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Saturday, May 07, 2011

Life Begins For Greenbriar Picture Shows

After struggling five years with a too-often recalcitrant Blogger system, it looks as though happy days are here to (hopefully) stay, thanks to a brand new blog editing feature my online host has introduced. This is so much easier to use than a predecessor that more than once took hours to upload, and even then looked unlike what I'd hoped for. Now it's possible to caption photos, properly space paragraphs, and feature ads/stills without seeing the whole structure collapse once up and published. Best of all, I can post LARGE images where needed, so there's more visual variety on the page. No longer is posting a dreaded chore to follow enjoyment of writing and selection of pics. By way of testing the new format, I submit most recently watched Spider Woman ...

In case you're fence-bound over lately released Blu-Rays of the fourteen Rathbone/Holmes mysteries, take a tip here and grab the set, which is in all ways an improvement on standard DVD's previously available from the same distributor. These transfers represent a best this series can look, which is to say, while not perfect, is miles beyond frayed prints of yesteryear and certainly past Public Domain wrecks visited upon 8 and 16mm collectors back when Niles and Thunderbird Films peddled same on narrower gauge. I for one like Holmes better than horror shows from Universal during  that same 40's period. They work as mysteries, chillers, and showcase for what this company delivered best on limited budget. Were theirs borrowed sets from "A" pics done previous? --- for none look cheap, ever

Among favorite aspects of the Holmes series is Universal's penchant for moody cast gatherings come still/promotion time. Always there were shadows for a backdrop, low lighting, intense expressions. I wonder how much kidding went on among Rathbone, Bruce, Dennis Hoey, and Gale Sondergaard when posing for these. The posters remain highly collectible, one-sheets routinely selling for thousands. I'd call Spider Woman a favorite Holmes, save for fact they're all wonderful and as easily viewed a twentieth time as a first. This was always a roughest-looking entry in televised days ... even "original" prints looked like dupes, but on Blu-Ray ... Spider Woman's a pip.

Yet another Holmesian disguise that should be readily transparent, but never is, except to criminal masterminds only momentarily fooled by unmistakable Rathbone profile and diction.

Among benefits of Universal's series was pitting Holmes against worthy opponents, thesping counterparts equal or nearly so to task of holding own with Rathbone. Repeat runs are easy on eyes, but mostly ears, for verbal jousting among players not too seriously engaged by proceedings at hand. I hear Holmes filming was jocular much of the time, and don't wonder at that.

Holmes has just stabbed a crawling spider in a darkened room with deadly accuracy and only a flashlight to guide his master-stroke. One of myriad delights in the 63 minute Spider Woman.

Also I read that Nigel Bruce was annoyed when Rathbone turned down Universal's offer to go another season with Holmes. The actor didn't want to be forever associated with the role. As things turned out, that boat had sailed. Kids to henceforth request an autograph from "Mr. Holmes" were peremptorily turned down by a Rathbone sick to death of this character he'd never rid himself of. Sherlock and horror films BR was occasionally obliged to do (for the $) would follow him like grim death right to the end.


Anonymous DBenson said...

One of the stories I run across is that Rathbone kept working like crazy because his wife loved to host big, famously lavish parties ("Ghost Breakers" has Bob Hope quipping "Basil Rathbone must be throwing a party" during a major thunderstorm). Otherwise he would have been happy to tour in stage plays with the occasional Hollywood paycheck.

Know all about the cheesy PD editions dating back to VHS days -- one actually had a blurb about how it was rescued from the last surviving print, and therefore looked flawed. Perhaps that's why I find it hard to imagine anything can be better than the MPI DVD release -- at least with my eyes and a pre-HD screen.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

I always prefer the Universal Holmes' over the first 2 Fox features.Terror By Night,probably considered the least of them all,is the one I'll always inevitably throw on when I need a holmesian Fix.Paricia Morison was another good female villain in Dressed to kill..and as theatrical as they were,George Zucco,Henry Daniell and Lionel Atwill always superbly underplayed their Moriarty roles.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Kevin K. said...

