Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Six Napoleons" (Doyle, 1904)

“The affair seems absurdly trifling, and yet I dare not call nothing trivial when I reflect that some of my most classic cases have had the least promising commencement."

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”

Leigh: First, I need to apologize, dear readers. I have really procrastinated on writing this initial email. Why? Because I've been putting off reading the story, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons”. Why? Because it's boring. THERE, I'VE SAID IT! One of the stories from The Return of Sherlock Holmes is boring. Soooo booooring. I tried listening to it through Librivox, I tried reading it myself, I tried osmosis and sat on the book a while (not really but wouldn't that be cool if it could work that way?). But I put it off and put it off and put it off because it is such a boring story.

"But Leigh! There's murder! And a crazy man! And Napoleon! How can it be boring?" Because it's the same story as “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” which I believe we reviewed around this time last year but instead of a carbuncle, it's pearls and instead of a goose it's a bunch of busts of Napoleon. I didn't remember too much from it, just that it was similar and then I started reading it. Once I got to the murder, I remembered that it is the same story.

Monday, November 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Snowmen" (Doctor Who, 2012)

“I am never precipitate in my actions, nor would I adopt so energetic and, indeed, dangerous a course, if any other were possible.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”

Austin: I like to switch things up a bit. Instead of just referencing Doctor Who in every post, we're going to do that but be on topic! Last year we talked about the Tom Baker (Fourth Doctor) story The Talons of Weng-Chiang where The Doctor and Leela found their deerstalkers to investigate a wonderfully ridiculous Victorian mystery. Now we are back in that time, but it's an episode that was made in 2012 with Matt Smith (Eleventh Doctor).

This may be the trickiest one to write because the Sherlock Holmes aspect is just a small part of this tale. It's really just a straightforward Doctor Who story with The Doctor hiding himself away after the loss of his best friends. He meets a mysterious barmaid with a secret that she doesn't even know she has---all will be revealed in the season finale! There's a monster from the Classic era of Doctor Who voiced by Sir Ian McKellen. There is silliness, sci-fi gibberish, the power of the human spirit and plenty of humor.

Ian McKellen is the one on the left. Far left.

This episode was written by the showrunner Steven Moffat who also co-runs BBC's Sherlock. Since both shows sparked fans so wildly, plenty of people have demanded a cross-over where Benedict Cumberbatch and Matt Smith can chat about who has the most ridiculous bone structure in their face. Seeing how a time machine could ruin every single Sherlock Holmes story, Moffat has made the cross-over impossible by revealed who really is the inspiration for the Arthur Conan Doyle stories. 

So what would you like to cover first, Leigh? What do you think of who really is Doyle's inspiration for Sherlock and Watson or what do you think of the scene with The Doctor trying to imitate their style?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" (Doyle, 1904)

“I’ll tell you Watson. He is the king of all the blackmailers. Heaven help the man, and still more the woman, whose secret and reputation come into the power of Milverton! With a smiling face and a heart of marble, he will squeeze and squeeze until he has drained them dry.”

--Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton

Leigh: This story might actually be my favorite. I know I say that a lot about a lot of them but this one might actually have the #1 spot. It is wacky and crazy and ends in a way that you don't really see coming, which I love. 

Charles Augustus Milverton is a blackmailer and is so despicable, Holmes calls him the worst person ON DA EARF which I guess is an easy roll to fill since Moriarty is dead. CAM decides to get letters of young women that would ruin their career and then blackmail them so that their lives aren't ruined. These young women agree because a young woman in Victorian England doesn't have many choices and if she doesn't marry rich, she's pretty much screwed. Holmes has a client that happens to be one of these young ladies who can't afford the ransom of her personal letters and so Holmes decides to break into Milverton's house and steal them but only after he has gotten himself engaged to Milverton's housemaid. This isn't one of those situations where Holmes falls in love (HA!) but one where he is emotionally manipulating a woman to get what he wants. He doesn't care about breaking the housemaid's poor heart but he CANNOT let that rich woman gets her heart broken! It seems classist to me and rude but again, it was another era.

