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Kyle Smith (Twitter: @rkylesmith) is critic-at-large for National Review, theater critic for The New Criterion and the author of the novels Love Monkey and A Christmas Caroline. Type a title in the box above to locate a review.

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    “Sherlock Holmes”: “A Great Movie”

    By kyle | January 5, 2010

    So says blogger Anwyn in a lengthy takedown of my Sherlock Holmes review. As a friend of hers puts it, “People don’t seem to realize Sherlock Holmes was a badass.” Sigh. I suppose that is what the current moviegoing population wishes were true. Must we filter every bit of popular literature through the wow-seeking now? I’ll take the Basil Rathbone movies any day.

    Topics: Blogs, Books, Movies | 8 Comments »

    8 Responses to ““Sherlock Holmes”: “A Great Movie””

    1. Joel Says:
      January 5th, 2010 at 11:36 pm

      Kyle, have you read the Doyle stories lately?

      The Rathbone movies have Holmes wearing a deerstalker, wielding a six-gun, warmly treating women, fighting Nazis (!) and Bruce’s Watson is a complete dunce. In short the portrayals are quite different from the literary characters (in some of the same ways you’ve denounced in the new movie, oddly).

      Now, to me, one who fences, prizefights, uses “baritsu”, disguises himself with great skill, and kills Moriarty by throwing him off the Reichenbach Falls makes a credible action hero. That is the Holmes described by Doyle. Jude Law’s Watson is certainly more like the Watson of the books than Bruce’s.

      It’s one thing to like or dislike the new movie, but it’s a bad argument to base it on the wrong-headed notion that Rathbone was the definitive Holmes. He was just as much of a bowdlerization as you claim about the Downey portrayal.

    2. Anwyn Says:
      January 5th, 2010 at 11:48 pm

      Aw. Thanks for the link. I’ll Netflix some Basil Rathbone soon in your honor.

      But you really do disagree about the “badass” quality of Doyle’s Holmes? Doyle did describe it for us, though he didn’t often show him using it against his quarries.

      I do think Ritchie et. al. are walking a fine line, but I think they did it well.

    3. Anwyn Says:
      January 6th, 2010 at 12:05 am

      Aw. Thanks for the link. I’ll Netflix some Basil Rathbone soon in your honor.

      And no, we mustn’t filter *every* bit of popular literature through the modern, but in this case I think it worked. Doyle did describe Holmes’s “b-a” (edited for moderation avoidance) qualities, just didn’t often show him using them against his quarries.

      I think Ritchie and co. walked a fine line but did it well.

    4. Patrick Says:
      January 6th, 2010 at 11:09 am

      It’s been many years, like 40 or so, since I’ve seen the Rathbone movies, but I recall that the Dr. Watson of those movies was pretty much a bunbling sidekick who didn’t contribute much to the partnership. I prefer the more capable Watson of the current movie, and I had no problems with Downey as Sherlock either.

    5. kyle Says:
      January 6th, 2010 at 11:44 am

      @Joel, Bowdlerization? No. Wrong word. I am a bit tired of the Doyle-didn’t-mention-a-deerstalker argument. The original illustrations that ran beside the Doyle stories showed him wearing the deerstalker so it is an integral part of the character. As for the badassery, please. Fencing (and, for that matter, boxing) were gentlemen’s pursuits. A gentleman is pretty much the opposite of a badass. If you want to show a guy beating up villains, why bother to call it Sherlock Holmes? Why not just call it “Die Hard with a Roommate”? The key to Holmes (and by the way, the fencing and the boxing were just character flourishes; he hardly ever solved problems using physical power) was his massive intelligence. Screenwriters have a really hard time portraying intelligence, so they write “He beats up a giant, jumps into the Thames, thrashes the villain on Tower Bridge, roll credits” instead.

    6. Anwyn Says:
      January 6th, 2010 at 1:58 pm

      He didn’t “solve problems” using physical prowess, but he did indeed assist the cops and Watson to collar the guys perpetrating the problems, using … physical prowess. In A Study in Scarlet, he tricks Jefferson Hope into turning his back to him, snookers the handcuffs onto him, and then, joined by Lestrade, Gregson, and Watson, subdues Hope as he tries to *throw himself out the window.* One guy so ferocious it takes four, including Holmes, to wrestle him down and tie him up with towels. No action there.

      I think the main source of the disconnect is that while Doyle does note these things, he doesn’t dwell on them, doesn’t describe them in any detail, and thus doesn’t create anything approaching an atmosphere of danger and action. Holmes sits and thinks, and at the end, he notes out loud the steps he took to reach his conclusion. But in between, there really is a lot of action.

    7. kyle Says:
      January 6th, 2010 at 5:39 pm

      In the stories, the action is an afterthought. In the movie, thought is an afterthought.

    8. Melissa Says:
      January 12th, 2010 at 1:41 pm

      Sherlock Homes was a collector of knowledge and of course would have collected and been trained in the knowledge of fighting. He was trained in the fighting style of Baritsu.