Tag Archives: Arthur Wontner

A Poem In Protest of Goofball Dr. Watsons (not mine)

Bruce_Watson1On Monday, May 11, the second of my three part look at Jeremy Brett’s Adventures of Sherlock Holmes will post over at Black Gate. Here’s part one. I posted quite a few pictures from the series over on my Facebook page over the past week or two.

The Granada series did marvelous work in transforming Nigel Bruce’s enduring image of the doofus assistant. David Burke, and then Edward Hardwicke, portrayed Watson without comic relief.

I came across this 1939 poem, which expressed the dissatisfaction with the poor image Watson was given in the movies. It was written by E. V. Knox (not Ronald), editor of Punch.

The stately Holmes of England, how beautiful he stood

Long, long ago in Baker Street – and still in Hollywood

He keeps the ancient flair for clues, the firm incisive chin,

The deerstalker, the dressing-gown, the shag, the violin.

But Watson, Doctor Watson! How altered, how betrayed

The fleet of foot, the warrior once, the faster than Lestrade!

What imbecile production, what madness for the moon

Has screened my glorious Watson as well nigh a buffoon?

Is this the face that went with Holmes on half a hundred trips

Through nights of rain, by gig, by train, are these the eyes, the lips?

These goggling eyes, these stammering lips, can these reveal the mind

How strong to tread, where duty led, his practice cast behind?

His not to reason why nor doubt the great detective’s plan –

The butt, maybe, of repartee yet still the perfect man,

Brace as the British lion is brave, brave as the buffalo,

What to they know of England who do not Watson know?

We have not many Sherlocks to sift the right from wrong

When evil stalks amongst us and craft and crime are strong,

Let not the Watsons fail us, the men of bull-dog mould,

Where still beneath the tight frock-coat beats on the heart of gold.

Watson, who dared the Demon Hound nor asked for fame nor fee,

Thou should’st be living at this hour. England hath need of thee!

Thus did I muse and muse aloud while wondering at the flick

Till people near me turned and said, ‘Shut up, you make us sick!’


Arthur Wontner’s main Watson, Ian Fleming

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Arthur Wontner & Dr. Watson

Wontner_withHardingTwo weeks ago, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes wrote about Arthur Wontner, one of my top three Holmes’. He deserves to be better remembered.

And last week, I looked at three cases in which Dr. Watson filled in for Holmes with some detective work. Holmes was a bit harsh.

TBT – Arthur Wontner’s Silver Blaze/Murder at the Baskervilles

I’ve posted parts one and two of this series on Arthur Wontner which I wrote for the Austin (TX) Sherlock Holmes society. Here’s the third and final piece on one of the finest screen Holmes.

Wontner_SilverBlazeWontner made his fifth and final film as Sherlock Holmes in 1937. It is justly considered the weakest of the series. Perhaps again feeling that there simply wasn’t enough source material in the original short story, a few liberties are taken. Sir Henry Baskerville is introduced, and things take a radical turn after Holmes finds the missing horse. Moriarty has Moran use his air gun to kill the horse just before the finish of the race. Watson follows one of the henchmen and finds Moriarty. However, he is captured. Holmes arrives to save him just as Watson is about to be thrown down an empty elevator shaft.

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TBT – Arthur Wontner’s The Missing Rembrandt, The Sign of Four and The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes

Last week was part one of my the series on Arthur Wontner, which I wrote for the Austin (TX) Sherlock Holmes society. Here’s part two, with the conclusion coming next Thursday.

The Missing Rembrandt

Wontner_RembrandtRealizing that they had a hot property, Twickenham quickly filmed a second Wontner project, The Missing Rembrandt. The source material was much closer to the original tale chosen; this time, Charles Augustus Milverton. The villain, however, is Baron von Guntermann, and he is not only a blackmailer, but also an art thief (thus, the title). Presumably the plot was expanded because the original short story didn’t provide enough substance for an extended length film. The Granada folks would discover this problem a half century later. Unfortunately, there is no known surviving print of this film.

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TBT – Arthur Wontner’s The Sleeping Cardinal/The Fatal Hour

Wontner_PosterFatalArthur Wontner made five Holmes films and he’s one of my favorite Holmes’. This is part one of a three part series I wrote on Wontner for the Austin (TX) Sherlock Holmes Society. It’s going to be included as part of a longer article in an upcoming HolmesOnScreen edition of The Baker Street Essays.

The Sleeping Cardinal (retitled The Fatal Hour in America) included elements of The Empty House and The Final Problem, though having Moriarty, rather than Colonel Moran, fire from the empty house is certainly a non-Canonical change.

Watson was played by Ian Fleming (no, not the creator of James Bond). He was to play the part in four of Wontner’s five Holmes films. Fleming comes across as rather harmless and lightweight. He doesn’t add any heft to the role. Fleming’s portrayal feels more proper for a Thin Man film than as the good doctor. He did not provide the comic relief seen when Nigel Bruce took on the role, but neither did he contribute much on-screen. There is no real chemistry between he and Wontner.

Cardinal_Wontner3Norman McKinnell was the nefarious Professor Moriarty. He would be replaced by Lyn Harding for the final two films in the series.

The film was a success both critically and commercially, not only in Great Britain but America as well. In those pre-Oscar days, it won the New York Critics’ Cinema Prize as the best mystery drama. American reviews included such praise as:

  • “…Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour…is one of the best of the English films to be shown this side of the Atlantic.” and
  • “Sherlock Holmes’ Fatal Hour is so smooth, so beautifully timed and acted, that there is nothing to criticize adversely.”

It is interesting to note that Twickenham, who could certainly have used the money, did not reap a windfall from the film’s success. Warner Brothers handled the UK distribution for the film. Apparently Twiceknham did not expect much of The Sleeping Cardinal in America and sold the distribution rights to a subsidiary (First Division Pictures) for only 800 pounds.

Picturegoer Weekly said “..Wontner’s rendering of Sherlock Holmes is wholly convincing, even to the smallest mannerisms.”