Holmes tells Watson what he's done and Watson decides he needs to help Holmes break into Milverton's house. He even goes so far as to say, "If you don't let me come with you to break into some guy's house then I'M TELLING MOM, I MEAN LESTRADE!" So Holmes reluctantly lets Watson come along. And then they go so far as to wear bandit masks when breaking into Milverton's house which I thought was possibly one of the funniest images ever. And then shit goes down.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

In-Class Movie: "Pursuit to Algiers" (Rathbone, 1945)

“Well, I kept my knowledge to myself, and waited to see what would come of it.”

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Black Peter”

Austin: So we return to the magical world of Sherlock Holmes and Watson ruled by Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. We've had fun in the past, but this is the first time where we really delve into their time when they spent in 1940s European espionage. We've seen Sherlock Holmes in plenty of different time periods like 2012 and 2012 so we know that there is a wealth of stories that can arise from placing this iconic character in a new situation.

We'll get into the duo stopping Nazis later for today they're just escorting a Prince to safety. By stagecoach? By train? By armored car? Nope. BY A BOAT MOTHERFUCKERS! 

"Watson, fetch my nautical themed deerstalker."

The boat is filled with subjects just like Death on the Nile and there is plenty of false identity going on just like Death on the Nile. Also they occasionally stop like in Death on the Nile. It's very strange to see the most iconic detectives ever take its lead from the most popular mystery writer of all time. Especially when the results aren't that satisfying.

I'll get into this more in a bit, but I found this to be very disappointing mostly because at just a bit over an hour this seemed to be stalling for majority of its run. Am I just being mean or did you find some charm in this one?

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Black Peter" (Doyle, 1904)

“[Sherlock’s] increasing fame had brought with it an immense practice, and I should be guilt of an indiscretion if I were to even hint at the identity of some of the illustrious clients who crossed our humble threshold in Baker Street.”

--Watson being coy in “The Adventure of the Black Peter”

Leigh: This week, the story we read was one that could have easily turned out awful but I found it surprisingly pleasant. An old sailor called Black Peter is murdered by a harpoon (which is pretty badass) and then a possible suspect is arrested and Sherlock Holmes' logic proves that he didn't do it. 

"We're going to need a bigger harpoon gun!" Shut up Quint." 

I enjoyed this story. Much like the rest of the book so far, it was more adventurous than the older Sherlock Holmes stories and yet it still had some of those older elements that made it a lot of fun. Sure, sitting around waiting for the bad guy to show up can be boring, but doing it in the middle of the night with Holmes and Watson is instantly more fun. Also there's the element of a Red Herring that we don't get too often with Doyle's stories. It is something that can be overused (Law and Order and Scooby Doo come to mind) but I thought it was well done in our story and it gives Holmes another chance to show his line of thinking without just jumping to that.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Extracurricular Reading: The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (Meyers, 1974)

Warning: The following blog entry contains spoilers for the entire novel of The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and briefly has one for Series Two of Sherlock that is marked. So go read/watch those. Because they're awesome.

"But--" I was running alongside the train now--"what about your readers--my readers! What shall I tell them?"
"Anything you like," was the bland respond. "Tell them I was murdered by my mathematics tutor, if you like. They'll never believe you in any case."

--Nicholas Meyers, "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution"

Leigh: Lately we've been reviewing a lot of various movies that play with the idea that Holmes is crazy. Moriarty isn't real, he's a figment of his imagination and Holmes really just needs to get a grip on reality. But what if Holmes were crazy? What if he had succumbed to his addictions and became insane and created the fiend that is Moriarty? The Seven-Per-Cent Solution explores just that idea.

The story starts off with Holmes showing up in Watson's sitting room like he has numerous times, but this time he is high as a kite. He is mumbling and sweaty and resembles more of the traditional idea of a crazy person than of Sherlock Holmes as the audience knows him. Watson, as a doctor and the detective's best friend, decides that something needs to be done. He actually hunts down Professor Moriarty and finds out he's an elderly mathematics tutor that taught Holmes boys when they were younger. He's completely harmless and quite upset that Holmes is now stalking him and accusing him of being a criminal mastermind. 

