Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sherlock Holmes (1932) (2017 MoMA restoration)

Sherlock Holmes (1932). Clive Brook (Sherlock Holmes), Miriam Jordan (Alice Faulkner), Reginald Owen (Dr. Watson).

Sherlock Holmes [Finland] / Sherlock Holmes [Sweden].
    Director: William K. Howard. Year: 1932. Country: USA. Section: William K. Howard: Rediscovering a Master Stylist.
    Sog.: dalla pièce Sherlock Holmes di William Gillette. Scen.: Bertram Millhauser. F.: George Barnes. M.: Margaret Clancy. Scgf.: John Hughes.
    Int.: Clive Brook (Sherlock Holmes), Miriam Jordan (Alice Faulkner), Ernest Torrence (professor Moriarty), Herbert Mundin (George, the publican), Reginald Owen (Dr. Watson), Howard Leeds (Little Billy), Alan Mowbray (Colonel Gore-King), Montague Shaw (Judge Erskine).
    Prod.: Fox Film Corp. DCP. D.: 69’.
    Restored by MoMA in 2017 at Cineric Laboratory.
    From MoMA The Museum of Modern Art / 20th Century Fox / Park Circus.
    Il Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna.
    Cinema Jolly, 27 June 2017

Dave Kehr (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "Not the most reverent of Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but certainly the most stylish, William K. Howard’s 1932 film seems almost to anticipate James Bond by giving us a witty, action-oriented Holmes (Clive Brook), with a ravishing blonde fiancée (Miriam Jordan), a workshop full of high-tech gizmos, and a suitably outsized villain in the form of a Professor Moriarty played by the great silent film actor Ernest Torrence (Steamboat Bill, Jr.) in what would prove to be his last important role. Moriarty, too, is a thoroughly up to date figure, with a plan to impose an American-style protection racket on the pubs of London."

"This was in fact the third time that Clive Brook had played Holmes, following a couple of appearances at Paramount, and Brook is said to have strenuously objected to Howard’s light-hearted approach to the character (which includes an appearance in drag) and tendency to improvise around the William Gillette play, which serves as the basis for this production as it had for Gillette himself in 1916 and John Barrymore in 1922. The credited screenwriter, Bertram Millhauser, went on to write several of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films of the 1940s."

"Howard, indeed, lets fly with his whole stylistic bag of tricks, including deep focus, whip pans, shock cuts, subjective point-of-view shots and sequences shot in silhouette. His unconventional approach to narrative structure is on brilliant display in a jailbreak sequence related in flashbacks. A pure delight from a master filmmaker at the height of his powers, here in an engagingly playful mood."
(Dave Kehr, Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Arthur Forde: "Here the celebrated detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s imagination is in an entirely different guise by the clever screenplay of Bertram Milhauser. We have always associated the great detective as a lone hand but in this picture they give him romance in the personal of a lovely girl and a very youthful assistant who seems to have deduction at his fingertips as cannily as Holmes himself. William K. Howard does a grand job of directing the story and George Barnes provides the mysterious effects so necessary in a production of this sort." Arthur Forde, “Hollywood Filmograph”, November 12, 1932 (quoted by Dave Kehr, Il Cinema Ritrovato)

AA: Sources, including the credits of the film, claim that this 1932 Sherlock Holmes film adaptation is based on the play (1899) by William Gillette, but the plot of this film is, in fact, original, and has nothing to do with Gillette, as can be verified by comparing it with the recently restored Sherlock Holmes (1916) film adaptation starring Gillette himself.

However, Gillette, in agreement with Arthur Conan Doyle, was a co-creator of the Sherlock Holmes persona in performing arts. Among Gillette's inventions were the bent pipe, the name Billy for the boy assistant, and the expression that was later edited to "elementary, my dear Watson", all in use in this film. Gillette also created the Alice Faulkner character.

Gillette's play was based on three original Sherlock Holmes stories, most prominently on "Scandal in Bohemia" in which Holmes and a future king are outwitted by the brilliant opera singer Irene Adler whom they both admire.

Instead of a modern independent heroine Gillette introduced a traditional damsel in distress, Alice Faulkner, and famously asked Conan Doyle: "May I marry Holmes?" to which the author's reply was: "You may marry or murder, or do what you like with him!".

In Bertram Millhauser's 1932 screenplay Alice Faulkner and Billy together with Sherlock Holmes form a family-like unit even more obviously than in the Gillette adaptation. There is a tendency at work here of shaping Holmes into a more conventional and traditional hero.

And like with Gillette the emphasis here is more on action and less on thinking, although there are characteristic Sherlockian observations such as "only the obvious escapes attention". "The scientific method" is underlined.

But the main focus is on action: Professor Moriarty's thrilling escape, his assembling a network of international masterminds of crime, their plant to introduce a protection racket to the pubs of London, and rob incredible treasures from the vaults of the Faulkner bank. It all ends in a shoot-out in which Holmes hits Moriarty.

This Sherlock Holmes is both a "big caper" film and a grand revenge film in which Moriarty, convicted for the capital crime in the beginning, swears retaliation to all those who have put him on death row.

As Dave Kehr states above, William K. Howard directs the film with visual panache. Stark stylization, the use of silhouettes, and elaborate montages are among his devices.

A brilliant print of the new restoration.


In London, prior to his sentencing, evil professor James Moriarty gives a speech in which he promises that all the individuals involved in sending him to the gallows shall die before he does.

Meanwhile, famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes, who is retiring from the detective business, prepares to give his new invention, a ray gun that will destroy criminal automobiles, to the police as a retirement gift. Holmes sets out to begin his retirement on his fiancée Alice Faulkner's farm, but when Moriarty kills his prison guards and escapes, Holmes is immediately called back to London.

There he is assigned to investigate the disappearance of Judge Erskine, who presided over Moriarty's case. Holmes finds Erskine's corpse hanging in a hidden closet in his office, but does not believe that the judge wrote the suicide note found on his desk.

At a carnival, Moriarty meets with gangsters Homer Jones, Hans Dreiaugen, Manuel Lopez and Gaston Roux, at a wax museum. Later, Jones explains his plan to introduce an American-style protection racket in London. Moriarty, realizing the threat of both Holmes and Colonel Gore-King of the police to his racket, plans to have Holmes accidentally shoot the colonel.

Later, when Holmes receives funeral flowers, he is led to expect an unfriendly visit from Jones, and sends his assistant, Dr. Watson, to keep Alice away from the danger. Moriarty's plan appears to succeed when Holmes mistakes Gore-King for Jones and shoots him, but, in the ambulance, the colonel reveals that he is not injured. Holmes, who was on to Moriarty's ruse, wants him to believe that his plan has succeeded.

Alice, meanwhile, becomes disillusioned, and takes Holmes's young protege, Billy, to live with her.

After Jones fails in his attempt to sell pub owner George protection, he fills the city with grenades and machine gun bullets to prove the necessity of buying protection.

In order to avoid being noticed by Moriarty's men, Holmes disguises himself as an elderly woman. He then goes to Alice's father and tells him that Moriarty is tunneling into his bank. When Moriarty shows up at Faulkner's house and tells Faulkner that his daughter has been abducted, Holmes believes she must be in the tunnel, and leaves to rescue her. As the gang robs the bank's safety deposit boxes of gems, Holmes signals the police, and a shootout ensues. During the shootout, Moriarty attempts to flee, but as he prepares to use Alice and Billy as shields, he is shot by Holmes. With the criminals put out of commission, Holmes resumes his preparations to marry his fiancée, and Gore-King agrees to be his best man.

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