the Shakespearean stage, he was also able to bring a staid, dignified sophistication to the role.
Universal Studios Steps In
Shortly after the Fox movies were released, Rathbone and Bruce reprised their roles in a popular radio series based on the Doyle stories. Then in 1940 Universal Studios signed the two men to star in what would become a series of 12 Holmes movies, the last released in 1946.
The 12 movies were essentially low budget “B” or second feature films that ranged in storytelling from mediocre to quite good. The one which is still considered the best and holds up well today was the sixth in the series — The Scarlet Claw.
Synopsis of The Scarlet Claw
- Cast: Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Miles Mander, Ian Wolfe, Gerald Hamer, Paul Cavanaugh, and Kay Harding
- Director: Roy William Neill
- Length: 74 minutes
- Color: B&W
Holmes and Watson are in Montreal attending a conference with Lord Penrose when the latter receives a message that his wife has been found dead, her throat savagely torn out. The three go to the Lord’s small French-Canadian village of La Mort Rouge to discover that the town's residents are all convinced that the killing is the work of the legendary La Mort Rouge monster, which allegedly roams the marshes around the village.
Holmes, however, is skeptical, and quickly deducts that Lady Penrose, a former actress, is the victim of a revenge killing by …