Category Archives: Film & TV
Tomorrow marks the fourth annual installment of Star Wars Reads Day! We over at Hal Leonard can’t wait to celebrate with one of our published books, Star Wars FAQ. It has gotten great reviews and the online blog, The Bearded Trio, has even said:
“One thing I’ve learned since 1977 — you can ever know too much about Star Wars, and there will always be something you don’t know. I’m constantly (and pleasantly) surprised when I run across a fact or image that is new to me, and Star Wars FAQ did not disappoint on this count. Highly recommended!”
Read the full review here.
To prepare you for a day that is sure to become more and more popular each year, below is an excerpt of Mark Clark’s, Star Wars FAQ Everything Left to Know About the Trilogy That Changed the Movies. Enjoy!
Even before George Lucas had completed his Star Wars screenplay he was faced with finding actors to portray his still-evolving characters. Auditions began in late August 1975, while Lucas was finishing the fourth draft of the script. While not quite as excruciating a process as writing the film (see Chapter 4), casting soon became another protracted ordeal—both for Lucas and for the actors under consideration for major roles.
Lucas wanted to hire young, unknown performers for the picture’s leading roles, as he had for American Graffiti. This was in part a cost-containment strategy, but he also believed that actors not already associated with other characters would be more effective in the fantasy context of Star Wars. It was one thing to ask viewers to accept Wookiees, lightsabers, and the Force, but something else again to ask viewers to accept someone like, say, Ron Howard as Luke Skywalker. To assist with the talent search, Lucas again relied on casting director Fred Roos, who had served marvelously on Graffiti. At the beginning of the process, Lucas, Roos, and several assistants worked twelve-hour days, seeing as many as 250 actors per day. After three grueling weeks of this, to save time and money Lucas joined forces with another young director, Brian De Palma, who was looking for a group of young unknowns to star in his film Carrie (1976). Lucas and De Palma took the unusual step of hosting joint auditions. Hundreds more actors were invited to come in and try out for both films. Lucas’ demeanor during this process was so low-key that some of the would-be cast members mistook him for De Palma’s assistant.
Nevertheless Lucas had definite ideas about what he wanted and placed a premium on chemistry between his leads. During callbacks (without De Palma), he screen-tested actors as ensembles to see how various would-be Leias, Lukes, and Hanses worked in concert with one another. Early on, Lucas wanted to hire legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune to play Ben Kenobi, but Mifune declined. “If I’d gotten Mifune, I would’ve used a Japanese princess, and then I would have probably cast a black Han Solo,” said Lucas in J. W. Rinzler’s The Making of Star Wars. One of the trios in contention for the leading roles featured newcomer Will Seltzer as Luke, former Penthouse centerfold Terri Nunn as Leia, and a young Christopher Walken
Jodie Foster was given serious consideration as Princess Leia. She was screen-tested but not hired because she was only thirteen years old at the time, and casting a minor would introduce restrictions on the shooting schedule. (De Palma declined to cast her in Carrie for the same reason.) Other performers in the running for major roles included John Travolta, Amy Irving (both eventually hired for Carrie), Nick Nolte, Tommy Lee Jones, and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs (later “Boom Boom” Washington on Welcome Back, Kotter)—a potential Han Solo. Ultimately, of course, Lucas settled on Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher for the leads; a pair of distinguished British actors for key supporting parts; and four performers with specialized talents (and physiques) for the remainder of the primary cast.
None of their lives would ever be the same.
David Bushman and Arthur Smith, authors of Twin Peaks FAQ, to be published this spring by Applause Books, remember Catherine Coulson. Coulson worked behind the scenes on many features and independent films since the age of 15, but perhaps the most iconic role was her role as Margaret Lanterman in the TV series Twin Peaks.
Upon hearing the sad news of Catherine E. Coulson’s passing, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge her unique contribution to the brilliantly skewed tapestry that is Twin Peaks, as well as her status as one of the most beloved figures in Twin Peaks fandom, adored for her iconic performance as Margaret Lanterman—the fabled “Log Lady”—and for her warmth and generosity towards the show’s fans, many of whom she met and talked with at the numerous Twin Peaks fan events she attended with joyous dedication.
