Once More Unto the Breach

I'm probably not far wrong if I claim that Henry V is Laurence Olivier's best Shakespeare movie.

It was made in 1944, during the war, so there is a definite patriotic tendencity in the offing, not surprisingly. But there is very little pathos and the patriotism seems somehow wholesome and clean spirited.

The movie is set up as a play at the Globe, that great wooden O, played by the Lord Chamberlain’s Men on the first of May 1600. First there is some magnificent William Walton, as English music as you can get, then the camera majestically sweeps the Elizabethan London (a rather good scale model, actually) with its trees, thatched roofs, chimneys sprouting smoke, and the bluer than blue Thames leisurely making its way through the city. The camera zooms in on the Globe. The flag is just being raised so we know there’s about to be a performance; our play – Henry V. Then we get a tour round the Globe and see the musicians, staff, the genteel audience sitting along the walls of the theatre and the groundlings bustling and prattling in front of the stage: it’s all delightfully unceremonious and unspectacular. A boy with a sign appears on the stage. The sign "The Chronicle History of Henry the Fift with his battell fought at Agin Court in France". The audience starts to settle down. Then the chorus, played by Leslie Banks (who for me always is and will be the supremely evil count Zaroff in The Most Dangerous Game) struts out and starts declaiming. Everything is still very casual with members of the audience actually sitting on the stage, right beside the actors and the action.

O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt –

Then a cunning cinematic trick, the chorus approaches the camera and directs his words directly to the film audience:

On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth;
For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

The camera pulls back and the boy with the sign reappears. Now we’re in King Harry’s antechamber and the play proper begins with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Ely scheming to protect the riches of the church. After the scene we follow the actors backstage for a quick and dizzy glimpse of the what goes on behind the scenes. The King makes his appearance. Usually this scene – Henry’s justification for going to war against France – is extremely boring, now it’s played for laughs with almost slapstick humour. This is in fact quite curious and bold: this is after all a wartime movie about an important English war. The attempts to justify war are downright ridiculed and mocked. The lack of pathos seems absolutely refreshing.

The scene shifts to the street in front of the Boar’s Head – that merry and familiar stomping ground of dear old Falstaff – as it starts raining and the groundlings seek cover as the actors just get drenched. Robert Newton, as is his wont, does an excellent Ancient Pistol: mellifluous and bombastic and with the gravitas of a sort of comedic James Mason. This is the death scene of Sir John Falstaff. In the play he never appears and is only mentioned by others: he’s been cut out of the play as he’s been cut out of the King’s life.

In the movie Falstaff does get screen time, as is only right and proper, and his death scene is shown, echoing lines from his last meeting, with prince Hal in the second part of Henry IV. This Falstaff is just an old man, a reed, bereft of life and devoid of wit. He’s still breathing but already dead. He’s a hollow shell. It’s all profoundly tragic. They say he cried out of sack.

Then it’s off to France and the dreamy and more than slightly decadent French court. The scenes are no longer played on the stage of the Globe, they’re abstract but still clearly studio scenes with their painted artificiality and deliberately cardboardy settings – a typical contemporary theatrical stage setting, in fact. The shots and scenes become increasingly realistic when the battle commences, but there are still definite artificial elements. It looks almost as if the scenes were shot outdoors, until one sees the painted backdrop. And then the rocks no longer look that natural. But maybe it is an outdoor shot, and the backdrop is there to conceal it?

Olivier delivers his speeches magnificently, stirring both his men and the audience into a frenzy. The mood has definitely shifted. No longer are we served crude but amusing slapstick.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

And then, of course, the mood changes back we get more slapstick with Nym, Pistol and Bardolph, and the humorous squabbles of Fluellen, Macmorris and Jamy. But now there is a strong undercurrent of seriousness, a tangible core of do or die. This piece isn’t about a war that was fought centuries ago, it’s about the war that is being fought right now. The scene in which Harry roams the nocturnal camp incognito and discusses the war with his more humble subjects at a fire may be the finest in the picture.

The English are severely outnumbered. It should be but a light feat for the French to wipe them out. But: the French may have the numbers – the English have Harry.

