The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)

Sherlock Holmes: Arthur Wontner
Dr. Watson: Ian Fleming
Year: 1935
Case: The Valley of Fear


Delightful elements:

Arthur Wontner as Sherlock Holmes:

I absolutely adored Wontner as Holmes. He looks like Holmes. He sounds like Holmes. He acts like Holmes. I can easily see him as Holmes, and that’s not something I can say for many of the actors who have played Holmes. Wontner really highlights Holmes’ brilliance, but he does it in such a way as to maintain Holmes’ neurotic nature (although, his Holmes is nowhere near as neurotic as Brett’s Holmes). There was something in the way he delivered his dialogue, though, that really worked for me.

Ian Fleming as Dr. Watson:

If you have read any of my Rathbone reviews, you will understand how delighted I was to find a decent Watson. Watson, in my opinion, is a far more important character than Holmes. Without Watson, Holmes is inhuman. It is Watson that gives Holmes his depth. It is Watson that brings out Holmes’ human side. It is Watson that gives Holmes colour. It is Watson that allows the reader to know and appreciate Holmes. Without him, Holmes is nowhere near as likeable as he is. Watson is Holmes’ conduit to the outside world. He is the reason millions of people admire and respect the Great Detective. And so, to portray Watson as some bumbling fool… well, it’s an insult to fans everywhere.

Ian Fleming portrayed Watson as an intelligent, useful companion, capable of his own brilliance, and this is exactly who Watson should be.

Less delightful elements:

There were a lot of things in this movie that were quite off-putting. I’m going to touch on each, because they did grate on my nerves and take away from my viewing experience.

I will first mention the quality (or lack there of) of my download. I do realize that this is an old film, and hence was not meant to be rendered into an AVI file, but there were times when I couldn’t help but focus on the exceedingly dark scenes (there were times when I sat staring at a black screen for several continuous minutes) or the grainy quality of the audio. I would recommend renting this movie, or possibly purchasing it, rather than downloading it, as I do feel the quality of downloads available will take away from the experience.

I had issues with the era change. Part of what I love about SH is the setting; that 1890s Victoria London feel, complete with horses and dogcarts and hansom cabs and yellow fog. The atmosphere is so essential to the story, and to take that away, replace it with cars and telephones and fedoras… it’s just not the same.

Acting has changed considerably in the last seventy years. I can’t recall a single supporting actor/actress who wasn’t woolen. It was quite distracting, and made me long for emotion.

I had some issues with the story itself, namely the liberties taken with The Valley of Fear. I really enjoyed reading the novel, and now I kind of regret watching the flashbacks. The Holmes/Watson scenes were quite interesting, but the Vermissa Valley scenes just didn’t work for me. It wasn’t what I imagined, and I think I prefer my brain’s version.

I can’t say I was fond of this version of Moriarty. He didn’t quite connect with what I was expecting.

Then there is the ending, which is weak. Really weak. And not the first time film makers have played the ‘Moriarty plummets to his death’ card to end a film. I could have done without it.

The Slash

If you need a reason to see this movie (aside from general SH interest), see it for the slash. My god is it slashy.

The movie opens on the eve of Holmes’ retirement. Watson arrives home to find that Holmes hasn’t packed, and immediately scolds him for it. Holmes deflects the question and it becomes quite obvious that he is reluctant to leave. There is enough ambiguity to suggest that it is Watson, rather than his career, that Holmes is hesitant to leave behind.

There are a million scenes like this, each one hinting at the deep affection that exists between the two men.

And then there is the touching. And leaning. And silent communication. And longing glances. I swear I kept expecting Watson to crawl into Holmes’ lap (they would sit so close, and lean so intimately). There’s actually this one scene, where Holmes bends over and Watson stands behind him and leans over his shoulder. At this point, if you were to remove their clothing, they would be fucking (to be crass; they are literally cock to ass). In fact, at several points during the movie, I expected the lights to dim, the music to cue up, and Holmes and Watson to strip off their clothes and jump each other.

So, yes, my final assessment:

Retelling of the story = 4/10
Deviations from canon = 4/10
Wontner as Holmes = 7/10
Fleming as Watson = 7/10
Gay = 15/10

Which is why this adaptation earns 4 out of 5 pipes.