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 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?