SUtS: Basil Rathbone

Brandie’s choice: A Tale of Two Cities (1935)

Airing 1:00PM EST

Most people are familiar with Rathbone in the persona pictured above, as the erstwhile detective Sherlock Holmes in a series of fourteen films spanning the years between 1939 and 1946. Carrie’s recommendations, listed below, will tell you a bit more about Rathbone’s most well-known role.

But Rathbone, a veteran of many a London stage from the 1910s through his arrival in Hollywood in 1925 (and beyond), was much more than Holmes. Quite contrary to his portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s heroic detective, in the earlier half of his career, Rathbone specialized in playing slick, sexy, and sometimes scary villains in films such as David Copperfield (1935), Captain Blood (1935), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938–perhaps Rathbone’s most famous non-Holmes role), and The Mark of Zorro (1940).

One such role comes in the 1935 version of Charles Dickens’ classic novel A Tale of Two Cities, co-starring Ronald Colman, Elizabeth Allan, and Edna May Oliver. Admittedly, the movie is not entirely faithful to the original novel, but ultimately these differences do not detract from enjoyment of the film.

Colman stars as Sydney Carton, an alcoholic lawyer in love with Lucie Manette (Allan), who is, in turn, in love with Charles Darnay (Donald Woods), a young French aristocrat who is framed for treason due to the machinations of his treacherous uncle, the Marquis St. Evremonde (Rathbone). Carton manages to get Darnay cleared of the charges, but when the Reign of Terror breaks out years later, Darnay is arrested once more and sentenced to die alongside many of his fellow French noblemen, at the particular urging of the loathsome Madame Defarge (Blanche Yurka). Carton, who is still in love with Lucie despite her marriage to Darnay, comes up with a plan to save Darnay from the guillotine, but it comes at the ultimate price.

Though the film truly belongs to Colman, whose portrayal of Carton is beautifully nuanced and stirring (truly one of the best of his career), Rathbone bides well in the somewhat thankless role of the evil Evremonde, making the most of his limited screen time. If you’re looking to see Rathbone in his pre-Holmes, pro-villain days, don’t miss this somewhat overwrought, yet still entertaining film.

Carrie’s choices: The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (both 1939)

Airing 6:30PM and 8:00PM EST

So, my reasons for choosing these two may seem pretty obvious. Basil Rathbone is known as the Sherlock Holmes, as somewhat of an official image. And why not? The pictures above say so much. The expression. The bone structure. He looks like Sherlock Holmes should look. His aura fits beautifully with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character. A character so beloved needs an aura, a feeling, an image, and Basil Rathbone gave it to audiences in his performances.

If you have any doubts about this, take a look at how culture has adapted. His name, pieces, and derivatives thereof crop up in all kinds of Sherlock Holmes and detective work. Even the children’s cartoon film The Great Mouse Detective (1986) uses an obviously “Shelock Holmes” detective (complete with hat, pipe, violin, and associate doctor, not to mention that same stance Rathbone perfected) who carries the name of “Basil.” The famous “Basil of Baker Street” apparently lives in a mouse hole in Holmes’ own townhouse.

Rathbone deserves the title. As Brandie state above, he portrayed the the British detective in fourteen films. In today’s market of sequels, fourteen films is still an unheard of quantity.  Today, we often make fun of or lose interest in series of four or five, much less fourteen.

Sherlock Holmes as a series of stories, as well as a series of movies, set the standard and created many of the style rules that many authors and filmmakers have emulated for years. So, if you “love a good mystery” (Three Muskateers, 1993) tune in for two Sherlocks in a row. It’s a long stretch, so get a lot of popcorn.

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