Thursday, October 18, 2012

"Eille Norwood, my dear Rathbone!" - A Silent Monograph by Altamont.

Bruce & Rathbone in The Hound of the Baskervilles, 1939.
"I can discover facts, Watson, but I cannot change them." (Thor Bridge)

Basil Rathbone, born in 1892, was 49 at the time of his first outing as Sherlock Holmes.

Concurrent with writing forthcoming blogs on the Granada series, starring Jeremy Brett & two silent Sherlocks, Eille Norwood and John Barrymore, I am reading Michael Druxman's book on the life and films of "The Baz". As a result, certain unchangeable facts present an irony of poetic poignancy. 

The year is 1921. Movies are silent; Conan Doyle has yet to complete The Casebook, which will begin publication in The Strand that October.  Sir Oswald Stoll has, the previous year, bought the rights to make films based on the Sherlock Holmes tales at his Cricklewood Studios. By the close of 1921, the first 15 silent black and white shorts, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and the feature-length The Hound of the Baskervilles have initiated a three-year project totalling 45 shorts and 2 feature-length stories.

Under the direction of Maurice Elvey (and, for 1922, George Ridgewell) Stoll Films set an as yet unbeaten record (only Granada comes anywhere near). The actor chosen to play Holmes set a personal record too as the man who has played Holmes most often on film.

Eille Norwood as Sherlock Holmes 1921.

When The Dying Detective (the first Stoll short) was released Eille Norwood was 59 years old. As my forthcoming blog on Norwood and Barrymore will show, Norwood's special genius for disguise won him the part. 

A list of the Stoll series in order may be viewed HERE and The Bioscope website HERE gives a scholarly filmography of Stoll's Holmes films and much more (scroll past the Dickens entries). 

A minor irony lies in the revelation that Norwood's real name was Anthony Edward BRETT.

Three of his Holmes shorts are readily available on Youtube: Here is The Dying Detective.


Meanwhile: in 1921 Basil Rathbone, 29 years old,  unmarried, still living in England made his debut on film.

Innocent was released in March, 1921, and The Fruitful Vine (shot first) came out in September.
The film company was Stoll Films. The director of both films was Maurice Elvey.

Here he is with Valya in The Fruitful Vine.
Of his performance in Innocent, The Bioscope said:
       "Basil Rathbone makes a romantic figure as the perfidious painter".

Did Maurice Elvey wake one summer night long ago and vaguely wonder if young Rathbone might have cut it as Holmes? Did he ever, later in life, think back to those early silent, Cricklewood days when he directed one Holmes alongside a Holmes-to-come?

I leave the reader to decide how far we may regret the 18 year wait for the Baz's shot at Sherlock.
I'd miss that voice. I'm happy with the facts as they are.

But that doesn't stop me from noting the irony and I leave you with the poetry of a man who loved his Sherlock Holmes too.

The opening lines of Burnt Norton from The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot:

 "Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind."

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