Friday, October 12, 2007

OTR: Sherlock Holmes with Tom Conway & Nigel Bruce

When Basil Rathbone left the role of Holmes for the New York stage, actor Tom Conway stepped in as replacement. Apparently some people didn’t even realize that Rathbone was gone as many felt that Conway’s voice was so similar. Personally, when you hear Conway as Holmes immediately after listening to the Rathbone episode you notice the difference, but after hearing several shows you see he does capture Rathbone’s style. It also helps that Nigel Bruce continued as Dr. Watson so there was a sense of continuity that might not have been there with two totally different actors.

Conway was already known to the American public as The Falcon, a role he assumed from his brother, George Sanders. Sanders had left that series to take up the part of Simon Templar (The Saint) for another series of films, and perhaps not so coincidentally later Conway played the role of Templar for radio. ( I mentioned some of this earlier when reviewing The Saint OTR collection featuring Vincent Price, Conway’s predecessor as radio’s Templar.) Both the Falcon and Templar were very similar characters, though The Saint was far better known originating in a series of novels and short stories by Leslie Charteris.

Lead writer Edith Meiser and others continued to both create new stories for the characters and do adaptations of Doyle’s original tales. Several times Meiser & Co. would even bring back Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, but not frequently enough that he wore out his welcome. The major problem I had with the writers on the show was that they continued the habit of making Watson seem more a bumbler than the able assistant that he was in Sir Arthur’s books. This seems to have begun with how Nigel Bruce portrayed the good doctor in the films, so the radio scripters simply went with how the public seemed to perceive him.

During the season that Conway played SH, the program did several adaptations including “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” and one of my favorites “The Red-Headed League.” Getting the story along with the intros and commercials into a thirty-minute problem made it necessary for Meiser and her co-writers to pick and choose scenes when adapting from Doyle’s works, but I must say that most come across well enough.

At the end of the ’46-’47 season, it was decided that the cost of producing the series in Hollywood, so that Conway and Bruce could continue with their film work, was becoming prohibitive. When the show returned in the fall of that year, the production had moved back to New York studios and two different actors took up residence at 221-B Baker Street. More on that next time out.
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