Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: The Dying Detective (1921)

Deathly Silent

- Currently 125 years old, the Sherlock Holmes character holds the record as "the most-portrayed movie character" with over 200 screen appearances. Despite Basil Rathbone's reputation as the most definitive screen Holmes, Eille Norwood was in fact the most prolific of any Sherlock Holmes actor, appearing in 47 silent serial and full-length movies produced by Stoll Pictures over a three-year span. Norwood was a perfect fit for a silent era Holmes; Arthur Conan Doyle was even quoted as saying Norwood's "wonderful impersonation of Holmes has amazed me." Convincing easily as the iconic detective, Norwood brought an imposing and mysterious presence as well as a clear passion to the role (reading all the stories, which accompanied him on set, and even learning to play the violin) on both the stage and the screen.

One of the first of the Stoll-produced and Norwood-starred Sherlock Holmes pictures, The Dying Detective (1921) is also one of the few surviving and currently accessible ones (online & on DVD). This 1921 screen version of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Dying Detective," in which Sherlock Holmes contracts an exotic Asian illness, is interesting because of its place in Holmes history but also an enjoyable, albeit blemished, silent Sherlock Holmes movie.

Silent film might seem pointless and avoidable to the modern film viewer who is used to vibrant, intricate sound in movies. However, I encourage everyone to give silent movies a try as silent film has a definite mood that can support a story and bring special focus on the visuals. The silence of The Dying Detective, for example, in some respects heightens the suspense and mystery of the story. On the other hand, film was not much of a writer's medium back in the silent era. Subsequently, The Dying Detective features a plot that is a bit difficult to follow at times and pitches dialogue, if one can call it that, which can come off as cheesy to most 21st Century audiences. Also, silence can significantly contribute to a film's atmosphere but it does not necessarily aid the actual look of the film. In the case of The Dying Detective, while not necessarily dull or amateur-looking, the photography is not particularly dazzling and the aged print is understandably rough.

Still, although perhaps enjoyable only to a limited group (comprised mostly of hardcore film buffs and Sherlock Holmes fanatics, like me) as a historical deep cut of the Sherlock Holmes film legacy, The Dying Detective does make for a fun, short viewing.

CBC Rating: 6/10

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