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The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

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Basil Rathbone may live in our memories as the face of Sherlock Holmes, fiction’s most famous detective, but he’s hardly the only one, nor was he the first. A bargain-priced DVD available this week compiles three Holmes films from the 1930s and 1940s, each with a different star. The 1933 A Study in Scarlet stars the British character actor Reginald Owen, whom you may recall as Scrooge in the 1938 version of A Christmas Carol. Owen may also be the only actor to have played on film both Holmes and Dr. Watson (in 1932’s Sherlock Holmes).

From 1937, Murder at the Baskervilles (adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s story “Silver Blaze”) was the last of a British series starring Arthur Wontner, whom many consider the definitive screen Holmes—he’s the spitting image of the illustrations that accompanied Doyle’s stories when they were published. (Incidentally, the Ian Fleming who plays Dr. Watson is not that Ian Fleming.) And Rathbone is represented in 1946’s Dressed to Kill, his last appearance in the deerstalker.

This DVD barely scratches the surface: more than 85 actors have played the immortal detective in film and on television. (And that’s not counting Gene Wilder in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother!) The character may be eminently British, but there have been Holmes in Japan, Russia, Puerto Rico, Portugal, Venezuela, Czechoslovakia, and Read More