MYSTERY SERIES CHARACTERS: FROM THE PRINTED PAGE TO TELEVISION
by Marvin Lachman
Before proceeding to the next two letters of the alphabet, there is one unusual television movie to mention in connection with Agatha Christie: Murder by the Book (1990). This unlikely British film had Peggy Ashcroft as Christie and Ian Holm as Hercule Poirot, threatening to kill her if she allows Curtain, the last Poirot novel to be published, because it might show his health and powers in decline.
Once again, any additions and corrections are very welcome.
Part 2: D - E
Dexter, Colin: INSPECTOR MORSE was played by John Thaw in the long-running British series (1987-2000). Kevin Whately was SGT. LEWIS.
Dickson, Carter (John Dickson Carr): COL. MARCH, played by Boris Karloff in the series Col. March of Scotland Yard, 1955.
Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan: No detective series characters have appeared more often on television than SHERLOCK HOLMES and DR. WATSON. They were played by Louis Hector and William Podmore in “The Three Garridebs,” a test film by NBC in 1937(!). Then, they were played by Alan Napier and Melville Cooper in “The Adventure of the Speckled Band" on Story Theatre in 1949. In 1951 they were John Longden and Campbell Singer in the British-made The Man Who Disappeared; I have no other information. That same year, Alan Wheatley and Raymond Francis were Holmes and Watson in a BBC series whose title I don’t know.
Basil Rathbone, the most famous big-screen Holmes, played him on TV in 1953 in “The Adventure of the Black Baronet” on Suspense. I don’t know who was Watson, but I do know the story was written by John Dickson Carr and Adrian Conan Doyle.
There were three more early Sherlock Holmes series, all British-made. In 1954 Ronald Howard was Holmes, and H. Marion Crawford was Watson. In 1964, the team was Douglas Wilmer and Nigel Stock. Peter Cushing was Holmes in 1968; I don’t know who played Watson.
Television movies found the team appealing in the 1970s. Stewart Granger was Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1972; Bernard Fox was Watson, and Alan Calliou was INSPECTOR LESTRADE. Doyle’s characters were updated and given different names when Larry Hagman was “Sherman” Holmes and Jenny O’Hara was Joan “Doc” Watson in The Return of the World’s Greatest Detective in 1976. That same year, Roger Moore was Holmes, Patrick Macnee was Watson, John Huston was PROFESSOR MORIARTY, and Charlotte Rampling was IRENE ADLER in Sherlock Holmes in New York. Also in 1976, Christopher Plummer was Holmes and Thorley Walters was Watson in Silver Blaze.
John Cleese and Arthur Lowe were a Monty Pythonesque Holmes and Watson in The Strange Case of the End of Civilization As We Know It on London Weekend in 1977.
On CBS’s Children’s Mystery Theatre in 1980, Keith McConnell and Laurie Main were Holmes and Watson in The Treasure of Alpheus T. Winterborn.
Shortly after making a Broadway hit as Dracula, Frank Langella was the title character in Sherlock Holmes, a 1981 HBO movie; Richard Woods was Watson. (In 1987, Langella played Holmes on Broadway in Sherlock’s Last Case.) In England, the television movie The Masks of Death (1984), written by N. J. Crisp, starred Peter Cushing as Holmes and John Mills as Dr. Watson. Cushing had been Holmes in the 1959 big-screen version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and in a 1968 series.
In 1982, the most famous. often called “definitive,” recreation of Sherlock Holmes on the TV screen began with Jeremy Brett as Holmes in a long British series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, shown in the U.S. on Mystery! David Burke was his first Watson, followed by Edward Hardwicke in the role. Rosalie Williams was the long-suffering MRS. HUDSON. In “A Scandal in Bohemia," Gayle Hunnicutt was Irene Adler. Brett and Hardwicke later repeated their roles in a successful play, The Secret of Sherlock Holmes, that opened on London’s West End in 1988 and played for a year. In America, Charlton Heston went in another direction. He had replaced Paxton Whitehead as Holmes in 1979 in the Los Angeles cast of The Crucifer of Blood (1978), a play based on The Sign of the Four. In the play, Jeremy Brett was a young Watson, making him one of the few actors to play both Holmes and Watson. That play became a television movie, with Heston, filmed in England, in 1991. Richard Johnson was Watson.
An unusual variation on the Holmes legend occurred in the TV movie The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1987). Dr. Watson’s modern-day great-granddaughter (Margaret Colin) is a Boston private detective who discovers Holmes’s body in frozen suspension and restores him to life. Michael Pennington was Holmes. There was more suspension of disbelief (a requirement) than suspense in this film.
Five countries, including England, were involved in the production of a 1990 TV movie, Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady. Christopher Lee was Holmes and for a second time Patrick Macnee was Watson. Morgan Fairchild was Irene Adler. Drawing upon the book The Seven-Percent-Solution, which featured Dr. Sigmund Freud, this movie had John Bennett as Freud. Another 1990 TV movie was Hands of a Murderer with Edward Woodward as Holmes, John Hillerman (best known for his role on Magnum, P.I.) as Watson, and Anthony Andrews as Moriarty.
A new century has not dimmed interest in Doyle’s immortal characters. In 2002 Richard Roxburgh was Holmes in yet another adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Ian Hart was Watson, as he was in The Case of the Silk Stocking, with Rupert Everett as Holmes. Both movies drew criticism for emphasizing Holmes’s drug habit. The latter film opened with the detective in an opium den.
Elkins, Aaron: GIDEON OLIVER, played by Louis Gossett in an American series that began as part of the ABC Monday Mystery Movie, ca. 1989.
Engel, Howard: BENNY COOPERMAN, played by Saul Rubinek in a Canadian series, ca. 1990.
To be continued ...
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