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Saturday, March 11, 2006







A Rathbone Mystery Worthy Of Sherlock Holmes


Can anyone help us out with these? They’re almost certainly from a television program … but what? … and when? Rathbone did a lot of TV --- from the late forties, all the way to the end. But wait --- what if we’re talking about a play? Basil’s obviously in some sort of dual role (Holmes and Watson?), so how could he pull off the scenes depicted here in a stage production? For that matter, how would they have put both Rathbones in the same scene on an early fifties TV broadcast? This thing gets more perplexing the more I think about it. The other Basil is more likely playing a butler, if these stills can be trusted --- notice how he’s adjusting the flowers in that one shot --- and Basil seated on the couch doesn’t look very Holmesian --- note the modern dress. That would seem to clash with the traditional deerstalker outfit he’s wearing in the other stills. I did check out Marcia Jessen’s incredible Basil Rathbone fan site (go HERE), and didn’t find any hints, although her coverage is so extensive, I may well have overlooked it (if you love Basil, and don’t we all, you must go there). We invite comments, speculation, wild guesses --- anything. For all I know, one of our informed readers will know exactly what it’s all about, and thereby clear up a mystery that’s been weighing heavily upon me for the fifteen or so years that I’ve had these baffling images.

Oh, and just a little something extra, included merely because it’s just impossible to pass up a thing so cool as this --- Basil shilling for Chesterfield in 1946. Note the reference to his final Holmes outing, Dressed To Kill. I’m told that Universal wanted to take a flyer on another year with the series, but Rathbone, feeling the stranglehold of typecasting, nixed the deal. Word is that pal Nigel Bruce was most annoyed. Hollywood gigs were hard to come by after that. Wonder if Universal execs got the word out that Basil wasn’t a team player? Pat O’Brien and Loretta Young both said they got the ice around town after they chose not to re-sign with their home lots (WB and Fox, respectively). Those moguls could damage a lot of careers as they sat together around their card tables at night.

6 Comments:

Blogger East Side said...

To compound the confusion, Holmes is dressed circa 1890, while the butler, the victim on the floor and the props are mid-20th century. At least in the Universal pictures, Holmes lived and dressed for the times.

In his autobiography, Rathbone admits that Nigel Bruce -- his good friend off the lot -- was furious with him for rejecting Uinversal's contract renewal, and didn't speak to him for months afterwards. Bruce didn't make many movies from then on (the best- known being "Limelight" and "Bwana Devil") so there could be something to your theory -- even if he had nothing to do with leaving Universal. Or could it have been dat ol' debbil typecasting?

4:51 PM  
Blogger Mariana said...

That ad is horrible! The lighting makes him look like the devil.

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There WAS a Holmes TV play starring Rathbone in the early 50s.Even if Rathbone had re-signed with Universal, the merger with International pictures probably would have ended the series anyway.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Mirek said...

From CLICK magazine, May 1942. A photo piece titled "Sherlock Holmes Solves the Rathbone Murder."


Mirek

7:19 PM  
Blogger East Side said...

The Chesterfield ad looks like a sloppy job. The cigarette was clearly placed after the fact -- it looks like it's sticking out from under Basil's upper lip. He's holding the match away from his hand, but its light seems to be coming from his palm. But unlike today's photoshop world, the deep lines around his eyes are untouched. Back then, aging was accepted by the masses, I guess.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Philip said...

I'd say that Basil is supposed to be playing the corpse as well - a stand in must have been used in the top of the head shot to avoid a three way retouching job. The stand in has the jacket and tie but either mismatched or differently lit trousers.

The story seems to be 'butler bumps off employer without noticeing that Sherlock Holmes is lurking outside the window. Luckily he climbs in in time to call 911'.

My guess is an unused piece of advertising copy.

8:54 AM  

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