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? 

Leigh: Well, this was...different?

I'm going to say the things I liked first before I start complaining. I LOVED the actor who played Moriarty. He had the perfect combination of slimy and intelligent that all great British Bad Guys should have. I would love to see more interactions between this Holmes and this Moriarty.

Basil Rathbone, again was WONDERFUL. He is intelligent without being pompous about it and seems to put up with Watson's inability to do anything well with a smile and a chuckle. He does suffer fools gladly which is great because Watson seems to have jam for brains.

A hero always poses.

The creepy doctor who was there only for the purpose of making sure that people who are hypnotized are actually hypnotized. He served absolutely no other purpose but because of his supreme creepiness and the fact that he just cut people up made me like him. I want more of him in this movie.
And the woman hypnotist was an interesting addition and made the plot a bit more complex and made it a bit more interesting.

But the plot in general. *shakes head* What was with that plot? For some reason it seems to be popular belief that to make Moriarty devilish and evil but still clever, they have to have overly complicated plots that have him doing evil. Again, I'm sure there are easier ways to get money and even easier ways to blackmail people than to have them murder people and stick them with a random cut off finger.
I agree that it felt too long. There were a few scenes that the writers should've cut. The one that comes to mind was the scene where Sir George is found dead and instead of Holmes noticing his hand is clenched and then open his hand, he walks through every step as to why his hand *might* be clenched and what it would mean and how he got to where he was and then that he might have grabbed something and *then* opened his hand. All of that middle bit should've been cut or at least cut down so it wasn't such a bleeding long explanation as to why he was holding a matchbook. Also, I always find it odd in mysteries that the murder victim is always holding something inconspicuous and obscure that eventually leads to the murderer. I don't think that, if I were seconds from death, that I would grab a matchbook that I got at a club where I met a woman who then led me to her place to be hypnotized. I'd probably grab something that could be used as a weapon, but that's just me.

And then Watson. Ugh. But I've already complained about Nigel Bruce before as Watson so I won't continue, I'll just say that it's more of the same and possibly worse.

My question to you, Lugar, is why are bad guys always written so that they over complicate things? It isn't just in the Holmes movies that we've looked at recently but other movies as well, James Bond ones coming to mind. Why is that? And why is the flaw in the plan something so seemingly simple such as Holmes not taking the drug or Watson showing up on time?

Austin: I was listening to a podcast a few days ago and they were talking about Loki in The Avengers. The two critics became very confused about the particulars of his plan. What exactly was he trying to accomplish with all of these steps.

I feel that this Moriarty and most supervillains are falling into a particular problem. These stories have the point of view of its heroes, in this it's literally a detective. This means that we have to start off with a limited amount of information and as more is revealed then we can have twists and turns in the story. In many ways a villain's strengths come from what we don't know about him. 

So in an ideal plotting we have a villain who appears to be doing A but really he was always trying to accomplish B but no, the hero was (reasonably) wrong again and the audience and the hero are shocked when the villain is trying to accomplish C which is the worst thing imaginable. When this very difficult plotting isn't done well then it just seems like you have a villain making up a new plan every 20 minutes. 

This movie fell into this problem and you know what, I wasn't a huge fan of the actor who played Moriarty. There wasn't anything bubbling under the surface with this guy. I felt like he was an annoying banker, not the Napoleon of crime. Especially since so much of his plan revolved around hypnotism--a device I always am completely bored by because it's way too convenient--I was underwhelmed by him. Yet I really liked how the director filmed him. We get the familiar exchange of dialog between him and Holmes in the sitting room but they tilted the angle more for Moriarty just to make him seem a bit obtuse. 

As we continue to talk about concepts, not about this particular movie, I'm curious about your take on how these Basil Rathbone movies operate. They are adaptations but just barely. As a fan of the Doyle stories but also a fan of cinema, is the the right path for these movies? Should they be more faithful or should be they be entirely original?

Leigh: We've talked about problems of direct adaptations before (or I am completely making it up and just remembering previous rants I've had online) but to sum up the problem with a direct book-to-movie adaptation is getting a balance of having enough details to stay true to the story but not get bogged down. Example: If you did a TRUE, direct book-to-movie adaptation of any of the Harry Potter books, you are adding anywhere between 1-7+ hours to it and NO ONE wants that. No matter how much they say they do, they really don't.

I think that these movies do a fantastic job of telling a story worthy of Sherlock Holmes but they don't worry about adapting an already loved story and instead make it their own. They have enough details from the stories to connect them without worrying about getting every detail correct and specific. If they tried to adapt them word-for-word (or close to it) then I think they'd run into problems mainly not knowing when to cut superfluous dialogue. But instead having the movie inspired by the stories in general, there is a bit more leeway and less people trying to fact check every minute detail. 

The problem that we do run into with loose adaptations like this is that they are more up to the writer's imagination so sometimes they are less precise and scientific than we would like. We haven't seen one as ridiculous as Sherlock Holmes Meets the Yeti on the Moon (if this exists, we will review it next) but we do get more convoluted plots that involve things such as hypnotism. Hypnotism, especially as it was portrayed in this movie, doesn't quite work that way so we lose some of the truthiness that makes the plot more solid and less wishy-washy. There are pros and cons to looser adaptations and a movie whose plot revolves around hypnotism is definitely a con, in my opinion. 

You know who does meet the Yeti and go to the moon? THE DOCTOR!

Next time we deal with a builder, a lawyer and detective walk into a pub and hilarity ensues.
And here is Austin Lugar with the final random pop culture reference…


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