The Log Lady was an early point of reference for pundits and fans enumerating Twin Peaks’s intriguing eccentricities: a grave, forbidding figure whose distinguishing characteristic was her ever-present log, a sturdy branch she cradled to her bosom like a beloved child and with which she consulted on matters most troubling and mysterious. She served as the story’s Cassandra figure, dispensing gnomic nuggets of mystically obscure prophesy and insight derived from her log’s silent (to us) utterances. The absurdity of this idea, presented with such solemn gravity, perfectly encapsulates Twin Peaks’s ability to exploit the tension between narrative and aesthetic extremes to create a uniquely disorienting/seductive atmosphere.
Coulson’s deadpan, nearly affectless performance only deepens the strangeness (though she is possessed of a certain flinty, defiant streak: witness her slapping Cooper’s hand away from a tray of cookies, or her habit of leaving her pitch gum stuck to various surfaces in the Double R), and her physical appearance has from the start been one of Twin Peaks’s most recognizable visual elements. We had this to say about her look in the fashion chapter of our upcoming book on the series:
“Mrs. Lanterman definitely has some Earth shoes in her closet—she tends toward earth tones in general (they match her chief accessory, a log), and her eccentric art professor look, with oversized red spectacle frames, voluminous cardigans, severe bobbed haircut, and nature-referencing pins and brooches, suggests a hippy past. One of the series’s most visually iconic characters, the Log Lady is a popular choice for TP cosplayers.”
Coulson had known David Lynch long before the creation of Twin Peaks: she appears in his landmark feature debut, Eraserhead—starring Jack Nance, her husband at the time, who would also join the Twin Peaks cast as good-hearted fisherman Pete Martell. The story goes that Lynch had the Log Lady role in mind for Coulson before there even was a Twin Peaks; during the filming of Eraserhead, he pitched her on a project that would be called I’ll Test My Log with Every Branch of Knowledge, which would feature her as a widow who carried a log around after her husband’s death in a fire.
That show never made it past the idea stage, but clearly the Log Lady concept was an alluring one for Lynch, who recycled the character for Twin Peaks, included her in the series finale after not appearing in the shooting script, gave her an emotionally wrenching scene with Laura Palmer in Fire Walk with Me, and drafted her to present newly written introductions (written by Lynch himself) for Twin Peaks episodes when the series was rebroadcast on the Bravo network.
We get it. The Log Lady is terrific: funny, weird, distinctive, haunting, and sui generis. We will not see her like again . . . thank you, Catherine Coulson, for making television a place more wonderful and strange.
The X-Files FAQ author, John Kenneth Muir, was a guest recently on The X-Files News Podcast, hosted by feature editor Ky Johnson. Listen to the full podcast below!
The X-Files FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Global Conspiracy, Aliens, Lazarus Species, and Monsters of the Week explores Chris Carter’s popular 1990s science-fiction TV series, which aired on Fox for nine seasons and inspired spin-offs, including feature films, TV shows, toys, novels, and comic books. The book explores the series in terms of its historical context and analyzes how many of the episodes tackle the events of their time: the Clinton era. The X-Files FAQ also tallies the episodes that are based on true stories, selects touchstone moments from the almost decade-long run, and organizes the series by its fantastic subject matter – from serial killers to aliens, from prehistoric menaces to ethnic and religious-based horrors.
The X-Files FAQ also features a foreword written by screenwriter Chris Carter who credits John Muir for his impressive and thoughtful musings. In the book you’ll read that the writing on the show, X-Files, was only half what made the show what it is today. The people who worked on the show were working in a visual medium, and as Chris Carter states in the foreword “the show somehow managed to turn that rectangle box we all viewed each week into something special and often unexpected.”
In addition, the book recalls the TV antecedents (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) and descendants (Fringe) of The X-Files, examines the two feature films, and investigates Chris Carter’s other creations, including Millennium, The Lone Gunmen, Harsh Realm, and The After. Featuring numerous stills and the show’s most prominent writers and directors, The X-Files FAQ allows readers to relive the “Mytharc” conspiracy and the unforgettable monsters of the week – from the Fluke Man to the Peacocks.
As most of you may have heard, the Star Wars Battlefront (Beta) is set to come out in early October for PS4 users. Star Wars video games have certainly come a long way since the first licensed video game was released in 1982. In his new book, Star Wars FAQ, Mark Clark talks about the first ever video game that Star Wars licensed and how these video games slowly, but surely, gained popularity. Read about it below!
Custom, homemade Star Wars computer games have been around as long as Star Wars fans have owned home computers. But the first licensed, Lucasfilm-authorized electric game was Parker Brothers’ Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (1982), created for the Atari 2600 system. A year later, a version was issued for Mattel’s Intellivision platform. Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back was a simplistic, scrolling shooter game with primitive graphics. The player flew a snowspeeder and attacked AT-AT walkers, as seen in the Hoth snow battle from the film. The player won the game by destroying five walkers; if the Walkers reached Echo Base and destroyed it, the player lost.
Although sales of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back were not spectacular, the game performed well enough to encourage the development of more product. Parker Brothers issued Return of the Jedi: Death Star Battle and Return of the Jedi: Jedi Arena in 1983. In Death Star Battle, produced for the Atari 5200 and Atari XE platforms, players piloted the Millennium Falcon through a squadron of TIE fighters to destroy the second Death Star. In Jedi Arena, made for the Atari 2600 only, players battle one another with lightsabers. A third game, Return of the Jedi: Ewok Adventure, was prototyped but never released.
The first Star Wars arcade game, produced by Atari and simply named Star Wars, also appeared in 1983. This was a sophisticated (by early 1980s standards) first-person shooter/flight simulator featuring color 3-D vector graphics. The player relived the climax of Star Wars, taking part in the assault on the Death Star from within the cockpit of an X-Wing fighter. Successful players cleared three levels—overcoming an initial engagement with TIE fighters; then destroying turret guns on the surface of the space station; and finally zooming through a trench and firing a torpedo into the exhaust port to destroy the Death Star. Players continued to be harassed by TIE fighters throughout the second and third levels. The game featured sound effects and snippets of dialogue from the film—including the voices of Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, James Earl Jones, and Sir Alec Guinness. Star Wars was sold as a stand-up console and in a deluxe, sit-down cockpit version. In either configuration, it was a massive hit and remained in production for five years. It became a fixture at many arcades in the United States and the United Kingdom, and fans set video game endurance records (authenticated by the Guinness Book of World Records) playing it.
Parker Brothers released a scaled-down home version in 1984 for Atari and Coleco game systems, and the Commodore 64 computer. In 1987 and ’88, it was reconfigured for nine more game systems and reissued. Readers of the website Killer List of Video Games, an online community of video game enthusiasts and preservationists, voted Star Wars the fourth-best coin-operated video game of all time (trailing only Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga). Atari introduced a second Star Wars arcade game, Return of the Jedi, in 1984. It featured more lifelike raster graphics and included four levels, some replicating the speeder bike chase scene and others the climactic Death Star battle. A home version was also produced. The true follow-up to the Star Wars arcade game was Atari’s The Empire Strikes Back, released in 1985. It was another 3-D vector graphics first-person shooter/flyer based, like Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, on the Hoth AT-AT/snowspeeder battle. Neither of Atari’s sequels proved as popular as the original Star Wars arcade game.
Japanese game maker Namco released an adventure game titled simply Star Wars in 1987, created for Nintendo’s early Famicom console. The designers of this game seemed completely unconcerned with fidelity to the source material. In it, Luke Skywalker pilots the Falcon to various planets to rescue Ben Kenobi, Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and the droids. Each planet is protected by a different Darth Vader, some of which transform into various creatures (a shark, a scorpion, a Wampa, and a dinosaur). Luke has black hair and Chewbacca speaks English. A year later, Mastertronic released a computer game, Droids: Escape from Aaron, based on the Star Wars: Droids cartoon. This was an adventure game in which Threepio and Artoo escape from the clutches of the Hutt-like Fromm criminal gang. The events depicted in the game did not derive from the TV show but were in keeping with the continuity of the program.
During the 1980s, Lucasfilm simply sold Star Wars licenses to various game manufacturers and wasn’t always able to exert quality control over the end product. Fed up with the scattershot quality of these games, George Lucas revamped his Lucasfilm Games division to form LucasArts, which designed and manufactured games in-house. Initially, LucasArts partnered with Atari to produce games based on Labyrinth (1986) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Later, on its own, LucasArts created original adventure games such as the long-running Monkey Island series (1990–2011) for various game systems and computer platforms. Perhaps waiting until Lucas was certain LucasArts had hit its stride, the company didn’t release a Star Wars game until 1993, but it was worth the wait. Star Wars: X-Wing—a combination flight simulator and adventure game, with players battling imperial forces in a trusty rebel fighter—was a smash, spawning multiple expansion packs, collector’s editions, and sequels.
