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Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)

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The author discusses his life and career, including his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes; and his interest in spiritualism.

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The author discusses his life and career, including his most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes; and his interest in spiritualism.

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Edited into Biography: Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective (1995) See more »

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Another chance to see a rarity from You Tube
3 June 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

While going through You Tube I came upon this ten minute Foxtone short, one of the earliest sound films. It was made in 1927 and it is wonderful that it exists today for us to hear and see it. The subject was only three years away from his own death. He was a world class figure for his literary and other endeavors (one, at least, controversial). And when one recalls that he was born in 1859 and we are in the year 2007 one really appreciates the development of talkies. How much would we have liked to have heard Abraham Lincoln on gramophone disk or in an early talkie, or Florence Nightingale, or Charles Dickens. At least we have (among other Victorians) Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

Actually two "actors" are in this short. Conan Doyle strolls from his front door into a garden accompanied by his pet dog. He is carrying a book and puts the book and his hat down on a table while he sits in a chair addressing the character. For a relatively new device, Sir Arthur is not nervous and speaks quite frankly, directly, and honestly to the camera (and to the sound equipment recording him). To be fair, Conan Doyle had appeared in a prologue to the silent film classic THE LOST WORLD (based on his Professor Challenger story), so he was probably used to the filming. But he certainly at ease with the only recently developed sound equipment (THE LOST WORLD was made in 1925, before the Fox sound system was tested).

Doyle's comments can be divided roughly in half. The first five minutes deal with his creation of the great "Sherlock Holmes" series of stories and novels. He is quite honest about what influenced him, mentioning "Dr. Bell" one of his medical teachers. Bell (properly Dr. Joseph Bell) was the model for Holmes in his ability to look at a person and talk to them and tell all sorts of biographical things about the person in a matter of minutes. Bell was also occasionally used by the police (with Professor Harvey Littlejohn) on certain criminal cases. There was a series of shows a few years ago with the late Ian Richardson as Bell, assisted by an actor as the young Conan Doyle, helping the Scottish police on cases.

The latter five minutes of the film deal with the controversy of Doyle's crusade for acceptance of psychic phenomenon. He explains that it is real and that much of the criticism that has been thrown against him is from people who haven't experienced work with mediums. Doyle does not name names, so there is no reference to Harry Houdini - who had experienced and exposed mediums in the U.S., and was once a good friend of Doyle's. But Houdini was dead for a year by the time this film was made. Doyle's pitch for the psychic crusade and spiritualism is based on helping to heal the emotional losses due to the huge death toll from World War I, so even if one is skeptical about this crusade one approves of Doyle's motives.

The film ends with Doyle and his dog returning to the house. It was a lovely brief visit that his fans and the future are grateful for.


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