Friday, October 12, 2012

In Class Movie: Dressed to Kill (1946)

"Now it was clear to me that our lady of to-day had nothing in the house more precious to her than what we are in quest of. She would rush to secure it. The alarm of fire was admirably done. The smoke and shouting were enough to shake nerves of steel. She responded beautifully. The photograph is in a recess behind a sliding panel just above the right bell-pull. She was there in an instant, and I caught a glimpse of it as she half drew it out."

--Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia"

Austin: Last year I watched the entirety of Doctor Who. I had seen the new series, but I watched the Classic Series for the first time in research for a few speeches I was doing. One of my favorite parts of that very long experiment was to watch an episode with a new Doctor. The Doctor is essentially the same character each time, but every actor who played the dual-hearted time traveler focused a different aspect of the character's personality. It was a treat to see the differences.

That's what I felt right away with Dressed to Kill. In this blog we've read Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and we've seen Jonny Lee Miller's Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's character is a very intelligent man who can lose focus as he always looks towards the adventure. Miller's Sherlock is a struggling drug addict in recovery and the cases seem to be his distraction from what's really bothering him. I'll ignore the other Sherlocks I've seen off-blog for now because we have Basil Rathbone's Sherlock Holmes.

If you talk to any Sherlockian, this is the name that often rises to the top as the "best" Sherlock Holmes. It's very clear to see why. He's professional, intelligent and respectable. He never seems to brag or cause conflict with the rest of Scotland Yard. He is there to save the day and you know what, old chap, he'll do it. It is safe to say that it is not a coincidence that The Great Mouse Detective is named "Basil."

This was a fun movie to watch because it wasn't an adaptation of "A Scandal in Bohemia", but an entertaining parallel. In fact, in the movie Watson recently published "Bohemia" in the Strand magazine. (That gives me absolutely no excuse to be foiled by a trap he literally just wrote about, but we can get to that later.) We talked in our "Bohemia" review about seeing Sherlock learn from underestimating Irene Adler and we see that in full effect with this case about three music boxes and the code they hide.

What did you think of Mr. Rathbone and his take on the character? Does he deserve the ranking as the best? Or were you too distracted by the bumbling Dr. Watson?

LeighI would like to go back to a simpler time. A time when there was no internet. A time when everyone you knew lived within walking distance. A time where woman could wear awesome hats and not be laughed at.

Now that we’ve agreed that her hats are awesome, we can talk about the matter at hand.

As our first post stated, I am a huge Cumberbatch fan. He embodies everything I think Holmes should be. He’s smart, he’s acerbic, he’s quick and he’s a fantastic actor. With that being said, I love Basil Rathbone. My mom wasn’t lying when she said he was a great Holmes. Maybe not my personal favorite, but he did a wonderful job. I will gladly watch more of his Holmes movies.

I really enjoyed this movie. It set up a mystery well, didn’t rush the story (except maybe at the end) and we got a full mystery and not a half developed one. The audience was presented with the same clues that Holmes was and yet Holmes figured it out before we could, or at least before I could. We weren’t introduced to Holmes and Watson until 8 minutes in. We got a lovely exposition of what was happening and why we had to meet these characters. Holmes, I’m glad we met. Watson...not so much.

All through out this movie I kept thinking back to Kate Beaton’s comic about Watson being a jam loving dolt. That’s really what he was. He was foiled by a scheme that he wrote about not that long ago. That was really the frustrating point for me. Watson should be a partner, not a bumbling idiot who is distracted by a pretty face. One of my notes about 10 minutes is was “Watson the dolt… L” I’m guessing that this portrayal of Watson is why Watson was thought to be an idiot in popular media for so long. That makes me sad, hence the sad smiley.

I thought some parts were cheesy and some were just not really Holmes-like but overall, I really enjoyed this adaptation. How could Watson be fooled by basically his own trick? Why did they make him such a moron? I need more words for “idiot” because I’m over using “bumbling idiot” but that’s really what he is here. Why didn’t they make him an equal? WHY DID THEY RUIN WATSON, AUSTIN, HUH?! WHY DID THEY DO THAT?

Austin: I think we can all agree that Elementary would be a much better show if it was bolder with its hats. That's something they could solve now. More hats and then we can get back to the writing.

Speaking of that show that inspired our blog, we have to play fair. Nigel Bruce's Watson is as much of a problem as Lucy Liu's. I will say I like his Watson more. (Not only because it's like Dr. Dawson from a certain Disney film I bring up almost every post.) He is an idiot. A complete buffoon who is clearly there for the comic relief about those who want to see these movies but wished they didn't have so many mysteries. That said, I there are some positive sides to his performance.