At this point Watson decides that Holmes needs to go to rehab and Mycroft agrees. The two men, along with the often forgotten Mrs. Watson, plan a dastardly plan to get Holmes all the way to Vienna to meet Sigmund Freud. Now, here is where most of the time when an author decides to introduce a real person that actually existed into a fictional universe that I get skeptical and start purposefully trying to find flaws. I know this is a fault of mine but as soon as I decide that I don't like something, I try to find all of the problems with it ever. I honestly didn't do that with Seven-Per-Cent. I thought the addition of Freud (even though I'm incredibly skeptical of a lot of his research and findings [women like orgasms? NO WAY!]) was interesting. 

That's not what Walter Jr. has learned from his experiences.

But I wanted more. Half of the book, and it's relatively short (I'm trudging through the Harry Potter series again right now so ~224 pages is short to me) is all about Watson and Mycroft getting Sherlock to Freud. And while I liked that wackiness of it and a Rube Goldberg machine of a plan to get Sherlock to willingly go to Vienna. It was fun but I wanted more with Freud and Holmes. To me, once it finally got to the one-on-one between the two, it's just a Sparknotes version of what happened. I wanted more.

So what did you think of it? Do you buy that Holmes was crazy? Do you believe the wackiness of the it all? And what about the lack of mystery? Can it be a Holmes novel without a mystery?

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In-Class Movie: Elementary - "Step Nine" (2013)

“No, the murderer has escaped.”
Sherlock Holmes smiled demurely.
“Your Grace can hardly have heard of any small reputation which I possess, or you would not imagine that it is so easy to escape me.”

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Priory School”

Austin: Now I'm the one feeling like the addict.

We've quit this show. Then I tweeted the Super Bowl episode. Then we reviewed the last four of the season. Now we're back for the premiere and once again.....I just want to quit the show. I know it's the name of our blog and our initial premise, but we need to stop this.

The last four episodes gave me some hope. I really liked one of them and it did some interesting things. Now we have this big premiere that was filmed in London where we get to meet Lestrade and Mycroft and see 221B and.....all of them felt worthless.

If you didn't know the show, could you tell which one was Sherlock and which one was Mycroft?

The mystery that drives Sherlock back to the most emotional place on the Earth is flimsy and forgettable. There is no drama about him returning. Mycroft has no personality. Lestrade, I actually liked quite a bit thanks to Sean Pertwee. (Yes, he is the son of the Third Doctor because--everyone together--there are only 15 British actors.) Pertwee brought this extra energy and friction that I've been craving on this show. And yet once the mystery started, that all faded away to the point where I forgot he was in the room. There was this really poor attempt at character study by saying that he craves attention, but that was only done because Sherlock kept repeating it over and over again. (Just like how Mycroft is lazy. No evidence of it; just Sherlock repeating it.)

Friday, September 27, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Priory School" (Doyle, 1903)

“But surely this is somewhat irrelevant?”
“Not entirely,” said Holmes.

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Priory School”

Leigh: We have another mystery this week that focuses on bicycles. This time, more specifically bicycle tires instead of people riding on them. We have a very important Duke whose son has gone missing from school. The headmaster then contacts Sherlock Holmes and says that he's missing along with the German teacher. Of course kidnap is the obvious red herring here but it's a Sherlock Holmes mystery and these are rarely that simple. 

Holmes goes to the school to attempt to figure out the problem and Watson and the audience actually gets to come along. Holmes and Watson go all along every bit of field and anywhere there might be a path to find the bicycle tire marks from the missing bicycle that was presumably used in the possible kidnapping. They eventually find the trail and then the dead German teacher. DUN DUN DUN! 

My God.....

And that's when the mystery gets exciting and slightly convoluted and becomes a bit of a rip off. There's a worker who had been fired from the Duke's home. There's an illegitimate son who's jealous of the Duke's younger son. There's of course a murder and murderer and still a missing boy. Holmes ends up solving the whole thing because the tread marks left by the cows along the trails didn't follow a cow's natural stride. This annoyed me. Did it annoy you?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Solitary Cyclist" (Brett, 1984)

“The case is clear enough against you, and all I ask are a few details for my private curiosity. However, if there’s any difficulty in your telling me, I’ll do the talking, and then you will see how far you have a chance of holding back your secrets.”