When it’s time for the big battle the scene shifts yet again and now we really are outdoors, under a very clear and blue sky, the scene becomes realistic – and we get the glorious, riveting St Crispin Day speech:

If we are mark'd to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God's will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires:
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England:
God's peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more, methinks, would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made
And crowns for convoy put into his purse:
We would not die in that man's company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. Of course this is insanity, but very noble, beautiful and inspired insanity.

The battle scene isn’t half bad: lots of horses, lots of archers. When the archers let off their arrows in a black cloud of death one almost feels sorry for the French knights. Then pretty soon it’s all chaos.

After the battle we again return to the more theatrical and artificial settings in the court of France where Harry woos and wins the fair French princess Katharine. Then we’re back at the Globe for Harry’s nuptials (with Kate as a boy, obviously). The chorus concludes the play.

Thus far, with rough and all-unable pen,
Our bending author hath pursued the story,
In little room confining mighty men,
Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world's best garden be achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord.
Henry the Sixth, in infant bands crown'd King
Of France and England, did this king succeed;
Whose state so many had the managing,
That they lost France and made his England bleed:
Which oft our stage hath shown; and, for their sake,
In your fair minds let this acceptance take.

We zoom out of the Globe, through London, back into the skies, and encounter the credits accompanied by ripping choral music by Walton.

Olivier’s Henry V may well be patriotic war time propaganda – but first and foremost it’s art. Just like Shakespeare’s play.

Branagh's Henry V ain't bad, it's his best Shakespeare film by far, but Olivier's is better.


När han vaknar

Petri Salin:
När han vaknar

När Sherlock dör första gången dör han inte. När Sherlock dör första gången blir han odödlig. Han besöker dödsriket, blir smord, blir en halvgud.

När Sherlock dör andra gången dör han inte. Han bara försvinner. Han lämnar efter sig allt. Hans lägenhet är som den alltid var, ostörd, orörd, alla hans ägodelar på sin plats. Hans pipa, hans pistol, hans tobaksfyllda toffel, hans violin, hans plagg. Hans förstoringsglas. Allt väntar på honom, allt bara väntar på hans återvändo.

När Sherlock dör andra gången slumrar han, dold för världen, och vi vet att en dag skall han återvända.

När han vaknar.

(Reichenbachin jälkeen)

Quick, Watson - to the Cinny!

Pursuit to Algiers (1945) is the twelfth entry in the Rathbone-Bruce series and a pretty weak one at that. Not entirely without interest, however.

The script is based on a throwaway line in The Norwood Builder. Well, based is perhaps too strongly put.

"At the time of which I speak, Holmes had been back for some months, and I, at his request, had sold my practice and returned to share the old quarters in Baker Street. A young doctor, named Verner, had purchased my small Kensington practice, and given with astonishingly little demur the highest price that I ventured to ask - an incident which only explained itself some years later when I found that Verner was a distant relation of Holmes's, and that it was my friend who had really found the money. Our months of partnership had not been so uneventful as he had stated, for I find, on looking over my notes, that this period includes the case of the papers of ex-President Murillo, and also the shocking affair of the Dutch steamship Friesland, which so nearly cost us both our lives. His cold and proud nature was always averse, however, to anything in the shape of public applause, and he bound me in the most stringent terms to say no further word of himself, his methods, or his successes - a prohibition which, as I have explained, has only now been removed."

Holmes and Watson are about to go on their hols. But of course duty calls, the kingdom of Rovinia needs Holmes desperately. The king has been assassinated and now Holmes must see to it that the young prince, who has been abroad studying, doesn't meet the same fate but gets safely home. Holmes and the prince take an areoplane and leave the sulking Watson, as stupid as ever or maybe even more so, to make his trip on board the Dutch steamship Friesland.

Friesland seems absolutely brimming with shady characters. Some of the passengers just lurk in their staterooms. On the radio Watson hears a shocking piece of news: the plane Holmes and the prince were in has crashed. No survivors.

But, turns out that Holmes and the prince have been aboard the ship all along and the aeroplane was simply a ruse. And obviously the assassins too are on the ship, ready to pounce.

