How Curious!

How Curious! : Off-kilter Riffs on Arthur Conan Doyle’s Famous Sleuth

Compiled by Carrie Chapter, PTC dramaturg

Sherlock, Jr. (1924)

Sherlock Jr


















In a metatheatrical tribute to Sherlock Holmes, silent film comedian Buster Keaton plays a film projectionist who aspires to become a great detective. He even follows a book which details the rules of sleuthing: “1. Search Everybody. 2. Look for Clue. 3. Examine all windows. 4. Search for finger prints. 5. Shadow your man closely. 6. Send for the police. 7. Keep cool”. His passion is tested when he is framed for theft – and, in an alternate dream reality, he succeeds admirably! Known for its delightful camera trickery with many of its comic stunts (one of which almost killed Keaton!), this film is one of the most inventive and acclaimed in Buster Keaton’s career.

Read more about the film’s legacy here at The Dissolve.

Video clip:

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

Private Life of SH















Director/writer Billy Wilder, who helmed cinematic classics like Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, tried his hand at revealing a new side to Conan Doyle’s detective by writing a sprawling, epic odyssey. In this film, Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens) embarks on two separate adventures, and eventually follows the case of a missing husband that leads him to the Loch Ness monster, among other bizarre obstacles. Though Wilder wrote the movie as a saga, the studio panicked and cut it down substantially; it remained a disappointing outcome for Wilder until his death, who saw its potential as a masterwork. However, the film still broke new ground. It dared to present Holmes in a sexually ambiguous light, as well as touch upon his drug use. Now, critics and historians often view this film as one of the most underrated Sherlock Holmes flicks ever made.

Read how British writer/actor, Mark Gatiss, of Dr. Who fame, is inspired by this film here.

Video clip:

The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother (1975)

Smarter brother


















Borrowing a crackerjack comic ensemble from director Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder wrote, directed, and starred in this madcap reimagining of the Sherlock Holmes stories. The film’s premise is based on the character of Mycroft Holmes, who is described in the Conan Doyle stories as being “intellectually superior” to Sherlock Holmes. Wilder plays the younger brother to the great Sherlock Holmes, Sigerson Holmes, who steps out of his brother’s shadow to try and solve a case while his brother is away; he blunders his way through with a sly actress (Madeline Kahn) and a bizarre Scotland Yard detective (Marty Feldman). A year earlier, this trio had just made comedy magic with Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein. Originally, Wilder wanted Mel Brooks to direct the film, but Brooks refused because he preferred to direct his own scripts.

Read the original review from The New York Times here.

Video clip:

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976)

seven percent

The 1970s spawned numerous comedies based on the Sherlock Holmes tales, but Herbert Ross’s film exposed a particular weakness plaguing Holmes: his addiction to cocaine (the 7% mentioned in the title). In the film, fearing the detective’s drug use is causing delusions, Watson (played by Robert Duvall) stages an intervention for Holmes in Vienna with Dr. Sigmund Freud (played by Alan Arkin). In the meantime, Holmes continues to solve mysteries while Freud explores the detective’s well-guarded subconscious. In addition to sporting a winning cast, the film also boasts the work of Stephen Sondheim, who wrote “The Madame’s Song” for the film, later renamed “I Never Do Anything Twice.”

Read how this film reinvented the Sherlock Holmes character here in The New York Times.

Video clip:

Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976)

SH in NY

“Holmes, Sherlock Holmes.” Yes, Roger Moore donned the famous deerstalker cap for this television movie, which reimagines Holmes high-tailing it to New York City in mad pursuit of his principal foe, Professor Moriarty, played here by John Huston. Interestingly, the American broadcast was truncated by six minutes, in order for Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter’s campaign commercials to see airtime.

Read about the filming here at Permission to Kill.

Video clip:

Sherlock Hound (1984 – 1985)



Sherlock Holmes has gone to the dogs! From 1984 to 1985, this Italian-Japanese television series put an anthropomorphic twist on Conan Doyle’s characters. Popular in the UK, it featured a fox named Sherlock battling his nemesis, a wolf named Moriarty, with a host of canine companions to round out the furry cast. Early into the series, the director did enter a legal dispute with the Conan Doyle estate for the first few episodes, but the matters were resolved in time to finish the subsequent production schedule.

Get your animation fix and learn about the series here at Open Culture.

Video clip:

Young Sherlock Holmes (1985)


What happens when director Barry Levinson (Diner, Rain Man), producer Steven Spielberg (E.T., Back to the Future) AND screenwriter Chris Columbus (The Goonies, Gremlins) join forces to reboot Sherlock Holmes? You get it in a precocious, teenage edition! In this retelling, it is December 1870, and Holmes and Watson are boarding school chums with a knack for deductive reasoning. Their talents are put to the test when they uncover an Egyptian cult is responsible for a series of mysterious deaths. Incidentally, this was one of the first films to include a CGI element, which was crafted by Pixar’s own John Lasseter. The film’s ending also portended a sequel which never came to be – this is perhaps because the film did not yield blockbuster results with audiences and received mixed reviews by critics, despite its cult classic standing today.

Learn why nostalgia for this film is growing here at Den of Geeks.

Video clip:

The Great Mouse Detective (1986)

great mouse detective


This is Disney’s treatment of the Sherlock Holmes story, featuring a mouse detective named Basil of Baker Street (a nod to actor Basil Rathbone – arguably, the most celebrated Sherlock Holmes in cinematic history) who investigates the abduction of a toymaker with the help of his cohort, Dr. Dawson, and the toymaker’s daughter, Olivia. The film also presents Vincent Price as the voice of the villainous Ratigan; the horror star was fulfilling his lifelong dream of voicing a character for a Disney animated film. Although the movie is not the most recognizable of the Disney classics, it served as a delightful palate-cleanser. This film followed the scariest and darkest Disney films of all time, The Black Cauldron, which proved to be a dismal box office failure the year before. In truth, in addition to setting a precedent for early computer animation, The Great Mouse Detective saved the Disney Animation Studios from bankruptcy.

Delve into the behind-the-scenes drama behind this Disney classic  here.

Video clip:

Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999-2001)

SH in 22nd century

Approaching the new millennium, the Fox Kids network introduced an animated television series that transported Conan Doyle’s stories to the future. In this scenario, Sherlock Holmes has been “thawed” – after his body was frozen in a Swiss ice cave – to help fight the clone of his criminal enemy, Moriarty. A female Inspector Lestrade also recruits a robotic Dr. Watson, whose artificial intelligence is comprised of old journals from Dr. Watson himself, to assist the resurrected Holmes. The series employed a mix of 2-D and 3-D animation techniques to achieve a comic book aesthetic – the sharp, angular, eerie look – to the characters and their futuristic landscape.

Check out its episode guide here on Ranker.

Video clip:

*Information and images courtesy of the Internet Movie Database and Turner Classic Movies. 


Bebe Neuwirth stars in our 45th Anniversary 2019-20 Season!PRESS RELEASE