--Sherlock Holmes, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Austin: Now that we've reviewed “A Study in Pink”, I want to bring up the BBC series again as a point of comparison. Don't worry internet, this isn't about Elementary. It's about the Jeremy Brett led series, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. We are now watching the earliest episode for us, with "The Solitary Cyclist" being the fourth. When we last reviewed him in "The Resident Patient" and that showed a more prickly Holmes than we were used to with Basil Rathbone, it's nothing compared to this.

In this episode, Sherlock Holmes is an asshole.

And the episode is better for that.

"Hush. Still my turn to speak."

This episode has plenty of the plot problems we had in the story earlier this week--oh man the wedding scene in particular is just crazy to watch. Yet it was always fun because of Brett. Many people looking for a warm hero would probably be put off by him, but since not every Sherlock Holmes is like this, I'm all for a break into a very grumpy area. 

It's the cruelty towards Watson, the aggressive attitude he has towards the case and the plenty of jabbing sarcasm. That's where the writers seem to focus because the one-liners are really great. Nowadays, this is the strength of plenty of episodic TV shows. People will join in week after week, not necessarily because of the mystery set-up but because they like the characters walking around this world. (Bones, NCIS, every single USA show, etc). It's clear that this version of Sherlock is an inspiration towards the type of characters Benedict Cumberbatch could play. How far he could go with being unlikable, but still a charismatic hero. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Book Review: "The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist" (Doyle, 1903)

“You will go down?”
“No, my dear fellow you will go down”

--Watson and Holmes totally in context, “The Adventure of the Solitary Cyclist”

Leigh: Before I start on a feminist rant, I'm going to openly remind myself that this was written in another time period where arranged/forced marriages were commonplace.

Now, on with the story. 

The introduction of this story is a bit like Watson bragging, I think. He says that Holmes was SO busy and they have SO many stories that he has to pick and choose more than normal when deciding which stories to write about. I thought this seemed a little out of place and more like Arthur Conan Doyle saying, "Don't worry, guys, I gots stories to last for YEARS! Holmes isn't gonna die again any time soon!" I think it was supposed to be a reassuring nod to readers but felt more like a pompous, "Don't worry, I got this." That could just be me though.

A young woman is mysteriously contacted by two men after her uncle dies in South Africa (exotic locale!). She is then hired by one of these men for a lot more money than she was expecting to teach his daughter music while the other one is a legitimate creeper and stares at her like he's going to molest her at any moment, both in the Victorian sense and the present day sense of the word. She is then followed by a mysterious man on a bicycle whenever she goes to visit her mother. Holmes is then so busy that he again sends Watson out to do some investigating and when Watson comes back with what he thinks is very important information, Holmes tells him he did a shit job. Holmes then goes and does everything he told Watson he should've done after the fact. 

"Miss can you describe the cyclist?" "He had bulging eyes, terrible skin and an impossible to place accent."

So the mystery. This is one that I felt like Holmes was cheating a lot. The audience didn't get nearly enough information to figure out what was going on so by the time the conclusion comes around, I was scratching my head going, "Huuuh?" This one that I've read a couple of times and I never remember it and I blame it on the fact that the conclusion comes out of left field. A lot of the conclusion would be left to guesswork if the audience were the ones solving it. How were we supposed to know there was a secret deal about who got to marry the young woman? How were we supposed to figure out her dead uncle left her with a small fortune? Why is her boyfriend mentioned if he never shows up and is only mentioned in the introduction and in the last paragraph of the story? I enjoyed this story for the drama of it all but I have to stay from a mystery aspect, it seemed to fail. 

What do you think? Am I just in a bad mood or are some of my complaints legitimate? Also, what is with ACD naming his female characters the same thing? This is the second Violet we've come across and it completely threw me off. I have half of a completely different email written but what I was talking about happened with a DIFFERENT Violet. 

Austin: I was also a bit disappointed by this one. I was intrigued when Violet was telling her story but then once they stopped their huddle and shouted "BREAK!" it lost my interest.

