Villains -
The Anti-Heroes



In every good story there are heroes . . . and villains. You can't have one without the other:

Superman has Lex Luthor, Batman has The Joker and Sherlock Holmes has Professor Moriarty.

Villains are usually the opposite to everything we like in heroes.

They are intelligent, but they are also cunning.

They are driven by their passions and intellectual prowess.

But they use their vast talents for their own profit.


Why do we need an anti-hero?

They add depth and complexity to a story.
The goodness of the hero intensifies when he acts in contrast to the evil deeds of the villain.
As readers or viewers, we can identify more easily with the hero in our common dislike of the foe.

The Sherlock Holmes movies offer a great variety of men and women opposing the detective.

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Professor Moriarty

Professor Moriarty is Holmes's Nemesis.
The head of an extended criminal organisation is the one man the detective actually obsesses over.
Sherlock Holmes is even prepared to sacrifice his own life in order to stop Moriarty, the "Napoleon of Crime".

The tension is palpable when the professor of mathematics eventually visits Holmes at Baker Street.
The ensuing verbal duel is one of my all-time favourite scenes in the books or any of the movies.

Their final confrontation at the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland ends in their apparent deaths.
After a public outcry, Arthur Conan Doyle was eventually persuaded to bring Sherlock Holmes back to life.

Meet some of the men who played the ultimate foe opposite the ultimate reasoner:

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Lyn Harding played Arthur Wontner's Moriarty in different movies. He was even resurrected in order to continue his evil work.

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Basil Rathbone had to content against three different Moriartys:

In "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" George Zucco wanted to steal the crown jewels.

After playing the part of Dr. Mortimer in "The Hound of the Baskervilles", Lionel Atwill played Professor Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon".
He tried to steal a bomb sight and abducted its inventor. The movie also features the Dancing Men code.

Last but not least, Henry Daniell delivered perhaps the most impressive characterisation of the villainous professor. In "The Woman in Green" he uses blackmail and hypnotism to achieve his aims.

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The German actor Hans Söhnker gave an admirable performance as Moriarty opposite Christopher Lee in "Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace".

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Leo McKern turned in a comedic performance as the villainous professor in the parody "The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother".

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Veteran director-turned-actor John Huston as Moriarty opposed Roger Moore's Holmes in New York.

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Lord Laurence Olivier is harassed by Nicol Williamson's Holmes in "The Seven-Per-Cent Solution". The math tutor is responsible for some of Holmes's odd behaviour.

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Viktor Yevgrafov opposed Vasily Livanov in the Russian adaptation of "The Final Problem".

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Jeremy Brett faced Eric Porter, my absolute favourite Moriarty of them all. Porter's menacing presence is just brilliant.

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Vincent Price lent his vocal and musical talent to Ratigan, the foe in "The Great Mouse Detective".
Professor Ratigan was a perfect role for Vincent Price. The veteran horror actor clearly enjoyed his turn as a rodent super villain.

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Paul Freeman knows in "Without a Clue" that Reginald Kincaid (played by Michael Caine) is an idiot and that he has to antagonise Ben Kingsley's Watson.

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I had high hopes for Vincent D'Onofrio in "Sherlock: Case of Evil", but he disappointed me as Moriarty with his rather cardboard-like performance.

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Malcolm McDowell, perhaps best known for his role as Alex DeLarge in Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange", followed in Vincent Price's footsteps and gave voice to an animated version of the villain in "Tom and Jerry meet Sherlock Holmes".

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Andrew Scott is a modern-day super villain in "Sherlock".       He plays a rather cruel game with Benedict Cumberbatch's Holmes.

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I can imagine many were looking forward to Brad Pitt as Moriarty in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows".
But I am thrilled that instead Jared Harris plays Moriarty opposite Robert Downey Jr.

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Charles Augustus Milverton

Charles Augustus Milverton, also known as the Master Blackmailer, is another great villain. His cold, business-like attitude towards his blackmail victims evokes revulsion even in the often stoic Sherlock Holmes.

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Barry Jones played the reptilian-like villain opposed Douglas Wilmer.

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Robert Hardy brought the character everyone loves to hate to life in the Granada adaptation with Jeremy Brett as Holmes.

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Baron Gruner

Baron Adalbert Gruner shows no pity. First he murders his wife. Then he poisons the only witness of the deed. Then he wants to marry the daughter of a colonel. When Holmes begins his investigation, the Baron hires some thugs to beat up the detective. But in the end, this villain reaps the rewards he deserves.

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Peter Wyngarde was graceful as a ballet dancer opposite Douglas Wilmer's Holmes.

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Anthony Valentine delivered a very realistic Austrian accent in his verbal duel with Jeremy Brett.

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Culverton Smith

Culverton Smith is a planter from Sumatra. He also kills his nephew with an exotic poison.
Holmes's charade of the dying detective brings Smith to Baker Street. There Watson has to listen to Smith's vile speech while believing that his best friend is dying.

