Sherlock Holmes

As London's preternatural sleuth, John Barrymore broods through the producers' emphasis on his matinee-idol "Great Profile" even as his alcoholism continued tightening his sharp features

DVD Watch

Sherlock Holmes

Kino, $24.95

Time will tell where Robert Downey Jr.'s tweeds hang in the closet of Sherlock Holmes and whether Jude Law rejuvenates Dr. John Watson in suspect UK mastermind Guy Ritchie's forthcoming detective caper. One thing's for sure, however: There was a time when John Hughes' onetime brat packer seemed destined for the same fate as one of his Eighties precursors a century earlier. John Barrymore (1882-1942) only dons Holmes' coat and deerstalker hat toward the climax of 1922's Sherlock Holmes, unleashing a burst of pre-Ritchie machismo. The first family of acting's scion scowls well within his comfort zone here, adding to his silent film cast of classic characters – Don Juan, Ahab, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. As London's preternatural sleuth, Barrymore broods through the producers' emphasis on his matinee-idol "Great Profile" even as his alcoholism continued tightening his sharp features. In a supporting role, William Powell, 30, floppy hair and no mustache, looks thin, man, yet lived to be 91. Barrymore, a decade his senior and barely making it to 60, appears lanky, his arms too long like his brother Lionel's. Even then, seeing him sprint in the flickering expressionism of early cinema, accompanied contemporarily by psychedelic organ music, thrills. "I've been groping for my place in the scheme of things – I've found it," Barrymore's Holmes tells Watson, played by Topper's Roland Young. (Look for gossip queen Hedda Hopper as one of the baddens.) "My life's work is to rid the world of that gigantic menace, Moriarty." Holmes' archenemy drives this chapter of Watson's memoirs, less a mystery than a circular chase – Holmes chasing Moriarty and vice versa. Moriarty's almost as matted as Barrymore in Svengali (1931), his eyebrows later appearing as the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland. When the two men converge at 221-B Baker St., lurking around corners with guns drawn, predators straining to pick up the other's scent – the soundtrack heating the aural mercury – all silent moviedom bursts to life with hero/villain/heroine-tied-to-the-tracks iconography. Moriarty's gang of thugs practically spills out of some ink-lacquered graphic novella from last century. And when Barrymore as Holmes strips off a disguise, it's a thrilling glimpse of Broadway, where the actor thrived before Hollywood bought him a castle. As Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, "Any attempt at recovering the bodies was absolutely hopeless."

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Sherlock Holmes
Holmes for the Holiday
Holmes for the Holidays
Spend the yuletide at 221-B Baker Street, where the library is stocked with new books about Sherlock

Robert Faires, Dec. 25, 2015

Parade of Holmes
Parade of Holmes
Our picks for great adventures of the Great Detective that Arthur Conan Doyle didn't write

Dec. 25, 2015

More John Barrymore
My Favorite Year
My Favorite Year
In an extraordinary season of four premieres, UT alum Robert Schenkkan brings his old school a new screwball comedy

Robert Faires, Nov. 4, 2005

DVD Watch
Twentieth Century and Bringing Up Baby
Getting to the gist of screwball's golden age

Raoul Hernandez, March 25, 2005

More Screens Reviews
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
What If the Marx Brothers Got Around to Making That Movie With Salvador Dalí?
Josh Frank brings the legendary unproduced movie to printed life

Wayne Alan Brenner, March 22, 2019

What If <i>The Texas Chain Saw Massacre</i> Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
What If The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Was Really About the Horrors of Modern American Society?
Putting the Austin-made seminal slasher back into context

Marc Savlov, March 22, 2019

More by Raoul Hernandez
Checking In: Guitar Hauler Bill Kirchen Pulls Into the Truck Stop at the End of the World
Guitar Hauler Bill Kirchen Pulls Into the Truck Stop at the End of the World
Long-game guitarist keeps twangin’ and sangin’

Aug. 10, 2020

Checking In: Welcome to <i>The Kat Edmonson Show</i>
Welcome to The Kat Edmonson Show
“Writing and shooting a show every week is quite demanding”

Aug. 7, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Sherlock Holmes, John Barrymore, Roland Young, William Powell, Arthur Conan Doyle

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle