Anyone else have a HUGE problem with Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson?

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Dick, Jan 10, 2004.

  1. Dick

    Dick Producer
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    This is the big drawback for me with the 30's-40's Sherlock Holmes series. I very much admire Basil Rathbone's portrayal (although Brett bested him later, IMO), but Nigel Bruce I find insufferable. I was reminded of this when I viewed the first box set from MPI. He is the weak link, if there ever was one. That massive head of his, and a mouth that spews forth the stupidest dialog on Earth... one can't help but wonder why Holmes tolerated such a clown as an assistant. It doesn't make sense, unless this was a Holmes so egotistical that he had to have a moron beside him at all times so that he could look infinitely superior (and he does, of course). And Lestrade is also a dolt. The deck was certainly stacked in Rathbone's favor throughout the series, no? I prefer an intelligent and resourceful Watson and a police detective who isn't a total retard. Holmes deserves to be surrounded by smart helpers and adversaries. My vote for the best Watson (excepting the Granada TV series): James Mason in MURDER BY DECREE.
     
  2. Kevin Harper

    Kevin Harper Agent

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    Couldn't agree more. Nigel Bruce is one of the main reasons I don't like the Universal series (apart from the films not sticking to the original stories and updatingthem to modern times!). I think Bruce is OK in Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes but that's it. I agree that James Mason was one of the best, most intelligent and sensitive Watson's on film. If you want a decent comic Watson look no further than Colin Blakely in The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes.
     
  3. John Watson

    John Watson Screenwriter

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    Altho I think Watsons are generally intelligent, debonnaire, and exceedingly nice, I don't mind them serving as foils, and Nigel Bruce never bothered me at all.

    And I really enjoyed seeing Basil Rathbone in Robin Hood a couple of weeks ago.
     
  4. Larry Sutliff

    Larry Sutliff Cinematographer

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    I grew up with Bruce as Watson, so he doesn't bother me at all. He may not be totally faithful to Conan Doyle, but he is the definitive Watson to the generations who saw these films in the theater, and those who watched them every saturday night on television.
     
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  5. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    Same with me, for many years he was the only Watson I have ever seen on film.

    Also, since this is commentary on the Sherlock Holmes films, I'm moving this thread to Movies.





    Crawdaddy
     
  6. Joe Karlosi

    Joe Karlosi Producer

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    Simply put... Nope.
     
  7. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    No problem with Nigel here. He rocks.

    Yes, his characterization is not faithful to the Conan Doyle stories. However the stories don't interest me as much as the Rathbone/Bruce movies and radio shows so that doesn't bother me as much.

    One must remember the times when these excellent movies were made. It was common practice to couple the lead character in a detective/mystery series with a sidekick that provided comic relief or to provide such relief within the movie itself. Audiences appreciated a good laugh coming out of the depression and going into the war years.

    I think Nigel's Watson also has an endearing quality about him. He may be dim witted, but he's charmingly so and at least this viewer has a genuine affection for the character. He is not "Gilligan" stupid, just a bumbler that made the 12 Universals a total joy to watch over and over again.

    Steve
     
  8. Paul_Scott

    Paul_Scott Lead Actor

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    i grew up with Bruce (HOTB was a rare outing with my late step father during a revivel run when i was about 7 yrs old), although other than Hound, i can't recall seeing any of the other Rathbone/Bruce films.

    i just picked up one of the MPIs, but i haven't got around to watching it.

    now that i'm older, adn have enjoyed reading the Conan Doyle stories, i don't know what my tolerance for maddening stupidity for the purposes of comic foil will be.



    this is how i rationalize the presence of Otis in the first Superman film.
    in that film, with its particular tone and sensibilites (and the personality traits of Lex Luthor) i think the intrepretation of the relationship is valid.
     
  9. Phil Florian

    Phil Florian Screenwriter

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    I have a hard time with this era Holmes, too. It is mostly due to transporting it to modern era. Holmes being driven around in a car just doesn't do it for me. Brett and both of his Watson actors (though I am partial to Hawthorne...was that his name?) did it right. Watson can be fun as a sidekick and is often one-upped by Holmes. What makes it cool is that Watson is no slouch on his own. He is a doctor, extremely bright, well written and a student of Holmes methodology. That said, he looks like he is standing still next to Holmes. Making Watson an idiot makes Holmes' genius seem a bit more pedestrian. Oh well, to each generation their own!

    Elementary,

    Phil
     
  10. Matt Stieg

    Matt Stieg Stunt Coordinator

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    This is my first post and I figure this is as good as any topic to start with.

    I love both the original Sherlock Holmes stories and the Rathbone/Bruce films. I have no problem with Bruce in regards to these particular films; he's not a very accurate Watson but the movies are just fun and enjoyable with great style and pacing.

    Also, in all fairness to the "modern" setting, Hound and Adventures were the first two Holmes films ever made that took place in the proper Victoria-era London. So Universal placing Holmes and Watson in modern London is not that far-fetched, considering all Holmes films made before them (and there were plenty!) took place in modern times as well.


