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Arthur Wontner

People tend to forget that Sherlock Holmes was portrayed on screen before Basil Rathbone. The silent era of films gave us a number of Holmeses with notables such as Eille Norwood.

However, when the talkies arrived Holmes was at last able to come into his own as his verbosity was never well served by the silent era. Although not the first 'talkie' Holmes Arthur Wontner can lay claim, in my opinion, to being the most notable prior to Rathbone.

It's true that he was far too old for the role and that his films, like Rathbone's for Universal, were set in contemporary times yet he was a stickler for accuracy and did his best to ensure as much fidelity as possible in his films.

His five films were completed by 1937 and had all been shown in Britain. The last, based largely on Silver Blaze, was renamed Murder at the Baskervilles for its delayed release in America in 1941.

By this time however, Basil Rathbone was established as the new Holmes and Wontner's films rapidly vanished from the public memory. Regular repeats have ensured Rathbone's continuing popularity and have continued to add more nails to Wontner's coffin.

If you look hard you can obtain four of Wontner's five outings as Holmes. In order these were:

  • The Sleeping Cardinal (1931)
  • The Missing Rembrandt (1932)  (Officially lost)
  • The Sign of Four: Sherlock Holmes' Greatest Case (1932)
  • The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes (1935)
  • Silver Blaze (1937)
 

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