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Moriarty from the 1930s - 1980s

We are so accustomed to seeing Holmes face Moriarty that we may not acknowledge the fact that not every Holmes has had a Moriarty.

If, for the sake of convenience, we start with Arthur Wontner as Holmes - his Moriarty was played by Lyn Harding. 
Arthur Wontner and Lyn Harding

Harding had played the part of Grimesby Roylott in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1910 production of The Speckled Band which he, Doyle, had hastily put together after the virtual collapse of his play The House of Temperley which, in turn, was based on his 1896 book Rodney Stone. The play had supposedly failed to draw large crowds due to its subject matter – bare-knuckle boxing – and this problem was made worse when Edward VII died in the same year and the country, in its mourning, turned its back on many social pursuits – especially theatre.

Doyle replaced the play with his Holmes effort but did not approve of Harding's portrayal of Roylott which he considered too melodramatic. It was his friend J.M. Barrie who convinced him to trust Harding and the play went on to do well.

Basil Rathbone faced no less than three Moriartys. First (and best in my opinion) was George Zucco. Zucco was, to my less than perfect knowledge, the first bearded Moriarty and exuded a level of menace that still impresses me almost thirty years after I first saw him in the role. This menace was to serve him well as he enjoyed a career that involved many appearances in horror films.

George Zucco with Basil Rathbons

Zucco was later replaced by Lionel Atwill who also did a fine job. Atwill had first appeared in a Holmes film as Dr Mortimer in The Hound of the Baskervilles which was also alongside Rathbone. The last of Rathbone’s Moriartys was Henry Daniell who gave us Moriarty the playboy villain. A fine actor rather mis-cast.

Lionel Atwill

Henry Daniell

After this, to my mind, there were no really memorable Moriartys until Eric Porter’s opposite Jeremy Brett in 1985. In my opinion Porter is borderline definitive in terms of both his physical appearance and malevolence.

Brett and Porter (THE Moriarty)

The Holmes actors Ronald Howard, Douglas Wilmer, Peter Cushing, Christopher Plummer, Robert Stephens and Ian Richardson (and no doubt many others) did not (to my knowledge) enjoy the pleasure of the company of the Napoleon of Crime.


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