    I totally agree.
     
  11. Henry Gale

    Henry Gale Producer

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    You may also want to avoid...

    Gabby Hayes
    Pat Brady
    Andy Devine
    Leo Carrillo


    [​IMG]
     
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  12. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Quote:

    You may also want to avoid...

    Gabby Hayes
    Pat Brady
    Andy Devine
    Leo Carrillo
    --------------------

    [​IMG]

    These guys are no good either:

    Smiley Burnette
    Fuzzy St. John
    Pat Buttram

    Dang - didn't those clown producers know that these guys distracted from their co-stars' accurate and realistic portrayals of what the American Cowboy was really like?

    Steve (riding those happy trails for many, many years)
     
  13. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    ::cringes::

    They're not all great stories, but they are good, and the style Doyle writes in is, to me, almost a necessity to appreciating the character. Even the best films, or the exemplary Granada series (which I seriously doubt will ever be bettered) do not, and almost cannot, have the authentic Victorian/Edwardian voice.

    I did catch one of the Arthur Wontner movies (review here) last month, and was ambivelent on Ian Fleming's performance as Watson. He wasn't an idiot, but was clearly a foil. Wontner appears to have been the definitive Holmes before Rathbone took the role, and did fine.

    I'm starting to think that the real triumph of the Granada series was Edward Hardwicke as Watson; someone who can be the guy the audience member can relate to, and can also make you understand the friendship between the two characters. Just as it is difficult to see why an idiot like Bruce's Watson is kept around, it takes a great performance to see why Watson would tolerate someone as unpleasant as Holmes can be.

    Then again, I've never seen a Rathbone/Bruce movie, and doubt I ever will. I love Sherlock Holmes too much to see him transplanted to WWII, or see the character of Watson be so mangled. I'm all for adaptations for new media being given free reign, so I'm all for these things existing; it's just that I discovered the print Holmes at the proper time in my life (fifth grade) to have a fierce attachment.
     
  14. David Von Pein

    David Von Pein Producer

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    I love Nigel as Dr. John H. Watson. (Anybody know what the "H" stands for in John's name? Be funny if it stood for "Holmes". [​IMG])

    Nigel spouted forth many memorable zingers during the 14 Basil/Nigel classics. .....

    (Reading newspaper...) "Housekeeper held [in murder case]. ... Pfftttt, how could a little woman like that break a man's back? ... Lestrade's an idiot."

    Constable -- "Doctor Watson, can you tell me if Mr. Holmes is armed?"
    Watson -- "Armed? Why should he be, my good man? He's gone to bed."
     
  15. Jason Seaver

    Jason Seaver Lead Actor

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    Never stated in the canon, but widely believed to stand for "Hamish", the Scottish form of James, since one of Watson's wives would occasionally call him James instead of John.
     
  16. RobertR

    RobertR Lead Actor

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    I read all the Holmes stories in junior high school, and watched the Rathbone/Bruce movies about the same time. Bruce's portrayal (and departure from the book Watson) never bothered me.
     
  17. Mark Zimmer

    Mark Zimmer Producer

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    I was amazed to find out that he started out as sidekick to Fatty Arbuckle in the silents (his nephew, I think). Some of these guys had amazing staying power, with Smiley Burnette still turning up occasionally on Green Acres 25 years after teaming with Gene Autry (and of course Buttram).

    And to get back on topic, yes, I like Bruce as Watson. Somehow, it seems to me that the ego of Holmes would want the constant reassurance of a dimwitted sidekick. [​IMG] Even though he's comic relief, he never turns into Odious Comic Relief.
     
  18. Matt Stieg

    Matt Stieg Stunt Coordinator

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    So, you're judging the films without actually having seen them? That's fair. You should really give them a shot. If you look at them from the standpoint not as SH films but as good ol' B-movie film noir, then you shouldn't have any problems.

    As I stated earlier, when these films were made placing Holmes in modern times was the norm. Up to that time the only two Holmes films to portray the original Victoria London of the stories were the two Rathbone/Bruce films made for Fox, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes . All previous Holmes films took place in modern times, so one can hardly criticize the Universal films. In fact, the only three films to concern themselves directly with WWII are Voice of Terror, Secret Weapon (actually one of the best) and in Washington, all the others merely allude to it and beginning with House of Fear make no mention at all.
     
  19. Dennis Nicholls

    Dennis Nicholls Lead Actor

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    I'm going to have to take a look at all of these films. The only Holmes film I'm really familiar with is the non-canonical "The Seven Percent Solution" which I think is a classic. I like the conceit of TWO smart guys each trying to solve the case first. What do you guys think of Robert Duvall as Watson?
     
  20. Lew Crippen

    Lew Crippen Executive Producer

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    Dick, since you approve of Jeremy Brett, don’t you also find that David Burke made a good Watson?

    His Watson was both smart enough and occasionally took a bit of initiative on his own (actions that often had positive results). To be sure, I’ve not seen the series in a while, so I may be misremembering.
     

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