Fri 19 Aug 2011
THE SHERLOCK HOLMES SOCIETY OF LONDON
by Geoff Bradley
This is an annual event, held in November, and having missed the last couple, I managed to get into London last year  for this one. First up was a illustrated talk by Rick Leary who was Computer Graphic Supervisor for the Guy Ritchie film Sherlock Holmes. He talked about how they recreated the banks of the Thames for the shots in the film.
I was amazed by the amount of time and effort that they spent getting detail correct. The first thing he did was to get Victorian maps of the area from which to work. Panoramic digital photographs were taken from the high walkways on Tower Bridge and then existing Victorian building were found (some in Manchester) that were inserted to replace modem ones.
As he said, most of the original buildings from that time that hadn’t been naturally replaced, were destroyed in the Blitz. A helicopter shoot was arranged, taking a great deal of time in these security conscious days, to film the Thames itself, but the day (in November) turned out to be so sunny that the footage couldn’t be used.
In fact, he said, although they tried to use photographs of the Thames for the film, reflections in the surface meant that they couldn’t. He ended by showing excerpts from the film showing the final fight scenes on Tower Bridge, firstly with the green screen background as the actors grappled in the studio, and then with CGI imposed.
It was an illuminating talk (in more ways than one) and I was very impressed by the amount of care that was spent in making the background detail authentic.
Secondly came a 1949 thirty-minute television production of “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” with Alan Napier (later to become Alfred to Adam West’s Batman) as Sherlock Holmes. This was part of a series Your Show Time and was a fairly routine rendition which could be described, I suppose, as dated but enjoyable.
Melville Cooper made a Watson straight from the Nigel Bruce School of Performing Arts. The series was sponsored by Lucky Strike which perhaps explains why host and narrator Arthur Shields should suddenly take a moment to exhale smoke directly at the camera.
Another amusing moment was when, as Helen Stones started to tell her story, Holmes started to light the biggest curved pipe you could wish to see.
The third item was “Four Beheadings and a Funeral”, a seven minute excerpt from “Treehouse of Horror XV”, a 2004 episode of The Simpsons. It was a Jack the Ripper style story (Jack the Rip-off?) with Eliza Simpson as the Holmes look-a-like, hindered by the Watsonian Dr Bartley. Other Simpsons regulars, including Marge as a flower girl, cropped up using deliberately exaggerated phoney cockney accents. An amusing sequence that I hadn’t seen before.
Finally we had “Sting of Death”, a 1955 episode from The Elgin Hour, based on A Taste of Honey by H.F. Heard. The leading character here is Mr Mycroft (supposedly, though not exactly stated, Sherlock Holmes) played by Boris Karloff. He comes to the rescue of Mr Silchester (a self-contained, stuffy man superbly played by Robert Flemyng) when he is attacked by the bees of the local beekeeper Hargrove (Heregrove in the book).
The book’s weakness (well one of them) is that there seems no rational explanation for Heregrove’s actions (assuming that his actions are scientifically possible, a large assumption) except that he is mad. The film follows the book fairly faithfully (except for the necessary shortening) and somehow the failings appeared less as they are more easily overlooked as the action moves on.
Karloff was fine as the elderly retired Holmes and Hermione Gingold put in a sterling performance as the deliberately perky housekeeper. Another dated but enjoyable production, which linked with “Speckled Band above when, in his final scene, Karloff proceeded to light the second largest curved pipe of the evening.
I know, now, having checked after writing the above, that “Speckled Band” and “Sting of Death” are available on a US DVD together with other, some less Sherlockian, material. I’m trying to resist but the temptation is there.
Editorial Comment: The DVD set is easily found in the US at least, including from Amazon. Some of these films and TV programs are also available as videos on the Internet. A little Googling should turn them up without much difficulty.