Holmes in Homes
The DVR games are afoot! Last night (and next Sunday too) you could have sleuthed out two contemporary Sherlock Holmes simultaneously vying for your investigative attention on network TV: ingenious new episodes of Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman on PBS’s Masterpiece, and CBS’s Big Apple-based Elementary, toplined by Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu. Both series cleverly update Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary detective to modern times while slyly referencing and subtly tweaking aspects of the original stories to delicious, fan-pleasing effect. Previous TV incarnations of Holmes and Watson were more traditional and faithful to the original texts, including those featuring the Holmeses of Ronald Howard (1954-1955) and, in his dazzling 10-year run as the favorite Sherlock of many, Jeremy Brett (1984-1994). Between those two came two BBC-produced single-season Sherlock Holmes series that fans fondly remember, starring the smartly cast Douglas Wilmer (1964-1965) and the iconic Peter Cushing (1968). That Cushing would be a terrific fit to the role required no great feats of deductive reasoning, for he had already put his seal on the part with a portrayal of the scintillating shamus in Hammer Studios’ vivid Technicolor production of The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959), directed by the company’s ace horror helmer Terence Fisher. His Holmes was feral in intellectual intensity yet quite spry and decisive as an action hero as well. “Although not a financial success for Hammer, this film contains one of Cushing’s finest performances,” Bakerstreetdozen.com essayist Charles Prepolec observes. “As a Doyle fan and owner of issues of the Strand Magazine, Cushing insisted on proper clothing and accessories for the detective.” He was also committed to making his Holmes Doyle-precise, perhaps even inadvertently. Prepolec provides a Cushing reminiscence: “Tony Hinds, the producer, said how professional I was to have lost weight especially to portray the gaunt detective. I’m afraid I hadn’t been as conscientious as all that – “It was Spain what done it!” – I’d been out there making John Paul Jones, and a bout of dysentery had thinned me down.” Partnered with his Hammer horror colleague Christopher Lee as the endangered family Baskerville heir and Andre Morell as a solid Watson, Cushing is a nimble and equally charismatic alternative to the canny and coiled Basil Rathbone Holmes interpretation that had reigned supreme on movie screens for the previous 20 years. In the view of DVD Savant Glenn Erickson, “With his stage-honed sense of physical drama, [Cushing’s] performance is thrilling to watch. And he has a tense, precise flair for great dialogue. Stabbing an ancient dagger into a tabletop just an inch from Doctor Mortimer’s hand, he shouts, “Perhaps THIS will refresh your memory!!” Fans of the actor and the sleuth value the memories – and thrills – of The Hound of the Baskervilles. And Erickson also points to, in the lingo of Star Wars, “a new hope,” when he observes: “Just as the young audience for The Lord of the Rings was enticed to check out Ian McKellen’s Mr. Holmes (2015), I’ve found that the same young folk are willing to try out Peter Cushing’s super-sleuth because of Star Wars. They like him just much as they do the current TV fellow Cumberbatch.” Since Cushing is now making a renewed impression on moviegoers as his character of Grand Moff Tarkin via a combination of Cushing Estate-sanctioned CGI and digitally-repurposed archive footage in the blockbuster hit Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, maybe more sensation seekers beyond the Baker Street Irregulars faithful will hunt down the sordid family secrets of The Hound of the Baskervilles on its extras-loaded Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray.