Greetings, and welcome to VIEWING THE CLASSICS. Here you'll find capsule reviews of vintage movies from the early days of cinema through the 1970s, with a special emphasis on sci-fi, horror, and mystery movies. Be sure to check out the Pages links, where you can find a Film Index of all my reviews, links to the reviews organized by cast members, directors, and other contributors, and links to my reviews of the films of talented young director Joshua Kennedy.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Return Of Sherlock Holmes (2016)

Starring Joshua Kennedy, Bessie Nellis, Jonathan Danziger, Amy Zilliax, Jake Williams
Directed by Joshua Kennedy
(actor & director credits courtesy

After surviving his apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes reunites with Doctor Watson and they investigate the mysterious theft and destruction of several busts of Napoleon.

A few years ago, after I had discovered the films of Joshua Kennedy and been greatly entertained by them, I contacted Josh, expressing my admiration and suggested he make a Sherlock Holmes film, impressed by his distinctive voice and strong vocal delivery.  The result of that message was the beginning of our friendship and the film I suggested did indeed come into being, but he and his cast and collaborators deserve all the credit.

After having watched a number of the films Kennedy made during his education at Pace University in New York City, it had not been surprising, with his limited budget and access, to be easily able to recognize university buildings and facilities in the backgrounds of the scenes he shot.  He couldn't rent a real airplane to film Airline '79, nor did he have access to an actual hospital in The Vesuvius Xperiment, nor was he able to construct futuristic sets for Slave Girls On The Moon.  Of course none of that was greatly significant because the strength of his narratives easily made us look past those backgrounds and not focus on them, and Kennedy sidestepped that issue by setting the locales of Dracula A.D. 2015 and The Night Of Medusa on Pace's campus.  However, in this film, he had to recreate the look of period London and thanks to strong location scouting and tightly composited shots, he succeeds, while still filming within the same vicinity of Pace's campus.  There's no background that doesn't look like it couldn't have existed in Victorian London, from streets filled with vintage architecture to a fine recreation of Holmes' lodgings filled with shelves of books and convincing period furniture.  Even a grassy knoll standing in for Reichenbach's environs fits in well.

Kennedy's cast again consists of youthful friends and classmates, but is able to add several more experienced faces to bring credibility to the tale.  Jonathan Danziger is a friendly but doubtful Inspector Lestrade, Michael Rosenfeld and Kennedy's father Gus distinguished gentlemen who own some of the Napoleon busts, and Amy Zilliax is a hoot as the eager to please Mrs. Hudson.  Author Will McKinley makes a dastardly Colonel Sebastian Moran, Mark Holmes has a delightfully wicked grimace as one of the film's other villains, and professional actor Mark Redfield is welcome as the infamous Professor Moriarty in a brief but worthwhile cameo.

The youthful faces however bring weight to their own roles as well as fairly good British accents, enlivening their characters with memorable quirks like those distinctively described in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's original stories.  Jake Williams entertains as a very genial shopkeeper, Traci Thomas is memorable as a journalist who also operates a brothel, and Jorge Chapa brings the jovial but not easily impressed manufacturer of the busts to life.

As Sherlock Holmes, Kennedy is everything I pictured when I suggested he'd be a natural as the great detective.  Playing him as energetic and egocentric, his Holmes is great fun to watch, with a glib tongue and an excited manner when plunging into his latest case.  Bessie Nellis, so good in Dracula A.D. 2015 as the Pace teacher who reincarnates the evil Count, is a female Doctor Watson, lovely but cool and logical, making her value to Holmes clearly evident.  Wearing a pair of spectacles with enlarging lenses she slips into place to examine clues and medical matters, and delivering her dialogue in a measured and cultured voice, she's wonderful as the yin to Kennedy's yang.

 The film's screenplay by Kennedy (with additional dialogue provided by Nellis), incorporates adaptations of two Holmes tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure Of The Empty House and The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons, authentically recreating those stories, while inserting a few other elements to add color to the narrative.  Hayden Dabbs' cinematography provides bright hues and well-lit backgrounds, while Kennedy again concocts a memorable soundtrack from some unidentified orchestral sources.

Classic film references are always to be found in a Joshua Kennedy film, with moments from The Hound Of The Baskervilles, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, and Journey To The Center Of The Earth making it into this one, along with probably several more I didn't catch at first, but will on subsequent viewings.  This film, despite its familiar stories and iconic characters, is distinctive thanks to Kennedy's youthful exuberance, Nellis' refined Watson, and its imaginative capturing of a time long ago and a place far away.

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