We've seen Watson explore and detect by himself before, most famously in The Hound of the Baskerville. In that, through all our blog entries, we valued the idea that Holmes was serving as a mentor figure encouraging Watson to use the skills he's learned. Yes Holmes still swoops in to save the day, but there was respect there that was missing here.

On the Wikipedia page for this entry, it says that the Strand refused the first draft because Holmes wasn't as involved with the plot. This could be the cause of the structural issues where Holmes suddenly arrives because it could have easily been a late edition change. So now I can just think of Doyle plotting instead of the character having reason for splitting things up. Oh, I know...he was SO BUSY.

"I would ask Mrs. Hudson to go but she couldn't hear me."

We've discussed the rise in excitement in this collection, but is this perhaps one of the most violent stories we've read? We have fistfights and gunshots and all sorts of stuff that would be ideal for Robert Downey Jr. Is this a case when Doyle was trying to amp up the action that he severely lost track of the mystery?

Leigh: I hate to agree with you all the time because a lack of drama can be boring, but the "BREAK" moment is the perfect moment of when I stopped caring too. Everything was SO interesting until that point. And it's not like the rest of the story isn't interesting when you look at the facts, it just wasn't presented in as intriguing of a manner.

I don't think the additional action is what lost the mystery. You can have an action packed adventure that surrounds a mystery and it still be a logical conclusion. I think that this one really needed another editing. It makes sense now that you've mentioned that Holmes wasn't in it in the first submission. He does really feel like he was shoehorned in the story. As an audience member, I would've been completely happy with Watson doing the investigation by himself. At this point in the canon, I feel like Watson is completely capable to get 75% of what Sherlock Holmes does in his investigations. I think this story though was purposefully (re)written so that Watson was doddering about the countryside and Holmes had to come in to save the day, which of course upsets me because I love Watson and I hate the doddering dullard Watson-stereotype.

Coming soon....

Because Sherlock Holmes was SO BUSY, I would've loved to have like a side by side story that is an adventure of Holmes and Watson solving the multiple mysteries at the same time and how they might overlap or not. I think it could've added some interest there that was lacking in the last 2/3 of the story. I know everything is written from Watson's POV but it would've been interesting to have an omnipotent narrator describe the multiple mysteries going on at the same time. It would at least have given a reason as to why Holmes was so busy and why he made Watson go do his busy work.

What do you think, Lugar? Is there any way to save this mystery?

Austin: I think it's something that we're talked about this entire blog. Focus on what people care about. For us, it seems that means the characters and the fantastical elements. When those things are hitting just right, we typically love the story. We aren't exactly the type of mystery fans that will sketch out every single step to make sure it all works. If the elements are heightened in a cohesive way, then we're game.

When things stumble around and it leaves us focusing on the broken pieces then we have to wonder what's going on. We're fine with someone sending a snake up a pipe to kill someone if the ride to that conclusion works even though I'm pretty sure a simple poison would be more effective. 

I'd be curious to one day read a proper biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. I know nothing about his romantic life, but from these stories he doesn't have the happiest sense of relationships. Mrs. Watson was killed off without me noticing. Sherlock won't ever be in a proper relationship. Then--perhaps for the sake of the genre--if a spouse comes to Sherlock Holmes with some marital issues, it never really ends well. This story was no exception.

Molly and Jim were the happiest couple on the show.

Anywho, we'll revisit this story again but this time we'll get the intensity of Jeremy Brett as we revisit his show The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes with the episode cleverly titled "The Solitary Cyclist".

Here is Leigh Montano with the final word....

Leigh: Daisy, Daisy...

I'm sorry, Leigh, I'm afraid I can't let you keep quoting films you haven't seen.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In-Class Movie: "A Study in Pink" (Sherlock, 2010)

“Tell me,” said Holmes—and I could see by his eyes that he was much excited—“was this a mere addition to the first or did it appear to be entirely separate?”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”

Austin: Obviously, it has been well established that we are a massively successful blog that is highly acclaimed not only in the English language but also in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics. This has been well reported on and it's not egotistical to ponder that I think millions--nay, tens of millions--have been waiting for us to finally review the hit BBC series Sherlock


Just a few weeks away from our one-year anniversary we're reviewing the show that arguably makes us such active Sherlock Holmes fans today. We have been fans of the stories for years but what Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss created, at least for me, renewed that love in a major way.

So this week when I revisited the pilot, "A Study in Pink" for the umpteenth time it was that canonical love that felt very apparent throughout every minute. The idea of updating the Victorian hero to the modern day sounds like a gimmick but putting a story into a new setting really allows for them to make their homage/appreciation into a dramatic setting without it just being a repetitive wink.

The original story of "A Study in Scarlet" is just a jumping off point in structure. Using modern dramatics they are able to re-examine what it would be like for Watson to meet Sherlock for the first time, how Sherlock would interact with modern police/technology and who really are these famous characters. There is a rich psychological examination going on with the two leads (with Watson literally seeing a shrink before the opening credits). 

It's a look at Doyle's original stories made by true fans. There are plenty of little Easter eggs with my favorite being the fact that one of the detectives reads RACHE on the floor and assumes it's German for "revenge" which was Sherlock deduced in the original story. When we first see Sherlock's apartment, it's just a treasure trove of odds and ends that are designed with a loving care that encourages exploration. This world is a playground for them to make adventures and this episode is just oozing with potential.

"Sherlock where are my keys?" "Ask the skull." "I did; he was looking guilty in your direction."

So what about this episode's giddiness resonates with you the most? The banter, their mystery, the characters, the tributes or just the fact that Mrs. Hudson sometimes gets high?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" (Doyle, 1903)

“I ought to make you sign a paper to that effect.”
“Because in five minutes you will say that it is all so absurdly simple.”
“I am sure I shall say nothing of the kind.”

--Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”

Leigh: I feel like I've started every email of the new book off with, "I really liked this story" but it's true. I really did like this one. The first time I listened to it, the person reading it tried to read every little picture as well which just made it frustrating to listen to. Add to the fact that I was working at 5am while listening to them and needless to say that I didn't remember this one much while reading it this time around so it was like I was reading it for the first time.

And while I liked this story, the first half of it, I couldn't help but think, "Didn't we read this one already?" It seems that there are a lot of Sherlock Holmes stories that have a wife who has a secret that she won't tell her husband so he goes behind her back to find out what is going on. I felt a little ripped off while reading the first half because I felt like I've read this before with “The Yellow Face”. There always seems to be a bit of a formula with Doyle's stories but this one felt more formulaic than normal at first.

I can't translate this. It's way too vulgar.

But then it gets interesting. There's a murder that is the turning point in the story for me and which seems to be happening more often in Sherlock Holmes' world, and a crazy set of dancing guys which is a secret language made up by an organized crime group of some sort. So possible mafia and a murder definitely makes it more interesting than a little girl with a weird mask. 

Is it just me, or do the stakes seem higher more often now? It feels like every story has a possibility of murder or an innocent being blamed for a crime. It doesn't seem like it's as simple as a husband who is posing as a bum or a girl being held captive by her family. Those could be considered serious but murder is more serious I feel.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

In-Class Movie: They Might Be Giants (1971)

“From the point of view of the criminal expert,” said Mr. Sherlock Holmes, “London has become a singularly uninteresting city since the death of the late lamented Professor Moriarty.”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”

Austin: I had never heard of this movie until it popped up on Netflix earlier this year. I'm shocked that being in the mystery community so long I never heard anyone talk about it. Perhaps because it's not entirely a mystery movie but we can get to that soon.

It is the story of Justin Playfair, a respected judge played by the tour-de-force actor George C. Scott. Before the film started Playfair suffered a nervous breakdown and now resides in a mental asylum where he believes he is and has always been the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes. His delusions aren't helped when he is assigned a personal psychiatrist, a woman by the name of Dr. Mildred Watson. 

"I don't care what the fashion section says, Watson, this look is in."

The rest of the film is the two of them going around 1970s New York City as he looks behind shadows and meets lovable strangers as he tries to stop that criminal mastermind Professor Moriarty.

