Friday, 5 December 2014

THE FINAL BOW: ROY WARD BAKER ON 'THE MASKS OF DEATH' CUSHING'S LAST SHERLOCK


Wonderful! Sherlock Holmes was to manifest himself once more. The producer, Kevin Francis, had conjured him up and this was to be a film by Holmes buffs, for Holmes buffs. Based on a story by John Elder (the pen name of Hammer films Anthony Hinds), the script by NJ Crips was packed with in-jokes. It also had a number of twists on the traditional style: Holmes is no longer infallible and makes several mistakes, which he admits; Irene Adler reappears, in the person of Anne Baxter, but this time she is a goodie.


Over recent years there have been several versions of the Sherlock saga, plus pitches, new stories, etcetera, etcetera, some very faniciful indeed. Peter Cushing, Sir John Mills and I met for a discussion of the relationship between Holmes and watson. Not surprisngly, we were all of one mind: we had re-read the books and out opinions were based on what we had read.


They were both bachelors of a certain social status. They were both looking for a modest and comforatble set of rooms in a respectable area not too far from the centre of london. They each had a small income which wouldn't run to a suitable place, but if they shared the expenses they would be able to rent such a set, together with a housekeeper, They scrupulously respected each other's territory, using the sitting room as a common ground. It was an exclusively male existance and they became fast friends. In the course of adventures they came to depend on each other. Contrary to the speculations of some latter-day commentators, they were never envinced the slightest in homosexuality. The period of 'The Adventures...' runs from 1881 to 1903, the present story 'The Masks of Death' is set in 1913, with Holmes being dragged out of retirement.


Peter Cushing was one of the best of many actors who played Sherlock Holmes. This was his seventeeth and final bow in the part; he knew the man and understood him perfectly. Johnnie Mills had never played Watson and to my mind, his was the best version ever. It is the devil of a character to convey as a real person. He is usually presented to us a thick-headed stooge to the great man, which of course makes one wonder how Holmes puts up with him - that can't be right. Holmes is the eccentric, imaginative figure, while Watson is down to earth, methodical, practical: after all, he is a doctor of medicine. The two men are complete oppersites but in thier different ways they are equals, or at any rate of equal value to each other. They respect each other. I guarentee that this picture is worth a look just to see this performance. I don't mean to belittle any of the othetr actors, who are all fine: Anne Baxter, Anton Diffing, Gordon Jackson and Ray Milland, all on great form.


The crew was largely a collection of old friends. Anthony Mendleson, the brilliant costume designer and three stalwarts from Hammer films: Make up artist Roy Ashton, editor Chris Barnes and guess who as sound editor - the 'other Roy Baker! Ray Sturgess was the camera operator. We had worked together several times before but this time he was presented with some special problems.


The ruling was that we must use camera equipment from the Pinewood camera dept[artment, which hadn't been used for years! Pinewood had been a wall-to-wall studios for ages. Therefore all visiting crews brought their own gear with them. Anyway the Pinewood stuff was cleaned up and tested but it was old fashioned, which didn't make life easy for Ray. It was due to his efforts that everything worked out well. Brendan Stafford was the lighting cameraman who, like Holmes, had to be  dragged protesting out of retirement to do the film. He enjoyed it , I am sure....


Taken from The Director's Cut
By Roy Ward Baker
Reynolds and Hearn 2000

Images and Design: Marcus Brooks

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