Almost in a Sherlock Holmes Movie!

Terry Kiburn & Frankie Thomas, Rivals

 DATELINE: From Sherlock to Nancy Drew 

Sometimes I forget how old I am.  One of my late friends actually auditioned for a role in the first Basil Rathbone movie of Sherlock Holmes.

Passed over to play the page boy Billy in Mrs. Hudson’s employ for the Rathbone version of Adventures of Sherlock,child star Frankie Thomas was busy with other projects in 1939, but as a standard freelance actor now in his mid-teens, he could have easily played the role of Billy.

Having cut his teeth playing Bonita Granville’s sleuthing boyfriend in the Nancy Drew series, he was ripe for a role in his favorite reading material, the Holmes stories. 

Frankie’s family were Broadway theater professionals, part of a clique that dominated social strata in Hollywood of the era. Through his father and mother, youthful Frankie met Basil Rathbone, the emerging Holmes of the film world. The coveted role of Billy went to Terry Kilburn, a native British boy who had picked up the mantle of Freddie Bartholomew.

Nevertheless, Frankie loved the Holmes stories and read all avidly. He later, as an adult, when out of Hollywood’s limelight, wrote a series of novels that featured Holmes and Watson in new adventures.

Frankie’s Holmes titles, over a dozen, are still in print. He disliked the Bruce portrayal of Watson intensely and would alter that in his own books, but always favored the actor he saw frequently on the studio lot, Basil Rathbone.

 Frankie also had a key role in a series of Nancy Drew mysteries made in the late 1930s. As a teenage boy, he was cast as the boyfriend of Nancy. In fact, he played Watson to Bonita Granville’s female Sherlock.

Recently I put together a book called Sherlock in Movies: Personal Views & Reviews, in which I tried to do honor to Frankie.

Franchise Detectives: Blanc and Poirot

 

DATELINE: TV or Not TV

As if one fiasco performance was not enough in Murder on the Orient Express,Kenneth Branagh has pasted on his giant fake mustache for a second Poirot adventure based on Agatha Christie.

Yes, he is sailing down and down: Death on the Nile. will render another horrible remake of the murder mystery. Put aside the diminutive expert work of David Suchet a few years ago, Branagh is a behemoth in the role (too big for his tiny mincing steps).

Why would Branagh chose to do a franchise murder mystery series on the bigger screen after doing every Shakespearean play that fit his mood on film?

Likely it is the same reason that Daniel Craig has given up James Bond’s franchise to play a cornpone detective named Benoit Blanc from New Orleans. As one character noted, it was CSI by ways of KFC. Knives Out  will be followed by Knives In and Out.

Craig’s character is not even clever, except as the writer lets him solve the crime. Bombast seems to highlight these new detectives who’d never cut it on TV weekly in the old heyday of McCloud and  Rockford.

All-star supporting casts seem to be a draw for these films now: you find faces (some old TV stars) that yearn to be back in the public favor, and you have a cast of suspects that is often highly amusing. Their biggest crime is wanting a comeback role.

So, we will have more of these franchise detectives. The roles are not exactly Prince Hamlet, but great roles often have been reprised by different actors. For almost a century Basil Rathbone was considered the be-all, end-all Sherlock until Jeremy Brett gave him a run.

Now we have new actors (well, very old actors) in new versions of old wine. We toast their hubris.

Madhouse/Funhouse/Nuthouse & Then Some!

DATELINE: One Last American International Horror

 

 

 Cushing & Price

 

Madhouse is a nuthouse extravaganza movie with a funhouse spirit.

Vincent Price finished up his American International contract, which featured so many classic Edgar Allan Poe tales done outrageously, that it seemed inevitable that he would go out with a blaze. Here, he plays a movie star who made a bunch of movies as “Dr. Death,” a hideous murderer. Art imitates life here.

His career went south when he was accused of cracking up and murdering his fiancée. Whether he did it or not is the crux of the horror. You may find more than a fair share of suspects trying to “gaslight” the old star.

Well, after a dozen years in a madhouse, he returns to acting to star, good grief, in a TV series based on his infamous character.

If you haven’t guessed that most of the funhouse nuthouse stuff is all tongue-in-cheek, you miss more than most of the Hammer House parody.

Joining Price is Peter Cushing as his best friend, fellow actor, and screenwriter of all those grisly murder movies.

If that is not spicy enough for you, A-I studios dug up their two other favorite stars of the 1960s—Boris Karloff and Basil Rathbone—and featured them in amusing cameos. It’s no mean feat, as the two legendary stars were long-gone for about a half-dozen years by the time this film was before the cameras.

You have to love a movie that begins with everyone watching a film in a Hollywood mansion with the final credits rolling out the words, “The End” in blood red letters.

If shameless overacting isn’t your thing, then you may not appreciate the golden opportunity Price has been given: he even dresses the part, in white trench coat and matching fedora.

There is even an O.J. Simpson moment when Scotland Yard has everyone try on the murderer’s glove: if it fits, you know the rest…So, O.J.’s lawyers found the idea in this movie!

Playing Mr. Toombes, Price puts a cutrate on fellow cast members as they are all mysteriously dispatched as the new TV series takes place at British studios. It is a nicely set film with solid production values to make you forget this is what a good cast and production team can do with a low-budget.

 

 

 

 

Son of Frankenstein, Reel History

DATELINE:  Consenting Monsters?

consenting monsters Love after Death.

In the days before cable TV, let alone streaming movies, we last saw the Monster in Son of Frankenstein from 1939. So, we jumped at the chance to look at the star-studded horror classic.

Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes fits in well as Colin Clive’s son 25 years later, indignant that the small-town minds refer to the monster by his distinguished family name. He is bemused when Igor notes the Monster is his half-brother.

Bela Lugosi, as a Dracula clone, returns as the undead Igor. Yes, he was hanged, declared dead, and came back to life. It gives him a special aura, not to mention the hideous makeup that Jack Pierce laid on him.

Boris Karloff returned to play the Monster one last time. His wardrobe has changed enough that he now wears a sleeveless sheepskin pullover. Not to point out the obvious: he is a wolf monster in lambskin clothing.

One of the bigger surprises is Lionel Atwill as the inspector of the small town with his creaky fake arm that he postures in salute or to hold a cigarette. Our favorite scene is when he puts his darts on the forearm before throwing them. Mel Brooks, where are you? The best scenes in the picture are when master scene stealers Rathbone and Atwill lock wits.

The story has an insipid subplot featuring the good doctor’s toddler son, an American like his mother, and both are point killers.

We loved the moment when the son (Rathbone as Sherlock) deduces that Lugosi has a hypnotic effect on the monster. “Elemental, my dear Benson,” he notes.

If there is any shockeroo, it is that Igor and the Monster seem to be gayly consenting adults. Igor can’t keep his hands off the Karloff creature, and they are clearly soulmates.