I thought about this film a lot while reading "The Adventure of the Empty House" because as Sherlock was telling his dramatic tales to Watson I couldn't help but wonder.....are we even sure Morairty exists? Our trusting narrator never met him and until we meet Moran in the flesh, this all could have been in the mind of Sherlock Holmes. This movie plays upon that concept and incorporates Don Quixote legend into this delightful tale.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Book Report: "The Adventure of the Norwood Builder" (Doyle, 1903)

Lestrade began to laugh. “You are to many for me when you begin to get on your theories, Mr. Holmes,” said he.
--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Norwood Builder”

Leigh: This week, in “Norwood Builder”, Sherlock Holmes decides not to waste his skills by sitting around like he used to back in Memoirs and decides to actually get up and do something. That break where he was pretending to be dead didn't deaden his ability to solve a mystery. And boy did he solve a mystery!

A solicitor shows up on Holmes' doorstep one morning, crying and carrying on about how he's going to be arrested for murder. Lestrade turns up shortly after, as he often does, to arrest this poor young man while Holmes promises that he's going to figure out what the problem is. And he does but only after he almost didn't.

Most of the time when there is a bit of doubt from Holmes about figuring out a mystery, it is small and short-lived but in "Norwood Builder", he doubts himself a lot. At one point he says that he knows the solicitor is innocent but doesn't know how yet. That's some heavy stuff coming from the gung ho detective. For any of those worrying that Holmes didn't figure it out, don't worry he did, because of a thumbprint. A random thumbprint in a random spot in the hallway.

We know that Holmes has fantastic detecting abilities and yet something this small seems a bit too convenient. I'm willing to believe a lot in this Sherlock Holmes world where he can deduce anyone's profession just by looking at their sleeve but this thumbprint just seems...lazy almost. I am growing jaded to the detective's abilities or is it a bit silly?

Jinkies, Lestrade! I think I found something! 

And speaking of silly, wasn't that the most ridiculous orchestration of shouting "fire!" that you've ever read?

Austin: We're getting into a new terrain of Sherlock Holmes stories it seems. This collection seems awfully theatrical. The resolutions are more visual with people trying to knock off busts and Watson lighting fire to straw. Are they ridiculous? Yes. But are they fun to read? Absolutely.

It's almost like Doyle knows that they will be adapted one day because his writing style seems different. There is more dialog than there used to be instead of crazy long monologues. They are changing locations and there are characters vocally questioning Sherlock. It makes for a more thrilling story even if they aren't as cerebral as they used to be.

I feel like a Michael Bay fan by writing this, but is it bad that I prefer these stories more than the last collection? When McFarlane stumbled into 221B Baker Street, he felt more like a new character than any of the other clients. The rapid fire desperation in his dialog made him feel fresh and it became all the more dramatic when Lestrade showed up early in the story to literally arrest the man on spot.

I need you to solve something for me. I mean, it's a crime. It's a case. I didn't do it but there are those that think I did. Wouldn't this seem more natural if you were drinking coffee too?

Is it just me? Are these stories turning more into blockbusters instead of quiet PBS dramas? If so are the mysteries suffering to the point where we should be concerned?

Also, where the hell is Watson's wife? I looked it up because the timeline for these stories are silly. This story definitely takes place years after The Sign of Four. What is Watson saying when he moved back into 221B? Is he just referring to his job? If that's true, does that mean he's just hanging out with his best friend all day breathing in second hand opium hoping that maybe a client will show up one day and telling his wife that he's hard at work?

Leigh: Watson's wife is dead. She died sometime between Holmes disappearing and returning. Watson doesn't make a big deal of it because he's British/Victorian. It's mentioned somewhere in “Empty House” albeit very briefly. Watson and Holmes are roommates again in the Norwood Builder. SPOILER: Don't worry, Watson'll marry again.

A face like this can never be a bachelor for too long.

No, I completely agree. There is a new life in these stories. There was a formula, a closely stuck to formula, that Doyle used when writing the last set of stories. It never quite felt that he was sick of the characters or of the universe but you could tell that he was phoning it in on a couple of stories from Memoirs. But with this adventure, it's completely different. We do start off back at Baker Street but instead of Holmes figuring it out all while sitting in his chair or leaving a bit then coming back to tell Watson what he's discovered, Watson (and the audience) get to come along with during the great reveal! This alone adds a new aspect to these stories that I didn't know I wanted but after I read I realized I did, if that makes any sense at all.

