Sample Lecture- The Classical Detective

Lecture Notes:
A History of the Detective Film in American Cinema – Week 2 – Class 1
The Classical Detective – Early Holmes on Film

Assigned Readings for Class:

Jon Tuska, “The Reichenbach Falls Caper,” from The Detective in Hollywood. (Course Packet)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Empty House
http://www.enotes.com/best-sherlock-holmes-text/the-adventure-of-the-empty-house

I. Origins
a. Print
i. Arthur Conan Doyle
1. Inspirations: Dr. Joseph Bell – Sir Henry Littlejohn
ii. “A Study in Scarlet” – 1887 – Beeton’s Christmas Annual
iii. “The Sign of the Four” – 1890 – Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine
iv. Strand Magazine – 1891 – 1927 – Show Image 1
1. The look of Holmes – Sidney Paget illustrations – Show Image 2
v. Burgeoning popularity
vi. Disappearance and presumed death – 1891 – 1894 – “The Adventure of the Final Problem” – Show Image 3
1. Public outrage
b. Theater
i. Charles Brookfield – 1893 – Under the Clock
ii. John Webb – 1894 – Sherlock Holmes – Debates surrounding first “real” portrayal
iii. William Gillette – 1899 – Sherlock Holmes, or The Strange Case of Miss Faulkner – Show Image 4
1. Tremendous financial success
2. Helps to define the role – Begins to cement distinguishing features and characteristics
II. Sherlock Holmes Baffled
a. Debate- 1900 or 1903
i. Produced in 1900 – Registered in 1903
ii. Either way, this is the first depiction of Holmes on film
iii. Many say this is the first ever iteration of the “detective film”
iv. Lost for many years, until a paper print was discovered in the Library of Congress in 1968
b. American Mutoscope and Biograph Company – Directed by Arthur Marvin
c. “One-reeler” – Intended to be shown on the Mutoscope
i. 49 feet long
d. The actor portraying Homes is unknown
e. At this time, Conan Doyle was “in between” Homes stories
i. The story assigned for class comes after this film was made
ii. During this time, Holmes (the literary version) is missing and presumed dead
iii. Just one year after William Gillette begins to make Holmes famous on the stage
f. Show film: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=923tvhaY5jk
i. Not much to look at, huh?
1. Did you take note of the running time?
a. Necessary for the exhibition format?
2. The special effects?
a. The influence of Melies
b. “Trick” film
III. Other Early Depictions In Film
a. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1905)
i. Vitagraph Company of America
ii. Maurice Costello as Holmes
iii. 725 feet long (as opposed to Baffled at 49)
iv. No known copies survive
b. Viggo Larsen – Nordisk Film Kompagni – Eventually portrayed Holmes in both German and Danish silent productions – Show Image 5
c. Eillie Norwood – Beginning in 1921 – Stoll Picture Productions, Ltd. – Great Britain – Probably the most influential silent Holmes
i. Very lucrative
ii. Stay close to the original stories
iii. Extremely popular in both Britain and the U.S.
iv. If time allows, show a portion of The Man with the Twisted Lip (1921): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kY-K_LAPWgA
v. Norwood went on to do feature length films
1. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1921)
2. The Sign of the Four (1923)
d. Meanwhile, back in the U.S. – John Barrymore as Holmes – Sherlock Holmes (Goldwyn, 1922) – Show clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBXmxqYcI0Q
e. Adaptation of William Gillette’s play
IV. Other than Holmes, “very few silent detective films were produced” (Tuska 5)
a. When detectives did appear, it was usually in a comic scenario
b. Even Holmes himself was parodied – Buster Keaton – Sherlock Jr. (Metro-Goldwyn, 1924) – Show clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ech3Syf41LE
c. So, what set the stage for Holmes’ popularity?
V. Social & Cultural Contexts
a. Shift in societal views concerning law and order, crime and punishment
i. Foucault
1. The Enlightenment – Shifts in emphasis
2. Public Punishment and torture disappears toward the end of the 18th century – focus shifts from body to the soul
3. Long term imprisonment replaces public execution
4. The trial as spectacle
b. Modern “police forces” are established
i. 1829 – London Metropolitan Police – First uniformed, professional, full time police in England
ii. Delayed response – 1908 the FBI is established to take over policing on a national level in the U.S. – Usurps private organizations like the Pinkertons
iii. Nonetheless, in the period in between, torture is slowly being replaced by “detection and investigation” (Gates 58)
c. Scientific discoveries in the Victorian era aid in these new forms of detection – Age of industrialization
i. Mug shots
ii. Ballistic tests
iii. Fingerprints replace anthropometry/ signalectics
iv. 1895 – Cesare Lombroso invents the lie detector
v. In general, the criminal becomes identifiable and distinguishable in unique ways – Empirical ways
d. The flâneur – associated with the rise of modernity – aristocrat – without social obligation – free to roam the city and make observations – Walter Benjamin – “physiologies” or written accounts of observations of the “public sphere”
i. According to Benjamin, the classical detective (e.g. Holmes and Dupin) is a flâneur that “observed, deliberated on, and made sense of the private sphere” (Gates 62) – Upper-class, intelligent and rational – Differentiated from the working class police – sleuth as semiotician
ii. Thus, the “criminalist” is born in the guise of the classical detective
e. If time remains, show Super 8 remake of Sherlock Holmes Baffled: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BYpqDIkTHxs

Image 1


Image 2


Image 3


Image 4


Image 5

Leave a Reply