More than twenty more Star Wars video games were issued prior to the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999, including Star Wars: TIE Fighter (the first game set from the perspective of the Empire) in 1994, Star Wars: DarkForces in 1995, Shadows of the Empire in 1996 (part of a multimedia event, see previous chapter), and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron (1998), all of which proved very successful. Star Wars games have remained the primary focus of LucasArts since the mid-1990s.
In more recent years, the company has expanded into the realms of realtime strategy, role-playing (RPG), and, finally, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with Star Wars Galaxies (2003), Star Wars: Clone War Adventures (2010), and Star Wars: The Old Republic (2012). LucasArts spent a then-record $200 million developing The Old Republic, a pay-to-play download that allows players to interact together online. The game collected one million subscribers within three days of its launch. All three Star Wars MMORPG releases were multimedia events, with novel, comic book, and toy tie-ins.
Wes Craven, the most successful director of the Horror genre, has passed away. The man who created A Nightmare on Elm Street and the Scream franchise was 76. John Kenneth Muir’s profile of Craven from his book Horror Films FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About Slashers, Vampires, Zombies, Aliens, and More is below. In addition, Muir paid tribute to the director yesterday on his own blog, Reflections on Film and Television.
Before becoming one of the horror genre’s most successful directors, Wes Craven taught English at Westminster College and philosophy at Clarkson University. After becoming an editor for Sean Cunningham (Friday the 13th) in New York City, Craven wrote and directed his first horror film, The Last House on the Left (1972), a nihilistic remake of Ingmar Bergman’s spiritual film The Virgin Spring (1960).
Craven continued in a “savage cinema” vein with a follow-up film about “white bread” Americans battling desperate desert cannibals in The Hills Have Eyes (1977) before retooling his movie aesthetic and becoming the godfather of “rubber reality” (see Chapter 21). In films of this type, a highly charismatic and usually highly verbal serial killer is able to manipulate the bounds of reality itself to trap and murder his victims. Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) saw Freddy Krueger lording it over teens in the dreamworld, while Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) involved hallucinatory visions and dreams from the world of Haitian voodoo. In Shocker (1989), Craven imagined Horace Pinker (Mitch Pileggi), a serial killer who could move deftly through different channels on the television landscape.
In 1994, Craven reinvented himself again and became the guru of “meta” or postmodern horror. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994) was the seventh entry in the Nightmare on Elm Street series, but importantly it reintroduced Freddy as a “real-life” ancient demon. The characters in the film, including Heather Langenkamp (playing herself), came to the Pirandello-esque conclusion that they were not merely real people, but also characters in an ongoing script called life.
Craven perfected his “meta” approach to film in the self-referential Scream series, written by Kevin Williamson which involved a serial killer called Ghostface who knew all the clichés and conventions of the horror film. Similarly, Scream 2 (1997) involved a killer obsessed with sequels, Scream 3 (2000) trilogies, and Scream 4 (2011) remakes and reboots.
Coming soon from Applause Books is The X-Files FAQ! Writer Chris Carter, known for his work on The X-Files and The X-Files ’ cinematic spin-offs, helps contribute to this book by writing the foreword. Read what he had to say below!
As I write this, we are shooting the second episode of the six-episode “event” series that will air on Fox in late January 2016.
It will be the first time the series has aired on TV in fourteen years, and it will be twenty-three years on from the airing of the pilot episode in 1993. That period encompasses about a third of not just my life but the lives of many people who have come back to work on the show now. The comeback could be viewed cynically as an attempt by Fox execs to capitalize on The X-Files “brand,” programming by feather duster, but let me destroy any notion of this from my side of things. Or our side of things, as is the case.
The show was and is a labor of love, and thus a work of art. It takes a great many people working in absolute harmony to create something lasting on television. It is this esprit de corps that makes it all worthwhile. This does not happen accidentally, and I’d like to make it abundantly clear that while I created the show, a great many artistic souls have raised that infant idea into the monster it is today. Beginning with Morgan and Wong, and Gordon and Gansa, in the beginning, Messrs. Spotnitz, Gilligan, and Shiban in the end, the show was protean by nature, including the efforts of writers who came and went and whose contributions are under-sung.