There's more excitement and more suspense than there used to be with these stories. As I said earlier, Holmes never really doubted himself before and then in this story, he's full of doubt. That creates a new level to his character that the audience hasn't really seen before. This could be a new found enthusiasm on Doyle's part or it could be that he's altering the very new genre of mystery. Before it was "here is the puzzle so let's solve it." Now it's, "Here's the puzzle but where are the four missing pieces? And why is this one on fire?!" There's definitely some change and I'm voting that it's an evolution of sorts on Doyle's part. Maybe he got bored of sticking to his formula and decided to shake it up a bit!

So we're talking about the change that's taking place and we both agree it's good, but is the heart of the mystery affected by this?

Austin: Mrs. Watson is dead? Christ, now I need to reread "Empty House" and apologize to every single Sherlockian reading this who is violently rolling their eyes at me. Maybe Watson should have been grieving a little? Mention it once or twice to his best friend? Feel the sting of death on a personal level instead of always being the outsider to crime? Whatever, R.I.P. Mary. I felt I never really knew you. Probably because you were pushed to the side in every story except for The SIgn of Four.

Anywho, back to the fire. I really enjoyed that Lestrade showed up right at the beginning because then we were able to examine the dual methods of examination. Once again, I admire that Lestrade is not portrayed as a goof. He is a respected detective who also recognizes that he is not perfect and is grateful for what Sherlock can bring to the investigation. In many ways, he is the voice of reason. Anyone on the case would accuse McFarlane of the crime. It plays like the dumbest version of The Postman Always Rings Twice. Instead of messing with insurance scandal, he's going right for the will. 

By having Lestrade and Sherlock walk through each room together we get to see two mysteries. The normal procedural and the guy who lights shit on fire to make a point. At this point in their friendship, Lestrade has respect for Sherlock to make his wild leaps of logic because he knows that there is a point to be made. Even if it's being withheld simply for the sake of theatrics. 

At certain parts the duality of the situation is too much favored in Sherlock's direction because even the dumbest criminal shouldn't be leaving a bloody thumbprint behind. Just a glance back at the room should point that out to you. And yet such a thing should be considered as a clue because it is literally used as an iconic example of what a clue should look like.

Magna cum Murder will be in Indianapolis this October!

I'm excited to read more into the Return

Later this week. (Aka tomorrow) We're going to watch a really awesome Sherlock Holmes movie that is arguably....not even a Sherlock Holmes movie. Even though the main characters are Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. It's They Might Be Giants starring George C. Scott as a judge who has lost his mind and believes that he is Doyle's famous character and is up to him to stop Morarity. It's hilarious and heartfelt and on Netflix. Watch it with us!

And here is Leigh Montano with the last word....

Leigh: FIRE!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

In-Class Movie: "The Woman in Green" (1945)

“And you thought the rooms were watched?”
“I knew that they were watched.”
“By whom?”
“By my old, enemies, Watson.”

--Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Empty Room

Austin: It's been quite a while but we've returned to one of the most beloved Sherlock Holmes actors, Mr. Basil Rathbone. This time we're checking out one of his later adventures, The Woman in Green. When I first started watching this, it did feel like too long. I love Basil. His intelligence is quiet and he feels like an Errol Flynn kind of hero. (But a British version, meaning he will walk slowly from place to place like a gentleman.)

Ultimately I liked this movie because of how much I liked Basil's constant performance. There's not too much of a mystery going on here. There is a weird crime going on that involves cutting off women's fingertips. (Seriously) This is such a dastardly thing that it could only be one man behind this....



In this version of events, everyone but Holmes thinks that Morairty is dead after being hung somewhere in Europe, but Sherlock knows that he's out there. Of course he's right so we get another wonderful sit-down chat with the two rivals as the plot goes into weirder directions including one of my least favorite plot devices ever.

Yet the reason that we choose this movie for this week was that we heard that it was going to have some elements of "The Adventure of the Empty House" in it and it sure did have.....one moment. Holmes used a bust of Julius Caeser to stand-in for him during an assassination attempt.

So Leigh, what did you think of this one? It wasn't too much of a whodunnit so did it work as a thriller?