Thursday, January 30, 2014

Silent Sherlock

Early Sherlock Holmes screen adaptation notable for being made under the personal supervision of Arthur Conan Doyle (as well as the first to be authorized by Doyle). It is the only remaining entry in a series of eight episodic Holmes films produced by the Eclair company. This one is short on action and long on exposition, with some scenes playing out more like a series of tableaux representing key moments in the story. Despite the static camerawork and staging, there is a great deal of attention paid to the set design of Holmes' flat at 221B Baker Street, and some nice location photography as well.

Holmes is played here by Georges Tréville, and his performance is interesting to watch considering that it predates not only the iconic performances of Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brett, but even those of actors like Ellie Norwood or Arthur Wontner who helped to shape the character. Still, Tréville does a good job, especially given the limitations of the production, and embodies many of the traits as described by Doyle.

Directed by Adrien Caillard from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring Georges Tréville.

"The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", a series of films produced in the early 1920s by Stoll Picture Productions, is regarded as one of the first adaptations to really do justice to Doyle's stories. Eille Norwood starred as Holmes in all 47 films (and holds the record for having played the character on screen the most number of times). Three of the films in the series are available on the Internet Archive.

The first of them, "The Man with the Twisted Lip", dates from 1921 and, if it is any indication, demonstrates that the producers got a lot of things right in adapting the stories to the screen. Running just 26 minutes, it is also indicative of the serialized format in which these films were released. Eille Norwood makes a fine Holmes and his performance stands up well against later interpretations. The film is a stylish one, featuring strong high-contrast, shadowy cinematography, and also makes good use of authentic London locations, which provide a fascinating glimpse into the period. There are some startlingly inventive shots, such as an apparent murder played out in silhouette against a lighted window. All in all, a solid mystery film and a must for Holmes fans.

Directed by Maurice Elvey; written by William J. Elliott from the story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; photographed by Germain Burger. Starring Eille Norwood, Hubert Willis, Robert Vallis, and Paulette del Baze.

The second of the three Stoll Productions' "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" series available at the Internet Archive, THE DEVIL'S FOOT is another stylish adaptation with Eille Norwood returning with a thoughtful, effective performance as Holmes.

The remarkable thing about these adaptations is how well-paced they are despite the need for heavy exposition, finding creative solutions to the problem of conveying information that would normally be handled through dialogue. Once again, director Maurice Elvey keeps things visually interesting with stylish lighting and camerawork that at times seems to recall DeMille's experiments with chiaroscuro lighting several years earlier.

Directed by Maurice Elvey; written by William J. Elliott from the story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; photographed by Germain Burger. Starring Eille Norwood, Hubert Willis, Harvey Braban, and Hugh Buckler.

Third and final of the Stoll Productions' "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" films available at the Internet Archive. Exceptionally well-paced mystery, expertly shot and directed. The story features an interesting twist, with Holmes apparently contracting an Asiatic disease under mysterious circumstances, which proves to be a quite clever method of solving the mystery. With Holmes incapacitated for much of the film, it adds an interesting variation on his usual sleuthing techniques.

I continue to be impressed by Eille Norwood's performance of the title character, and even after seeing him in just three films, I've come to think of his interpretation of the role as the equal of other fine actors to play the part in multiple films.

Directed by Maurice Elvey; written by William J. Elliot, from the story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Also featuring Hubert Willis, Cecil Humphreys, Joseph R. Tozer, and Mme. d'Esterre.

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