At the dinner table Watson recounts the strange adventure of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. And of course the camera zooms away and only returns for his very last words. Better that way. At least in this movie.

Really the most interesting thing about the movie is the trio of assassins - Mirko, Gregor and Jodri - who bring life to the otherwise trite movie. Two of them seem to have escaped from The Maltese Falcon: Mirko is a rather clumsy but amusing Joel Cairo and Gregor is an inflatory and less witty and scathing Gutman. But as assassins they are quite hopeless. It doesn't take a Sherlock Holmes to beat these chaps.

Of course the villains still get the upper hand, even if they are hopeless, and they kidnap the prince. But it's all right, the prince isn't the prince at all but a dummy. The real prince has been masquerading all along as a steward. Rah-rah. Case solved. Oh and Holmes also stumbles upon some very valuable jewels with no connection to anything at all that only recently have been stolen in London. The end.

Oh dear. One has to ask: what the devil has any of this to do with Sherlock Holmes? The mind boggles at this remarkable stupidity. Really, Rathbone, you ought to be ashamed of your participation in this unadulturated idiocy.

Young Sherlock Holmes (1986) didn't please me much when first I saw it almost a quarter of a century ago. Now I saw it for the third time and found it surprisingly pleasant. It is a quality production: the acting is fine, the settings work, the plot is not bad at all. It seems like a cross between Harry Potter and Young Indiana Jones: good humoured and quite clever.

This time, to my surprise, I immensely enjoyed the movie. It was exciting, funny, and a bit sad. Anthony Higgins makes a splendid villain and one can't get a better narrator than Ralph Richardson. Even if he is a bit schmalzy.

I do, however, still have reservations about the script. Great reservations. It's simply to pat. At one stroke, literally, the boy Holmes meets Watson, Lestrade and acquires his deerstalker, Inverness cape and his briar - and becomes immune to women. All the cliché trademarks. And his teacher Rathe turns out to be Moriarty really.

This last detail escaped me previously as it comes after the credits. So I'd never seen it. Can't say that I'm too impressed. Far too pat. It just won't do to explain away simply everything.

But the movie is great fun and worth a dozen Rathbone films.

Metropolis Re-visited

The curious and quite interesting thing about Fritz Lang's Metropolis is this: every time one sees it it's quite different. Literally. Well, at least for me.

Partly this has to do with the music. With silent movies music plays an incredibly big part. Every time the score is different, so is the movie. An interesting way to test how much music really does mean to the silent movie is to watch the movie with no music whatsoever. Usually the movie becomes quite unwatchable. It simply makes no sense whatsoever.

I don't know how many times I've seen Metropolis but every time I have seen it does have a different score. Sometimes contemporary, sometimes ghastly rock by the extremely ghastly band Queen or horrible Ennio Morricone (spoiling it all pretty thoroughly).

But also it is different. They keep cutting it. And sometimes they even find new footage - meaning of course old footage restored. So I probably haven't seen two versions with quite the same footage.

This makes one's experience of the movie eternally variable, constantly different. At times the score makes the movie unbearable, at other times the cuts make the plot well nigh unintelligible.

Originally Metropolis was 153 minutes long, so most of the versions I've seen have been severely butchered. Most? All of them.

The longest version I've seen is probably the 2 hour restored version by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung from 2001. It's also the most true one. They've tried to restore all the scenes and where scenes are missing they indicate what happens in them. Another thing: they use the original musical score of the 1927 premiere.

This version makes most sense by far of all the versions I've seen of the movie. In the other versions the motives of several key players have always been, well, shall we say odd. Here things seem more logical, the plot more even. Especially the plot lines with Josaphat and The Thin Man have been cut severely, almost entirely, in all other versions. Here there is much more motivation and explanation. The plot lines are there for a reason.

Rotwang's central, not to say crucial, character is also more fully explored. Now the destruction of the city seems to be quite logical.

Metropolis needs to be a long movie. It is science fiction, but it is also and essentially a parable, a biblical tale, and moves with a majestically slow pace. It isn't a fast and modern psychological drama - far from it. So every cut dimishes its power and majesticity.

