The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Twelve stories, approx. 94,000 words
Christopher Lee, right, does some sleuthing as a disguised Holmes in 1962 flick.
Lee and Sherlock abroad
Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962): Director Terence Fisher; writer Curt Siodmark; featuring Christopher Lee, Thorley Walters, Hans Sφhnker
Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991): Telelevision miniseries; director Peter Sasdy; writers Bob Shayne, H.R.F. Keating; featuring Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee, Morgan Fairchild, John Bennett, Engelbert Humperdinck
Incident at Victoria Falls (1992): Telelevision miniseries, also called Sherlock Holmes and the Incident at Victoria Falls and Sherlock Holmes: The Star of Africa; director Bill Corcoran; writers Bob Shayne, H.R.F. Keating; featuring Christopher Lee, Patrick Macnee, Jenny Seagrove, Joss Ackland, Richard Todd
Peter Cushing's good friend and colleague in horror classics, Christopher Lee, also had a long association with Sherlock Holmes in films. After being featured in The Hound of the Baskervilles with Cushing in 1959, he played the title role in Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace (1962).
It's a strange and interesting film. Deadly Necklace was a joint German-English production filmed without sound, which was dubbed in afterwards. But for the English version different actors were used for the voices of the two leads, Lee and Thorley Walters.
The screenplay by horrormeister Curt Siodmak is quite good but the action is set perplexingly in what appears to be the 1920s, though with visual cues ranging from 1918 to the early 1940s.
At the helm though is Lee's old Hammer-horror director Terence Fisher, so the British-isms are done right, despite German and Irish locations standing in for London. And the black-and-white cinematography is more artful than found in most Sherlock Holmes films.
Tall, dark and aristocratic Lee is as natural a Holmes as he had been a Dracula—too bad about his masterful voice being stolen this time. His partner in crime detection, Walters, walks a line between earlier Watsons as a stuffed shirt and as a complete buffoon, acting as a perfect stand-in for the audience.
Best of all is the cat-and-mouse game Holmes and Moriarty (German actor Hans Sφhnker) play over the latter's attempt to hold onto stolen jewellery attributed to Cleopatra. Plus there are a few lovely scenes of Holmes guiding Scotland Yard's finest in solving a murder, Holmes going undercover in disguise several times, and Watson getting picked up by a hooker.
A lot of fun is also had over how much Holmes uses London's most famous newspaper for getting clues. Once when the inspector asks him if he knows the answer to an arcane question, he replies, "Naturally, I read the Times."
The Deadly Necklace is not overly thrilling, but a passable entertainment. Not at all the disaster that Lee himself called it, claiming his best work to date was destroyed by the voice substitution and by the film being cut in half to sell to television.
Sherlock for the ages
Lee didn't give up on Holmes work though. In 1970 he played Sherlock's brother Mycroft in Billy Wilder's better, though still Doyle-unrelated, film of The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. (See separate commentary.)
Then finally he was back as the big guy himself in a couple of European made-for-television mini-series, Incident at Victoria Falls (1991, also known as Sherlock Holmes: The Star of Africa) and Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1992). The overall title of these series together is The Golden Years of Sherlock Holmes.
As with Cushing's last outing as Holmes, Lee in this mini-series plays the detective being drawn out of retirement. Old age has sweetened him though. Lee's Holmes is only intermittently cranky and usually downright sociable, even charming. Patrick Macnee (of TV's The Avengers fame) is an even more affable Watson.
Worse for purists, Holmes has a love interest in one film: no less than Irene Adler (she of "A Scandal in Bohemia") and played by no less than one-time TV sex symbol Morgan Fairchild.
The two mini-series are both sumptuously produced, running just over three hours each.
Holmes mixes it up with historical characters, such as Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria, King Edward of England, Theodore Roosevelt, Sigmund Freud and Eliot Ness, as well as the fictional character, the gentleman thief Raffles.
Not bad little adventures, but a fallible, congenial gentleman is probably not what most fans are looking for in an aging Holmes.
Myself, I'd prefer a cynical, drug-taking, going-out-in-a-blaze dotage for the old fellow.