We're going all out for all of you Holmes fans. That's right, three versions of the Baskerville classic for you to digest and compare. This version was filmed in Russia and comes sub-titled in English. Color. 35mm.
A lot of people make a big deal about the fact that in the Sherlock Holmes museum, Vasiliy Livanov's picture is the largest. The only thing this proves is the British found a great way to soften relations between the U.K. and the Soviets. I see it as a political maneuver, and little else.
There is no doubt that these films are of excellent quality, but they suffer from an overemphasis on the farcical. In particular, Vitali Solomin's portray of Watson borders on camp at times, with little subtlety. The relationship between Holmes and Watson, something that is near and dear to many a fan's heart, is too kitschy. Missing is the deep, abiding friendship that Jeremy Brett and David Burke (and later, Edward Hardwicke) portrayed so eloquently in the Granada productions.
The Baltic locations are clearly Eastern Europe and at times that is a bit distracting. The biggest problem is of course, the language. First of all, the subtitles have been poorly done. I have spoken to a couple of people who speak Russian and English who have bemoaned the quality of the subtitles. They assert that English-speaking audiences would appreciate the films more if they could experience them as intended rather than through the poor subtitles. Some characters are meant to be heard in their native language and Holmes is certainly one of those characters. Hearing Doyle's detective speaking Russian is very distracting as are the poorly translated subtitles. Perhaps in the future someone could redo the subtitles and the films would benefit from this.
The most interesting thing about these films are the little jokes and ironic elements that are littered throughout. Little jabs at the Soviet government and the British are present and done very slyly. In one instance, Doctor Watson is speaking to Holmes about his lack of understanding of things outside his profession, but it is clear he is speaking of the oppression of the Communist government in the Soviet Union. Watson says, "How awful it would be to live in a world, where you couldn't talk to anyone about poetry, about art, or politics." The irony is, the actors in this film at the time this production was made did live in a place where you couldn't talk about many things without fear of reprisals. There are quite a few of these moments and it is very interesting to listen for them. Surely the producers of these films had to be very careful not to glorify a society of the West, albeit a hundred years in the past. Perhaps it was at the behest of the Communist party that Holmes gets the following line: "The British are conservative, and we don't like changes. Anyone who is not like us in the ways of mind, is easily taken for a rogue". Great fun.
These films do deserve their place in the cinematic Holmes canon, but more for what they reveal about the Soviet Union at the time and their relations with the British. An interesting interpretation that demands viewing, but ultimately pales in comparison to the Granada productions with Jeremy Brett.
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