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Before the Hays
Clive Brook and Robert Downey Jr. -Real Men Do Holmes


I don’t think what Robert Downey Jr. said on Letterman was at all problematic for the film. I mean just because he said out loud the screaming innuendo seems silly. And why is homosexual innuendo taboo, while heterosexual innuendo is acceptable. Sexual innuendo is sexual innuendo. People need to grow up. Seriously.

Here is a very fun review from the New York Times from 1929 of the film “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” which is famous as being the only film where Holmes dies. Also interesting about this particular film is that it was not filmed in London or Hollywood, but at Astoria Studios in Queens, NY. The Dr. Watson apparently suffered a bit from being a little too much of a native New Yorker. Enjoy!

Startlingly changed in appearance, but as confident and knowledgeable as ever, Sherlock Holmes has been dragged from retirement to appear in a talking picture called “The Return of Sherlock Holmes,” which is now on view at the Paramount Theatre. The narrative is a concoction suggested by two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of the scientific sleuth—”The Dying Detective” and “His Last Bow.”
Holmes is shorter, healthier looking and younger than he was even when first introduced to the public. In fact, while watching his battle of wits with Professor Moriarty in this current adventure, it seems quite absurd for him to refer to his place in Hampshire and his bees as if he were in the evening of life. This can be understood when it is explained that Clive Brook impersonates Holmes, with sideburns, a rather old-fashioned lounge suit and a pipe as formidable in size as his revolver. The familiar double-peaked cap is replaced by a tweed hat; otherwise Sherlock Holmes in this film is much more Brook than Holmes.
As it invariably happens in motion pictures, one accepts this Holmes after the story has been running for a quarter of an hour and while the film is far from being a masterpiece, it arouses a certain amusement and interest, which, due to those portions directed by Basil Deane, the British producer and playwright, make it a better entertainment than most murder mystery films. The fun it elicits is not always intended and its thrills fall somewhat flat.
Most of the action takes place aboard “the fastest transatlantic steamship” and the surgeon aboard is the sinister Moriarty’s poison expert. In two instances Holmes disguises himself quite effectively, once as a member of the ship’s band and on another occasion as a humble steward. As the latter, Holmes goes to great lengths to ascertain the location of Moriarty’s cabin, by putting a phosphorescent solution on the heels of the ship’s surgeon’s shoes.
Dr. Watson has not been forgotten. It is his daughter who is engaged to marry Roger Longmore, the son of the man poisoned by Dr. Moran, at the behest of Professor Moriarty. Dr. Watson is no longer the interesting person created by Sir Arthur. He has some of the characteristics, but he appears to have been well-adulterated at the Astoria studio, where this film was produced.
It is quite evident that this talking film, the voices in which are often strangely resonant, is a mixture of Mr. Deane’s more refreshing ideas and those of hard and fast cinema experts.
The important paper in this case is Longmore’s confession of his activities with Moriarty. Holmes, once aboard the steamship, is eager to pet hold of this paper. Disguised as the German musician, he performs some sleight-of-hand tricks for the benefit of the passengers, and for some reason that is not quite clear Professor Moriarty decides to test this trickster, who has apparently torn a £100-note in pieces and then returned it whole to its owner. Moriarty hands the envelope containing Longmore’s confession to the supposed musician and Holmes tears up the contents of the envelope and succeeds in replacing it with a piece of blank paper.
The poisoning is accomplished by a metal cigarette case, which has a poisoned needle on the spot releasing the opening spring. Having succeeded in getting Longmore out of the way through this ingenious device, Professor Moriarty, on encountering Holmes in his stateroom, decides to tempt Holmes to poison himself. Holmes is prepared for this and after pressing the needle he shams a dying detective.
When Moriarty and Holmes are dining together, Holmes is asked whether he will have oysters. The sleuth insists that he prefers caviar. As the next course, Professor Moriarty suggests lobster and Holmes says:
“After caviar?”
In the final scene Dr. Watson is there with his “Amazing Holmes,” and Holmes comes forth with his “Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary.”
Mr. Brook gives a nice, easy performance. H. Reeves-Smith flounders about in the rôle of Dr. Watson. Betty Lawford is never really natural as the girl in the case. Donald Crisp is excellent as Dr. Moran. Harry T. Morey is acceptable as Moriarty.

THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, with Clive Brook, H. Reeves-Smith, Betty Lawford, Charles Hay, Phillips Holmes, Donald Crisp, Harry T. Morey, Hubert Druce and Arthur Mack, based on two of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, directed by Basil Deane.

MORDAUNT HALL New York Times 19 October 1929

Clive Brook made another Sherlock Holmes film called “Sherlock Holmes” (1932) which helps Robert Downey Jr.’s theory of a sexually confused Holmes. Sherlock appears in drag in this film!

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One Response to Clive Brook and Robert Downey Jr. -Real Men Do Holmes

  1. Axbish says:

    Clive Brook! What a perfect name for a person playing Sherlock. By 1929 the art of the silent film was very advanced and the first talkies stunted the actors’ skills. I have got to see this movie. Astoria Studios!

    Maybe years from now people will look at the Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock and think his performance suffered from primitive special effects.

    Homosexual? Why what do you mean? Two men living in a room. One of them a musican, brilliant and suspicious of women, the other dedicating his life to the study, worship and amplification of his friend. What are you thinking?

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