10. Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Spirits

We know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had more than a passing interest in the spirit world. But when it came to recording the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, he evoked the shade of the supernatural only to tantalise his readers until Holmes could dispel such backward fancies by the power of rational thought. Thus The Hound of the Baskervilles is not actually demoniac as per legend, just a big scary dog whose eyes and mouth have been anointed with phosphorus. As Holmes puts it in The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire (who is, naturally, not a vampire), “This agency stands flat-footed upon the ground, and there it must remain. The world is big enough for us. No ghosts need apply.”
I am, roughly speaking, a Conan Doyle fan, but I put it no more firmly than that, since in the field of Sherlock Studies there are students of inordinate zeal against whom I would be an extremely poor candidate come examination time. Still, in The Possessions of Doctor Forrest there is a small tip of the hat to the celebrated resident of 221B Baker Street during a chapter wherein Forrest’s friend Dr Grey Lochran is interviewed by a police detective in Forrest’s abandoned apartment. Gazing around his old comrade’s immaculate décor Lochran feels a certain melancholy and at one point comments:
“It was with a pang that I saw – on the low marqueterie table between the two facing chaise longues – that lovely oak-and-silver spirit case to which Robert never failed to refer as ‘the tantalus’, with its crystal decanters of malt and cognac, beside it on a tray his vintage teal-green soda siphon and quartet of heavy crystal tumblers…”
That passage alone is proof I’m no strictly observant votary of the Sherlock cult, otherwise I’d have had Grey identify said ‘soda siphon’ as a gasogene. But yes, Forrest’s little joke derives from the fact that Holmes kept just such a tantalus on his sideboard.
Or did he? [Cue dramatic musical ‘sting’…]
I won’t keep you in suspense. The Case of the Tantalus is unravelled conclusively and with loving care here, in a post by one Brad Keefauver at the ‘Holmes and Watson Report’ site.
Additional proof of my flawed credentials in the field of Holmes is that I’m not at all interested in the fidelity of any film/TV adaptation of Conan Doyle, only in the extent to which the dramatic/stylistic elements have been elegantly marshalled. So I never watched Jeremy Brett in the well-liked TV series, but I love Robert Stephens in Billy Wilder’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) – and I loved better still Rupert Everett for his one outing in the role, the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking. Everett is a truly brilliant and witty performer, who’s always been critically maligned to some extent for his exceptional looks and lofty, ‘angular’, vaguely enervated hauteur. But the role of Holmes fits him like the proverbial glove that he flexes and clenches according to his temper and skill. I might say he’d make a wonderful Doctor Forrest…

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One response to “10. Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Spirits

  1. Great review of the movie. I loved Everett’s performance. He made a great Holmes. Very under appreciated though 😦

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