And as you will read in the always impressive and thoughtful musings of John Muir, the writing is only half of it. We work in a visual medium, and the show somehow managed to turn that rectangle box we all viewed each week into something special and often unexpected. The signature qualities of mood and light and perspective can be attributed largely to production design by Michael Nemirski in the pilot, to Graeme Murray and Corey Kaplan on the series, but also to Tom Del Ruth, John Bartley, Jon Joffin, Joel Ransom, and Bill Roe, who lit and photographed it. All under some of the most talented directors and storytellers TV has even known: Rob Bowman, Kim Manners, David Nutter, and R. W. Goodwin. A manager’s dream starting rotation, backed by a bullpen of long and short relievers who stepped in and stepped up. This is not lip service or faint praise. These people helped save my life.
In John Muir’s introduction, I’m quoted as saying, “I didn’t understand what I didn’t understand,” in reference to running the show in the beginning. This is true, but I’d like to put a finer point on that. “I didn’t know what we couldn’t do” is more like it. From the outset, we tried anything and everything we could think of. Met with much resistance, both creative and financial, we managed to do a great many things simply because our imaginations were wilder than the forces trying to tame them. That was also not an accident, and people such as Peter Roth, Ken Horton, Charlie Goldstein, two Jeffs named Eckerly and Glazer, and also Jonathan Littman came to understand we knew what we were doing and rallied in support. Executive Producer R. W. Goodwin was often a convincing voice of reason.
But as I’ve always maintained, none of our good work, artistry, or effort would add up to much if it weren’t for Mulder and Scully. David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson brought, and now continue to bring, power and soul to characters who surprisingly continue to grow. To watch them step back into old shoes and bring something new has been a joy. They and the characters have grown wiser with the years, and as I’m often reminded, adversity is the forge of character.
Not just in them, but in us.
If your a fan of The X-Files, or want to read more, purchase the book over at Applausebooks.com
Star Wars has become well known in every generation and people everywhere have been quoting it ever since it first came out. What some people may not know is that they have been saying some of the lines wrong this whole time! Star Wars FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Trilogy That Changed the Movies, just published by Applause Books, looks at what was actually said and how some of it may have been lost in translation. Take a look at an excerpt of the book below!
Although seldom cited as a source of brilliant dialogue, the original Star Wars trilogy remains one of the most-quoted works of the twentieth century, full of instantly recognizable and frequently parodied catchphrases. To say that the language of Star Wars has entered the popular vernacular would be a major understatement. Metaphoric references to the Force, Jedi mind tricks, and hyperspace may be casually dropped without fear of misunderstanding. Some words and concepts, including the name Star Wars itself—co-opted, to George Lucas’ horror, to describe President Ronald Reagan’s proposed satellite-based missile defense system—have been widely adopted and accumulated additional definitions. All this speaks to the profound cultural impact of the movies, but it also reflects the steadfast devotion of fans. After all, these words, phrases, and ideas entered the language because fans watched these movies over and over again—in theaters and later on home video—memorizing the dialogue and quoting lines back and forth with one another. (If I say, “When I left you, I was but a learner; now I am the master,” you answer with . . . ?)
Given all this, a closer look at some of the films’ most famous quotes would seem to be in order.
“A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away . . . ”
Every Star Wars film famously opens with these words, printed in blue type against a black background. They precede the title of the film itself. George Lucas’ self-conscious myth making is at its most obvious here, but the words are beautifully chosen and their impact is both powerful and elegant; they immediately set the fanciful tone for all that follows. The phrase is clearly intended as the equivalent of “Once upon a time. . . . ” The link is so self evident that decades later the writers of the DreamWorks animated Shrek film series set the adventures of the loveable ogre and his companions in a fairy-tale world referred to simply as “Far Far Away.” This is also one of the most instantly recognizable and durable Star Wars-isms. A comprehensive listing of all the various books, movies, TV shows, newspaper and magazine articles, and websites to co-opt the phrase “A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away” in whole or in part, often for ironic or satirical purposes, would run on
for hundreds of pages (and would include this book).
“May the Force be with you.”
This phrase—Jedi-speak for “good luck” or often “goodbye and good luck”—quickly became (and remains) the emblematic catchphrase for Star Wars. It appears in every Star Wars film and in nearly every Star Wars book, comic, and video game. And it has been immortalized (after a fashion) on T-shirts, coffee mugs, key chains, bumper stickers, and every other sort
of ephemera imaginable, up to and including being tattooed onto fans’ bodies. “May the Force be with you” is spoken four times in the Original Trilogy: twice in Star Wars (once by General Dodonna and once by Han Solo), once in The Empire Strikes Back (by Luke Skywalker), and once (“May the Force be with us,” says Admiral Ackbar) in Return of the Jedi.
“I have a bad feeling about this.”
This catchphrase/running gag appears twice in Star Wars (on first sight of the Death Star, Luke says, “I have a very bad feeling about this;” later, in the trash compactor, Han says, “I got a bad feeling about this”), and it recurs in every subsequent Star Wars movie, as well as in countless Star Wars novels, comic books, video games, and other media. Leia has the line in The Empire Strikes Back (while the Millennium Falcon is hidden in the belly of the giant asteroid monster), and both C-3PO and Han say it in Return of the Jedi (C-3PO upon entering Jabba’s palace and Han when he and Luke are captured by Ewoks). Tellingly, the line does not appear in the ill-conceived Star Wars Holiday Special, but it was used in episodes of the Droids and Ewoks cartoon series of the 1980s, in the Clone Wars animated series, and, of course, in the Prequel Trilogy (presumably it will also be repeated in the Sequel Trilogy). The phrase “I have a bad feeling about this,” or some version of it, also appears in countless Star Wars novels, comics, video games, role-playing games, and the Star Tours attraction at Disneyland and Disney World. Like the call letters THX-1138 (the name of Lucas’ first feature film), the phrase “I have a bad feeling about this” also recurs in other Lucasfilm projects, including the movies Radioland Murders (1994) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008), and the Young Indiana Jones TV series. And it has been co-opted as an homage to Star Wars in numerous other works, including Star Wars jokes on TV series including The Big Bang Theory, Robot Chicken, Family Guy, and Phineas and Ferb.
“Luke, I am your father.”
This is a phantom phrase. Although often “quoted” or parodied, Darth Vader never actually says this—not in quite this construction, anyway—in The Empire Strikes Back or anywhere else. It’s a misquote much like “Beam me up, Scotty,” which no Star Trek character has ever spoken, or “Play it again, Sam,” which is never said in Casablanca, or “Elementary, my dear Watson,” which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle never wrote. The actual exchange from Empire:
Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Vader: No. I am your father.
Do you have any other favorite quote from the movie? Let us know in the comments below!!
Today marks the premiere of the new movie ‘Mr. Holmes’ starring Ian McKellen as Sherlock Holmes. A multitude of actors that have portrayed Holmes through the years, from Nicholas Rowe to Robert Downey Jr. to Benedict Cumberbatch, and in his book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ, Dave Thompson has picked his favorite — Basil Rathbone. Here’s an excerpt from Sherlock Holmes FAQ in which talks about the first, and in Thompson’s eyes, the best Holmes on screen:
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, on June 13, 1892—that is, in the same month as “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” brought the first volume of Sherlock Holmes stories to an end in The Strand magazine—Philip St. John Basil Rathbone was the son of a mining engineer, Edgar, and a violinist, Anna.
His filmography includes starring roles in such well-remembered epics as David Copperfield, A Tale of TwoCities, Anna Karenina, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Last Days of Pompeii, Son of Frankenstein, and The Mark of Zorro. But his crowning glory,at least in terms of his future reputation, arrived in 1939, when he was cast as Sherlock Holmes in 20th Century Fox’s upcoming production of The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Still regarded among the definitive retellings of Holmes’s best-known adventure, the movie was only ever intended as a one-off. Its success, however, prompted the studio to swiftly follow up with The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, a movie ostensibly based upon William Gillette’s original play but scarcely recognizable in any form. Indeed, Rathbone’s second Holmes movie retains only a handful of that earlier piece’s characteristics—a bit of subplot, a couple of characters, and a nice piece of sparring between Holmes and Moriarty. Like so many of Rathbone’s performances, however, his very presence overcomes any attempt to contextualize the story in terms of the original Holmes; he is just such a great actor, with such a formidable grasp on the role, that one is instantly sucked into this tale of fiendish ne’er-do-welling, while admiring the fresh insights into a genuinely Holmesian mind that it delivers.
It is The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, for instance, that introduces moviegoers to the detective’s attempts to discover the most potent insecticide ever known; having trapped some bluebottles inside a brandy glass, he is now plucking his violin at them, “observing the reaction on the common housefly of the chromaticscale.” It is his belief—or, at least, hope—that somewhere within the range of notes, there will be one that will strike such horror into the heart of the pest that it will leave the room directly.
Who was your favorite Holmes? How does Ian McKellen measure up? Let us know in the comments section!