There's still a good half hour missing, vanished, so we'll never be able to see it as it was meant to be seen.

Unless there's a miracle. Such as there was with the earlier Lang film Vier um die Frau. This movie was lost for the longest time, until it recently was re-discovered in South America.

Miracles do happen.

(Oh good lord - when I check the web I find that an even longer version has been found in Buenos Aires in June 2007 with an additional 25 minutes of original footage - thus making it an almost complete version of the 1927 premier. Good show!)


Elementary, My Dear W!

"Elementary, my dear Watson." The quote of quotes. Holmes's signature tune. The one Sherlockian catchphrase everybody knows. The one thing Holmes always, always, says. It's a standard. Only thing is, Holmes never said it in the Canon. Doyle never wrote it.

This, by now, is common knowledge. So the question is: who
did say it? And when and where, exactly?

There are instances in the Canon where it's almost said. In The Crooked Man Holmes comes awfully close. He says "
elementary" but fails to add the mandatory tag of "my dear Watson."

"I see that you are professionally rather busy just now," said he, glancing very keenly across at me.

"Yes, I've had a busy day," I answered.
"It may seem very foolish in your eyes," I added, "but really I don't know how you deduced it.
Holmes chuckled to himself."I have the advantage of knowing your habits, my dear Watson," said he. "When your round is a short one you walk, and when it is a long one you use a hansom. As I perceive that your boots, although used, are by no means dirty, I cannot doubt that you are at present busy enough to justify the hansom."
"Excellent!" I cried.
"Elementary," said he.

Wisteria Lodge we get this bit of dialogue:

"But what was he to witness?"

"Nothing, as things turned out, but everything had they gone another way. That is how I read the matter."
"I see, he might have proved an alibi."
"Exactly, my dear Watson; he might have proved an alibi. (. . . )"

Which, one has to admit, while not exactly it, is still almost in the vicinity.

Elementatry is used in seven Canonical stories: the novels A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles, and the short stories A Case of Identity, Wisteria Lodge, The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax, The Blanched Soldier and of course the aforementioned The Crooked Man.

First time "Elementary, my dear Watson" actually was uttered was on the silver screen, by Clive Brook in the first Holmes talkie
Sherlock Holmes, based on Gillette's famous play, in 1929. It stuck.

However, in
The Films of Sherlock Holmes the authors Steinbrunner and Michaels make no mention of Brook's Holmes coining the infamous phrase. But they do offer us this little gem of immortal dialogue when Holmes hears of Moriarty's prison sentence:

HOLMES: The only man to use scientific methods as I use them . . . A marvelous man. And now he's gone.
ALICE: And we shall soon be going. You haven't forgotten your promise?
HOLMES: Forgotten? Lock up the laboratory, Watson. Unload my pistols.
WATSON: Yes, my dear Holmes. But
where are you going?
HOLMES: I'm ashamed of you, Watson, after all these years. Where are your powers of deduction. A beautiful girl . . .

ALICE: An impetuous lover . . .
HOLMES: A menace removed . . .
ALICE: What can follow but wedding bells!
HOLMES: We're off to apply for a special license!
ALICE: Sherlock Holmes and wife, farmers!
HOLMES: Sherlock Holmes - new laid eggs for sale!
WATSON: Incredible, my dear Holmes! Amazing!
HOLMES: Elementary.

Other sources give the last line as
"Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary."

absolutely no idea if the phrase actually does occur in the movie as it's one of the Holmes films I've never seen. The common census seems to be that it does occur. Fair enough.

In Gillette's play, the basis for Brook's movie, we have:
"Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow." Almost. But not quite. Forgot the "Watson", old fellow.

So. Where does the infamous phrase first appear?
In writing, I mean. Never mind the talkies.

The answer might be slightly surprising. The word on the street is: it first appears in a 1915 novel. The text itself was written and serialised a few years in a magazine called The Captain as early as 1909-10 by a future master of English prose. The book is something of a turning point in his career. Previously he'd written mostly stories for boys, humorous school stories, now he's reaching out for a larger and more adult audience. The book features his earliest big character and one of his juiciest. Don't ring a bell? I'm not surprised.

