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So out of some 200 movies, whos your favorite Sherlock Holmes?
Basil Rathbone in his first outing as Sherlock Holmes, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1939). Rathbone went on to play the role in 13 more films. - photo by Chris Hicks
Two current TV series based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes stories PBSs Sherlock and CBSs Elementary have placed the worlds greatest detective squarely in the 21st century, complete with cellphones and texting. And both programs are quite popular, each casting a long shadow.

So just when you might have thought it would be impossible to come up with a unique spin on the character, along comes the wonderfully inventive Mr. Holmes.

This is not your grandmothers Sherlock or perhaps it is, since hes 93 years old and perfectly willing to debunk everyones preconceptions, from the deerstalker cap to the calabash pipe to his amazing deductive reasoning. He explains it all away as an embellishment of Dr. Watson.

Ian McKellen is best known as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films or, if you prefer Marvel to Tolkien, as Magneto in the X-Men movies.

But he makes Holmes his own, even as he plays him older, altering the pitch of his voice and the gait of his walk to convincingly add 18 years to his own age (McKellen was 75 when he made the film).

Mr. Holmes is set in 1947, and the aging detective has sequestered himself from the world, keeping bees in the countryside while his war-widow housekeeper (Laura Linney) and her young son (Milo Parker) see to his day-to-day needs.

He spends a lot of time trying to put his last case which drove him to retirement down on paper so he can correct what was written by his investigative partner and chronicler, the late Dr. Watson. This was a real case, but it seems that Watson changed the ending.

Unfortunately, Holmes memory is failing and hes having trouble conjuring up the details, including that real resolution.

Mr. Holmes is rated PG (a novelty all by itself) and is a wonderful little gem that has been out for three weeks and may easily be lost among the summer blockbusters that have invaded the local multiplexes. But you should seek it out.

And this is coming from someone who isnt afraid to admit that my Sherlock Holmes, the one for my generation, is still and will always be ahem Basil Rathbone.

Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller may well be scratching their heads and asking, Whos Basil Rathbone?

You might just as well ask, Whos Jeremy Brett? (Wikipedia and Netflix await your perusal.)

The simple answer is that Rathbone was an early 20th century character actor and expert swordsman quickly typecast by Hollywood as its go-to bad guy, especially in florid swashbucklers.

Before Holmes lent Rathbone a rarefied place in the canon of Hollywoods Golden Age, the actor had earned two Oscar nominations and was gaining fame as a suave, sophisticated villain in such period dramas and action adventures as David Copperfield (1935), Anna Karenina (1935), The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) and Captain Blood (1935).

And in 1938, Rathbones stock received a major jolt when he played Sir Guy of Gisbourne opposite frequent co-star Errol Flynn in the classic film The Adventures of Robin Hood (which Rathbone later spoofed in Danny Kayes best picture, the 1956 musical-comedy The Court Jester).

Rathbone continued to play memorable characters of questionable morals in Son of Frankenstein (1939), The Mark of Zorro (1940) and many others. But it was during this period that he was also rather unexpectedly cast as one of fictions most famous heroes in two classic films produced by 20th Century Fox, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both set in Victorian England with lavish production values and both released in 1939.

After those productions, however, Fox dropped the option for more Holmes films, so Universal Pictures picked it up and made 12 more from 1942-46, all starring Rathbone. But, in order to make them on the cheap, the studio shifted the action to contemporary England.

And since it was at the outset of World War II, Holmes fought Nazis in the first three. (Rathbone also concurrently starred as Holmes in 220 episodes of a radio series.)

Although Rathbone made his final Holmes film two years before I was born, I saw the entire franchise on television in the 1950s and 60s, which led to reading all of the novels and short stories. As I hadnt seen anyone else in the role, I pictured Rathbone as I read.

As it happens, however, Guinness World Records claims Holmes as the most portrayed movie character of all time, with more than 70 actors filling the part in more than 200 films. (And thats not counting radio and television portrayals.)

I cant pretend to have seen even half of those movies, but I have seen a lot of them. And I have quite a few favorites.

Peter Cushing is stoic and appealing as Holmes in the thrilling 1959 horror-style Hound of the Baskervilles.

Nicol Williamson is a more complicated figure in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976), in which he meets up with Sigmund Freud.

Christopher Plummer is a charming Holmes in Murder By Decree (1979), as he pursues Jack the Ripper.

And Michael Caine is hilarious as an actor impersonating Holmes in Without a Clue (1988).

And there are many more enjoyable films that are well worth seeking out some of which are adaptations of Doyle stories, while others are original screenplays or based on more recent novels.

There are also plenty of regrettable adaptations or reinterpretations about which the less said the better with the drab, fidgety Robert Downey Jr. versions heading the list.

But Rathbone ah, Basil Rathbone. He inhabits the role of Holmes so well especially in the Fox films that its impossible to deny his place as the character in movie history.

Today, some might find Rathbones Holmes to be somewhat mannered and stiff. But he seems perfectly suited to the character in my view.

And Im not blind to the films faults. Certainly the 12 Universal films are superficial Hollywood concoctions, sometimes dealing in World War II propaganda, often ending on a flag-waving note. And as Watson, Nigel Bruce was dithery and dopey, quite the opposite of the secondary character of Doyles wonderful stories.

But they all have their charms, aided by the black-and-white cinematography, which seems to suit Sherlock Holmes on the screen, and Rathbones sterling performances, no matter how perfunctory the scripts.

Theyre all out there on DVD and streaming sites. But if you cant make yourself take a flyer on any of the Rathbones, do yourself a favor and get to Mr. Holmes while its still in theaters.

Whether or not you are a Sherlock aficionado, youll find the film charming and most entertaining.

And I can almost see Ian McKellen as an aged Basil Rathbone in the role.