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The Crossroads of the Aether

Sherlock Holmes: Doyle's writings vs. Downey's Performance in the 2009 movie of the same name

For the Holmesian among us, how many here think Downey remained true to Doyle's conceptions of Holmes and Watson's characterizations?
I for one, see the use of Holme's harder side and rougher talents in Downey's characterizations, and believe Watson too is painted more the sophisticated military man than Doyle's portrayal in the Strand Magazine articles. If there is interest in this thread, we can review Doyle's Complete Works on Holmes and also all information on, there are some 63 titles to look at.

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i haven't seen either Downey film yet, but he's a kick-a** actor when he's not in rehab. i have a t-shirt that says "Rehab is for Quitters." i played the Great Detective myself, at a haunted house, where i was on the trail of Jack the Ripper. my theory is that the Ripper was actually Dr. Watson...medical man, weird relationships with women, mystery jezzail bullet (shoulder or leg? more likely a dose of clap from a Kandahar whore, p****** him off at women forevermore.)
Watson was married at least twice and seems to have had as healthy a relationship with women as is possible when so many of those he encountered were involved in criminal matters . The first Downey film was a fine example of activity as a substitute for substance . No matter what an actors ability he is only as good as the script and director let him be . You might be interested in the recent Holmsean discussion on ' The Antipodean Assembly ' . The recent trio of made for television films and the old Basil Rathbone Nigel Bruce series are disembowled while other films are mentioned .
i still put my money on "Murder By Decree" as the best Holmesian thing done on film. Watson had a rather cryptic relationship with women.
Considering the time in which most of these articles appeared in the Strand, and what is portrayed in the movies and tv shorts thereafter, its amazing Watson's relationship with women was defined at all. Good point here.
Thank you Prof. Fate. I hate to ask but do you have a reference to Watson's second marraige (like the Doyle tale in which it appears?) I can only find the one featuring Mary Marston. I agree there was a lot of activity in the Downey film, the substance part only happened for me on the second watching. I will check out the discussion on the Antipodean Assembly, thank you for directing me there. I personally really like the old Rathbone/Bruce films, tho the story lines weren't really (in many cases) part of the Doyle repetoire. They were more written in reflections of the studios needs to stimulate the sale of war bonds etc. in all probability.

I am afraid that I have to respectfully disagree. If you look in the "Annotated Sherlock Holmes" which is as close to being a definitive examination of the Holmsian 'Canon' that you will find, and cross reference the dates of Holmes' cases with the Ripper murders, you will find that Watson has reasonably concrete alibis for most the events. Granted, Watson is the author of the case accounts, but there is the matter of witnesses, some of whom are members of the police. It's been many years since I've done this research and I have to confess that I don't remember all the details.

You see, more years ago than I care to admit,  I was a member of the Baltimore MD scion society of the Baker Street Irregulars, an international society of Holmes enthusiasts (I'm not sure they even exsist any more). Some one in one the other groups published an article in the newsletter (yes, on paper, this was long before the internet--and I am that old) proposing the same theory; that Watson was the Ripper.  I became intrigued and wrote an article defending the good Doctor. The more I looked around and cross referenced Ripper lore with Doyle's work, the more it just didn't wash, even if you allow for some flexibility in the dating of the Holmes adventures in the Annotated SH. There were, as I recall, several other issues that tended to exculpate Watson as well. One other very significant factor, of course, is that he was living with Holmes, I believe, during this period, so you have to assume that there was no way that Holmes could be in close quarters with Watson and not instantly have complete knowledge of his guilt. That brings up the thorny question of why Holmes would allow Watson to stay at large when he was guilty of such henious crimes.

The whole theory is really interesting I think, however, for a peripherial reason: assuming that Holmes was one of the greatest detectives who ever  lived, was he unable to solve the crime or did he, thus explaining why they stopped? As far as the Canon goes, he was never even consulted by the offical police, but we know enough of his character to know that he would not have allowed the lack of an offical invitation to keep him from the investigation. If he did so, he certainly would have solved it, and if that is true, how do we explain Watson's silence? Many different threads to follow here.

As far as Downey is concerned, I think his characterization was an interesting one and I enjoyed it, but I have to admit to being old school in this matter. Jermey Brett is the definitive Sherlock. Damn, he even looked exactly like Stanley Padget's illustrations in the Strand magazine. Of course it is alot easier to develop a character over hours and hours, but his was a truly nuanced evocation of a tremendously complex character. 

Anyway, just my thoughts.


John, it's Sidney Paget. and i only thought of Watson because what better place for the Ripper to hide than right under Holmes's nose? and Jack is a nickname for John. yes, the BSI still exists. don't know about your scion society. and since we've been talking at length about Holmes's drug habits, who better to portray him than Downey? and i'm a 55-year old fart myself. and i prefer Michael Harrison's dating to Baring-Gould's. it's all subjective, of course.

John: Thank you for contributing to this thread. Personally, I don't believe that the way Doyle portrayed Watson that Watson could have been Jack the Ripper. I personally am coming up on 62, so you are in good company on this thread. My comments on Brett (who was a superb actor) are already posted here, and I'm coming around to the idea that the changes the director and Downey made to the Holmes character may be good for this day and age, although I admit to being more comfortable with the Brett interpretation.


i've liked what i've seen of Brett, but Rathbone is still THE MAN. and though he wasn't really the right physical type, Plummer did a good job in "Murder by Decree." and Watson could have been Jack just as neighbors of all the Jeffrey Dahmer types talk about what a quiet person he was, etc. Dual nature.

Maybe an age difference here, but may I suggest you try Brett again? Rathbone was ok by me, but the portrayal of Watson as nothing but, honestly, "comic relief" just didn't sit well with me in those movies. Also the stories are quite far from the Doyle.

I'm very definitely a Brettish Holmsian. He remains for me THE Holmes. If you watched the first episode, it gets better a bit into the season.

PS I also cannot  picture Watson as the ripper. As an aside, anyone else here a uge fan of the From Hell comic (not movie)? Alan Moore is so nerdy crammed-full-of-references intellectual it hurts. Actually, now, I shall have to re-read it.

the little i saw of Brett i liked, and yeah, Nigel Bruce was a bad joke. i liked the film "From Hell" immensely; haven't had a chance to read the graphic.
Greetings, Dr. G, Prof, and all: Where Bruce really shown was in the Scarlet Pimpernel, with Leslie Howard, where he played the Prince of Wales, I believe. Bruce was perfect for the role.


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