It all began with the American producer Sy Weintraub. He wanted to produce all in all six Sherlock Holmes movies.
Since the original stories were all still protected by copyright at that time, Weintraub had to negotiate with the Estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for licences.
He eventually got the permission and paid the license fee. Filming for “The Sign of Four” could begin.
The Main Actors
Ian Richardson was a perfect choice to play Sherlock Holmes. The tall and lean actor has the physical appearance of Holmes.
He also prepared himself very well. He read the original stories in order to play his role based on the source.
Two other aspects are positive about the actor’s involvement:
Richardson wanted to show more of Holmes’s vices. He especially thought about the cocaine use. But the producers refused.
The movies were written by American scriptwriters who used American phrases. In order to keep the language authentic, Richardson had to re-write some of the dialogue himself.
I find Richardson’s smile most memorable. It’s not sardonic at all as you would expect Holmes’s smile to be.
He clearly enjoys playing the detective. His sunny disposition is contagious. Whenever I am in need of a little happiness boost, I watch the movies and find myself smiling alongside Richardson. :o)
Two Dr Watsons
Two actors played Dr Watson opposite Richardson’s Holmes.
The American David Healy played the good doctor in
“The Sign of Four”.
His Watson is a pleasant fellow and the chemistry between Richardson and Healy is great.
Unfortunately, Healy also appeared in the London musical “Guys and Dolls” while filming the Holmes movies.
This was no problem as long as “The Sign of Four” was made.
It proved highly impractical for “The Hound of the Baskervilles” which was shot on location in Dartmoor.
So, exit David Healy and enter Donald Churchill.
The British actor Donald Churchill succeeded Healy in the role of Dr Watson. He played Holmes’s faithful friend in “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.
Churchill delivered a routine performance and he doesn’t seem to be too interested in the role. For him the movie was just a pay check. Richardson himself described Churchill as simply “too common.”
Nevertheless, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is still a very good movie.
The End of the Series
After these two movies were finished, the series came to an abrupt stop.
Producer Sy Weintraub had not known that Granada Television planned to produce a TV series as soon as the stories entered the public domain in 1980 (which is 50 years after Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s death).
Weintraub eventually reached an agreement with Granada Television. He returned to America and the series of films with Ian Richardson was abandoned.
However, a third film had been planned called “The Napoleon of Crime”.
It was later produced under the title “Hands of a Murderer” with Edward Woodward as Sherlock Holmes, John Hillerman as Dr Watson and Anthony Andrews as Professor Moriarty.
It is really a pity there weren’t more movies made with Ian Richardson as Sherlock Holmes.
I especially would have liked to watch him in a confrontation with Professor Moriarty.
Well, some things are not meant to be.
Twenty years later, Ian Richardson returned to the world of Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes. He played Dr Joseph Bell in a series of TV movies called “Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes”.
In these films Bell and Conan Doyle solve crimes together.
Conan Doyle’s professor is considered the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes's deductive reasoning abilities.
So in the end, Richardson got to play detective once more. :o)