The author: the future knight of the realm Sir Pelham, but then still only plain old P.G. Wodehouse. The novel: Psmith Journalist.

Psmith Journalist
is one of those early Wodehouse novels where he doesn't have his ducks in a row, not quite yet. It's very funny, for the most part, but it's also an occasionally uneasy mix with melodrama, social commentary and gritty crime - all in a jolly jumble. Later Wodehouse would learn to purge his material and purify his humour. The over-all result here is slightly heavy and patchy.

Psmith follows his trusted friend Mike to America on the latters cricketing tour. Not having much anything to do with his time he appoints himself sub-editor of a magazine for children, Cosy Moments, and forthwith transforms the magazine. Into what? Well obviously, at least to the inimitable Psmith, to a socially conscious fighting unit with the sole purpose of bettering the living conditions of the unfortunate inhabitants of a certain slum-like tenement in New York.

The really interesting thing is how Wodehouse incorporates the infamous gangs of New York into his story. One of the key players in the story is Bat Jarvis, who closely resembles that nasty purveyor of iniquity Monk Eastman (of whom Borges writes in his book A Universal History of Infamy and Herbert Asbury in his Gangs of New York). Eastman was a particularly vicious gang leader whose gang was so large that it split into warring factions when he was in jail so that he had to form a new one. Another noteworthy thing about Eastman (and also Jarvis) is that he owned a pet shop and had an amazing fondness for cats. I wonder if the tendency of villains to stroke cats in a menacing way - Ernst Stavro Blofeld! - originates from Eastman?

The gangs of New York and the social injustice and misery of tenements is not the most happy material for Wodehouse. It's too real. It simply isn't funny. Therefore the book only works in parts. The realism is too real and causes anxiety. The tenements are not funny. Real gangsters and real killings aren't funny. Even if Psmith is there to bring light comic relief.

Anyway, Sherlock Holmes is much mentioned in the book as Psmith fancies himself something of a successor of the famous detective. And frequently uses his "Sherlock Holmes method" to deduce things.

Sherlock Holmes always was a big influence on Wodehouse, much bigger than most people seem to realise. Jeeves and Wooster. Holmes and Watson. The analogy is clear and fully intended. The stories follow the mechanism of the Holmes stories with amazing accuracy. We have Jeeves as the solver of intricate and seemingly impossible puzzles, quizzical quandries and other dashed difficult cases involving aunts and overly eager fiancées, and Wooster acting as his trusted and utterly baffled chronicler. Even the names echo their roles. Wooster - Watson. Jeeves - Holmes. Only that funnily enough Wooster believes himself to be the Holmes character. Well mostly.

Elementary, my dear Wooster.

I think it's quite possible that Wodehouse really learned how to be Wodehouse when he found a way to do humorous Sherlock Holmes stories. That gave his humour much needed solid structure and liberated new dimensions of comedy.

But, hang on.

Upon re-reading Psmith I find that the word on the street is wrong. The Internet is wrong. Wikipedia is wrong. The phrase does not occur in the book, well at least not in my 1979 Penguin edition.

Right. Doyle didn't coin it. Wodehouse didn't coin it.

So, whence then does it hail?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Post scriptum:

There's me with egg on my face. Occured to me to check it out electronically. Google Books and a couple of other sites had the whole book in electronic form. So I had a look, and sure enough, this is what I found in chapter 19 of
Psmith Journalist:

"I fancy," said Psmith, "that this is one of those moments when itis necessary for me to unlimber my Sherlock Holmes system. As thus.If the rent collector had been here, it is certain, I think, that Comrade Spaghetti, or whatever you said his name was, wouldn't have been. That is to say, if the rent collector had called and found no money waiting for him, surely Comrade Spaghetti would have been out in the cold night instead of under his own roof-tree. Do you follow me, Comrade Maloney?"
"That's right," said Billy Windsor. "Of course."
"Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary," murmured Psmith.

Bugger. It was there, all the time it was there, and I missed it. Wodehouse did coin the phrase after all. Oh dear. Can't even read any longer.