Tuesday, August 26, 2014

In-Class Movie: "The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter" (Hobbs, 1955)

Holmes put his finger to his lips and glanced at me.

--Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter”

Austin: So we’ve covered a lot of different Sherlock Holmes stories in our year+ on this blog, but we’ve had one major omission so far. Sherlock Holmes has always been very active in the radio community. In many ways, that seems to be going against its own strengths. Sherlock is the master of observation and with audio that tends to be a bit difficult. Yet how different is it to hear Sherlock say, “Ah look at this!” then have a TV show that doesn’t put the clue in focus until the hero mentions something?

Our first venture into this auditory adventures is with Carleton Hobbs as the acclaimed hero and Norman Shelley as Watson. (Despite the YouTube link saying John Gieguld….we’ll get to him soon.) The two of them were in 80 radio adaptations for the BBC starting in the 1950s. They feel very much into the rhythms of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. While Shelley never seems as outright dumb as Bruce, he does have that flustered feel.

I think what builds to the strength of this audio adaptation is the chance for more acting nuance with the story. We just covered this one and it goes into some dramatic territory and one of the most noticeable things about this audio drama was the ending. It goes from a fun adventure equipped with the sound of a dog, to a really melodramatic conclusion. This turn seemed to work better for me in this because you really got to hear the response of the characters above all else. 

What did you think, Leigh? Was this your first Sherlock audio drama? Would you want to hear more from these two or are you more prone to find different leads? Or are you saying that radio is dead and we should only cover the written page or filmed adaptations WITH NO MIDDLE GROUND?!?!

Leigh: My experience with radio dramas is very limited. I've listened to War of the Worlds, as is required by law, I believe, for people who work at radio stations, and that's about it. I'm one of the few people who hasn't gotten into Welcome to Nightvale, by no fault of the show, I would just rather watch one of the many TV shows on my ever growing "To Watch" list. So when I finally sat down and listened to this, I was a bit disappointed. The story was basically word for word from the story but I just felt like that other element was missing, which doesn't make sense since the audio medium allows us to use just as much of our imagination as reading it does. I've said before that I listen to the audiobook versions of our stories most of the time just because it allows me to do something else like knit or play dumb games online while still getting the story and the information. The radio drama added very little more to what the audiobook version already had. Sure there were more voice actors than the lone reader attempting (and sometimes succeeding) to do various voices, and there were the occasional sound effect to add to the story but I just felt that it didn't add anything. 

"And then they came down like A WREEEECKING BALL!"

The acting for me was just as melodramatic as the Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies and I honestly thought it was Nigel Bruce as Watson when he first spoke. I had to do the aural equivalent of a double take. I have to remind myself of the time period though. If people recognized the actors as being Sherlock Holmes and Watson without having to actually say, "Hey look, Watson! I think there's something over there, Watson!" every line, then you'll have more listeners and people will be more interested in it. It makes sense and if I were a child of a different era where I didn't have a camera in my phone that I can stick in my pocket after I'm done playing a video game on it, then the audio drama might've interested me more. 

As for the story, I'll say again that it was basically a line by line adaptation, which I appreciate. But because it was, we didn't really get any new insights to this story. The only thing that was added for me was the actor who played Holmes who really changed tones when the story did. That's not something I got from the story itself so having that was nice to show that Holmes really does pick up on things like social cues and such.

I feel like I'm being too harsh. Is it just that I'm a child of a different age or was this not the best adaptation?

Austin: Ah, I completely forgot that you listen to the audiobooks. Then this feels a bit redundant, most likely. My praise for being faithful and approachable in an audio format is a bit silly when you already listened to the most faithful audio adaptation one can have.

I think I have more of a history of radio dramas but they’re all new-age radio dramas. I’m a podcast junkie and one of my favorites is the Thrilling Adventure Hour, which is a comedy show that is in the style of “old-time radio”. So you get to have serial space western stories like Sparks Nevada: Marshall on Mars or a paranormal Thin Man send-up like Beyond Belief. Very rarely does that show go for a meta-approach to their medium—usually only when the audio cue was late. When listening to something like that or a Big Finish Doctor Who drama, I think it’s all about how to create the image in your mind. Much like a written story is supposed to do. If you want a great one in recent years, listen to the BBC Radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere with James MacAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee and more amazing people.

"Is he part of the mafia?"

In this story, the most vivid image I had was in the final moments because it’s easier to imagine an outdoors scene than something like 221B Baker Street. It would ruin the illusion if Watson and Sherlock just start describing everything around them. When you’re outdoors the sound effects can create all that you need without any awkward dialog. While I feel this story could have had more of a production to it, I think this fits in well with the more casual scope of the story. This wouldn’t work for something like "The Sign of Four”, but it feels nice here.

I didn’t mind the melodrama because the story itself was melodramatic. I always like that genre when it’s done well and that means a complete commitment to the heightened drama. By the end, all the of emotions worked thanks to the actors willing to go for that understated sadness/disappointment when they wanted a happy just ending. 

[Between this response and the next over a month has passed. Austin moved from Indiana to Chicago. Leigh moved from Florida to Indiana. They both started new jobs. A LOT HAPPENED.]

Leigh: Again, the varied emotions were nice. It's not something that you always get when just listening to an audio book. Not every reader is Stephan Fry. They don't always bring the nuances of dialog and tone that the story needs, that your brain puts in there when you read a story. Having actors performing it, even if it is just audio, adds more than I normally get with the just an audio book.

"And that's when Sherlock Holmes discovered something quite interesting...."
I do wish that it might've been more adventurous than just repeating the story line by line. I wanted something more, something that we couldn't get just from reading the story aloud with a few friends in a living room. I don't know how they would've gone about it, maybe with more/better sound effects or something. Maybe brightening up the dialog. I felt that it needed something more than just what we were given.
Next time, we deal with a murder, some wine and burglars. Good times!
Also, I'd like to apologize. This time the post is so late because of me. My life imploded and got in the way. Things are starting to calm down now so maybe we'll get back on some semblance of a schedule!

And here is Austin Lugar with the final word…

Austin: I definitely remember this audio drama very clearly!

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