I can see why Sherlock is friends with Watson. There is a lot of warmth between them. Sherlock always has a higher IQ than anyone in the room and he is self-reliant on challenging himself mentally. He doesn't always need the smartest companion. (Just like The Doctor and Jamie!) This Sherlock needs someone to make him smile. It's a friendlier side to Sherlock that doesn't go against his character.

In fact, I like the Sherlock Holmes that doesn't need to brag. David Tennant had that problem by being too gloating with his accomplishments. (I can't stop. This may just merge into a Doctor Who blog. And for that...I'm not sorry.) When Sherlock Holmes does something incredibly clever like use ears as an identifier or recognize the notes could be a code--when it's a tune we all were listening to during the movie--that's something that doesn't need additional patting on the back. So Sherlock could have easily solved this case on his own. Yet he gives credit to this bumbling Watson a couple of times as a sign of friendship. Watson may not understand his value with Sherlock, but Sherlock does. Thus, he gives Watson accolades towards the case as his way of appreciating his essence of not-Sherlock.

But now we have a different case in front of us. Although he used that major plot point from "Bohemia", this was no where near that story in terms of the mystery. What did you think of the tale? Also what did you think of the women of this tale and how Holmes related to them?

Leigh: First I would like to say that I'm writing this on my phone during the downtimes at work. If anything is spelled wrong then blame my phone. It doesn't have spell check and autocorrect is Tribble. Blame my phone, not me even though I'm typing it.

More hats as long as they aren't deer stalkers, or if they are deerstalkers, make them ironic.

The story seemed a bit farfetched, moreso than normal Holmes stories, but I still thought it was an acceptable mystery. I absolutely loved the woman, what ever her ridiculous name that matched her ridiculous hats was, in this mystery. Not only did she leave a trap for Holmes that he completely fell for but she also orchestrated a good portion of the plot. She seemed like the one in charge and not the one who was following orders. She even got upset when her one henchman killed the guy when he wasn't supposed to. She was in control of the situation for a good portion of the movie. To me she seemed more of a femme fatale than Irene Adler, but I've only ever seen two film noirs so I could be completely wrong here.

I think that as a parallel story to Scandal, this movie worked well. It had obvious inspirations from actual Holmes stories but it also had it's own twist. The music boxes are similar to another Holmes story that we'll get to eventually so it was really a nice homage to Holmes in more than just using the characters of Watson and Holmes

And while I love Basil Rathbone, I think the Watson (what ever his name is) tried a bit too hard. The scene I'm thinking of in particular was the one when they found the little girl tied up. Holmes was caring and warm and understanding, which isn't normal for Holmes, and Watson seemed to make a mess of it when trying to comfort the poor girl. He really seemed to be there for comic relief and to give the major clue to Holmes but didn't have much other reason for being there.

As an homage, I think this movie did a great job. It didn't try to be too specific with certain aspects but it still got the core character of Holmes and tried to make it so that more audiences, not just ones that like mysteries, would like it. On our next adventure, we deal with gingers, a bank robbery and the ideal job in the Victorian era. 

And now Austin with the final word: 

Austin:  Fatso?

1 comment:

  1. First: Femme Fetale? Not by a long shot. I should know, I took a class on those hussies. She's just a broad in control who won't let some man put her down. She's got presence and won't stand for being in the background; just look at her hat to prove it!

    Second: I think with this Watson they got simple and bumpkin mixed up. Bumpkin is rollicking and jolly and ignorant about his surroundings and what's going on; this Watson I feel was played more as a jolly old bulldoggish bumpkin. Simple, how I feel Watson is meant to be, is meat and potatos; straightforward clothes; steady thought processes; three square meals a day; kind and warm to all, believing the best in man, but able to put up a damn good fight in a pinch. That's simple, and that's not how they did Watson in this film. He's played exactly as a British stereotype, including the old army/school/house buddy with the amusing moniker ("Stinky"? Really? Fatso? Seriously? Come on...) I don't like how they did it, but I can understand, for the time and trends in cinema, why they did it. They tried to play Sherlock and Watson as a kind of comedy duo almost. Sherlock played the straight man to Watson's buffoon. Tragic almost.

    Third: Rathbone's Sherlock is the most approachable I've seen yet. He's warm at times, but knows his strengths and weaknesses: the scene with the child crying, he acts quickly to free her, but knows he's not going to be good at making her smile again (and neither of you commented on the ludicrousness of the duck noises?).

    Fourth: I was very happy that the solution of the murder was literally at the end of the movie, and there were no extra bits tacked on the end compulsively by the filmmakers. No trial scenes, no prison shots, just simple and pat. It's done, the mystery is solved, let Madam Justice take over here for her due. Sherlock knows he's done his part and tags out at just the right time. Priceless.

    Finally: Not the most Holmsian of mysteries presented, I think. There were twists and turns, but as an audience member I wasn't left in the dark as to the true motive behind the baddies. I like trying to figure that part out, too, not just whodunit and how.