Even in those cruddy prints Boston's channel 38 ran in the
'70s, these never looked like B-movies to me. Once the restored versions were released a few years back, my wife and I were astonished by the quality. I can't imagine the Blu-Rays being even better. John, can you elaborate a little more om just how the Blu-Rays are an improvement? (I've gotta have good excuse to give the wife before shelling out the money.)

5:43 PM  
Blogger Jim Lane said...

Christopher touches on a point I've not seen often addressed: the screen treatment of other characters from the Holmes canon. While I maintain (pace Jeremy Brett) that Rathbone remains (as Leslie Halliwell said) "the one and only Sherlock Holmes," I have to concede the justice of Sherlockians' disdain for Nigel Bruce's Watson (I like him myself, but my fave Watson is Robert Duvall in The Seven Percent Solution).

Only one actor who ever lived could have played Holmes's brother Mycroft -- Robert Morley -- and alas, he did it only once, though in a good movie (A Study in Terror).

But -- and here to Christopher's point -- when we turn to the Professor Moriartys, I don't think anyone ever matched those three -- Zucco, Atwill and Daniell -- who squared off against Basil Rathbone. The Fox/Universal series can claim high bragging rights just for that: to have found the perfect Moriarty three different times, with three different actors!

8:39 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Kevin, I found the Blu-Rays to be a substantial improvement on the standard DVD's, especially on the two Fox features. Every one of the fourteen have that extra kick you get with Blu-Ray ... increased clarity, sharpness ... and how that pays off in each of these richly atmospheric shows!

8:28 AM  
Anonymous Bob said...

I have loved the Rathbone Holmes films since earliest boyhood, and that led me to join a Sherlcok Holmes group, The Priory Scholars...

I know Brett has many apologists, but it is Basil that I love most of all.

Spider Woman is a favorite of mine, but, they're ALL favorites of mine!

11:03 AM  
Blogger Dugan said...

If only Billy Wilder could have had Rathbone and Bruce for his version of Sherlock Holmes.

8:29 PM  
Anonymous r.j. said...


Here's a cute anecdote Dad told me years-ago that was not in his book, as thematically it didn't fit.

During the war years Dad and a friend of his were fond of taking short trips to Tijuana, to do first-hand investigating of housing conditions, I guess.

One evening, who do they see walking down whatever passed for the main throughfare, but Nigel Bruce. Dad says all the young ladies on the street and some standing on balconies come rushing out. "Hey, Dr. Watson!" they yell, "Come with us, we show you good time". Dad said Bruce chuckled, smiled and waved, but nothing beyond that.


9:18 PM  
Blogger Christopher said...

the Holmes -Watson shooting gallery set-up in SPIDER WOMAN is still one of the cleverest Sherlock Holmes "close calls" of all time..

2:49 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Received the following comment via e-mail ...


When I was a seventh grader (back in the 1960s) Mr. Rathbone was in town for some Hollywood event. He was staying at the Beverly Wilshire and via speakerphone, allowed us to "interview" him. One of us asked if he hated the Sherlock Holmes roles. He told us that no, he appreciated them, because through television, younger audiences got to know him. Probably just a polite answer to a bunch of teenagers, but it was neat to hear his voice.

Mitch Waldow=

Thanks for this, Mitch. Very interesting stuff!

8:10 AM  
Anonymous DBenson said...

I don't know if Rathbone ever expressed hate for Holmes, aside from the typecasting issue and cabdrivers yelling "Hey, Sherlock!" Somewhere along the line he reportedly did a series of television introductions to the movies, in a package padded out with Charlie Chan. Later came a lavish (and unsuccessful) Sherlock Holmes stage play, written by his wife. Then there were a few spoken-word records -- audiobooks, really -- where he read some of the original stories.

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Took your advice and upgraded my standard Rathbone Holmes set to Blu-Ray.

With digital projection, there is a marked improvement in both sound and picture! When the set came the other day, I ran three of the Universals in a row--these are always great fun!

As a kid back in the 1950s, I used to borrow the Rathbone-told Holmes audiobook discs from the library and loved them!
(remember those 16 rpm records?)


7:55 AM  

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