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Jonathan Hyde delivered a truly mesmerizing performance as the haughty villain opposite Jeremy Brett.

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Dr Grimesby Roylott

You might say his name is his motto. This villain murders his stepdaughter for her inheritance. He prefers a cheetah and a bamboo as pets. He has a vile temper and he also threatens Holmes with a poker.

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Lyn Harding's performance in "The Speckeled Band" with Raymond Massey as Holmes bordered on the maniacal and was slightly over the top.

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Felix Felton delivered a more natural characterisation opposite Douglas Wilmer in the 1960's BBC series.

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Jeremy Kemp is my favourite villainous doctor in this role.     He threatened Jeremy Brett with a poker.

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Irene Adler

Yes, I also count Irene Adler as a villain. Or I rather shall call her an opponent. Her claim to fame is that she is the only woman to ever have duped Sherlock Holmes.

And despite some inappropriate interpretations in several movies:
I'm very sorry to disappoint you, but Sherlock Holmes is definitely NOT in love with The Woman.

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The versatile actress Charlotte Rampling became the mezzosoprano in "Sherlock Holmes in New York”.

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Gayle Hunnicutt enchanted Jeremy Brett's Holmes in the Granada series as the intelligent blackmailer.

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Anne Baxter met Peter Cushing's elder Holmes in "The Masks of Death" for a not very happy reunion.

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Morgan Fairchild was Christopher Lee's leading lady.

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Liliana Komorowska caused Matt Frewer's Sherlock Holmes some rather painful memories.

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Anna Chancellor delivered an unusually cruel interpretation of Irene Adler in "Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars". She deserves the honourable title of villain.

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Rachel McAdams shows us a rather feisty Irene Adler in "Sherlock Holmes" and in "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows".

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Jephro Rucastle

His sunny disposition is just a smokescreen.
In truth Jephro Rucastle is one of the most cunning villains in the whole Sherlock Holmes universe.
His greed lets him hold his own daughter a prisoner so she can’t marry the man she loves and take the money with her.

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Patrick Wymark gave a steady performance opposite Douglas Wilmer.

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Joss Ackland is the most impressive Jephro Rucastle I have seen so far. He was all smiles and teeth and rather reminds one of the Cheshire Cat.
It's no wonder his behaviour raised Natasha Richardson's hackles so that she sought Jeremy Brett's advice in the Granada series.

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Jack Stapleton

Jack Stapleton is the villain from the most famous Sherlock Holmes story, "The Hound of the Baskervilles".
He brings the legend of a hell hound come to haunt the Baskervilles to life in order to get the money.

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Morton Lowry starred as the greedy foe in Basil Rathbone's first adventure as Sherlock Holmes in 1939.

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Ewen Solon played Stapleton in the first coloured version of the Hound in 1959's Hammer Film.

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Even Captain Kirk tried this rather unusual role. William Shatner opposed Stewart Granger's Holmes in the 1972 film.

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Denholm Elliot offered his talents for a comedic take on the tale with Peter Cook as Holmes.
Elliot later starred as Dr. Mortimer in the adaptation with Ian Richardson as the detective.

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Oleg Yankovski played Stapleton in the Russian adaptation opposite Vasily Livanov.

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Christopher Ravenscroft opposed Tom Baker's Holmes in the rather satirical version of the Hound in a 1982 TV mini series.

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Nicholas Clay delivered a great performance and antagonised Ian Richardson's Holmes.

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Some years later, James Faulkner did the same for Jeremy Brett in the Granada series.

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Robin Wilcock easily outshined everyone else in an otherwise rather miserable version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". He is the best actor in this movie with Matt Frewer as Holmes produced for Canadian television broadcaster, CTV.

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The highly talented Richard E. Grant played the ultimate villain in the 2002 version for the BBC.
His Stapleton is cold, cruel and extremely cunning. A perfect performance.
Previously Grant had played Mycroft Holmes as well as a man who believes himself to be the detective.

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Original Villains

Some Sherlock Holmes movies (mostly in the Basil Rathbone series) introduce us to new and original villains. These deserve to be mentioned as well.

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Reginald Denny played the traitorous Sir Evan Barham in "The Voice of Terror".

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After having played Professor Moriarty in "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", George Zucco returned as Antiques dealer Richard Stanley, also known as German spy Heinrich Hinckel, in
"Sherlock Holmes in Washington".

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Gale Sondergaard played the femme fatale Adrea Spedding in "The Spider Woman".

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Gerald Hamer played his triple part extremely well in "The Scarlet Claw".

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Miles Mander played thief Giles Conover in "The Pearl of Death". 

Rondo Hatton as "The Oxton Creeper" has become widely known for this part.

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Frederick Worlock played the ruthless Colonel Cavanaugh in "Dressed to Kill".

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Mark Strong delievered a chilling performance as Lord Blackwood in the first "Sherlock Holmes" movie directed by Guy Ritchie.

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