Sunday, January 21, 2018

50 Years Ago: Sherlock Holmes in Cincinnati

Nigel Bruce and Basil Rathbone as the 20th century Watson and Holmes.




















Last night, while looking through CINCINNATI ENQUIRER archives through the courtesy of newspapers.com, I realized that 2018 likely marks the 50th anniversary of my first exposure to Universal's venerable Sherlock Holmes film series starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. 

When I first met these films, which updated the classic Arthur Conan Doyle mysteries to what were then modern times (minus 1939's THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES and 1940's THE ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, which adhered to the original 19th century settings and were not included in the Universal syndication package), they were presented in what I considered the perfect time slot: Sunday nights at 11:30pm, on WCPO-TV, Channel 9 (then Cincinnati's CBS affiliate) - at the height of summer vacation, which meant that, if I'd a mind to do so, I could stay up till 1:00am watching television. And I very much had a mind to do so.

It's possible, even likely, that I'd had limited exposure to the Holmes films prior to this, but I recall clearly that they made their first and deepest impression on me when I was exposed to them as a set, as a Sunday night ritual. During the previous year of 1966, Channel 9 habitually ran the films on different week nights on their 11:30 movie, but since I had to be in bed by a certain hour on school nights, the only chance I would have had to see any in late March through late April, when five random titles were shown in the Friday night slot: 

3/31 THE WOMAN IN GREEN

4/07 DRESSED TO KILL

4/14 SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON

4/21 THE SCARLET CLAW

4/28 SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON


Two months after this modest run, on July, Basil Rathbone died at the age of 75.



In perusing these old newspaper TV listings, I found out a couple of unexpected things about the series I knew as Channel 9 presented it. 

First of all, the films were scheduled as part of an existing Sunday late night movie block called THE BIG SHOW. (The week before the first Holmes film was trotted out, this same time slot was reserved for HARRY MARCH AND THE TIGER, an adventure film starring Stewart Granger and Barbara Rush.) Secondly, though my memory summons up these Sunday night viewings as an enduring ritual, it seems they ran only once in this time slot. (That said, once the films ran, Channel 9 began showing them an a Saturday afternoon time slot, first at 3:30pm and then changing to starting point to 4:00pm some weeks later.) Thirdly, in a detail that would have annoyed me had I known more about the series at the time, the films were shown completely out of order.

And finally, and most surprising of all, I can find no indication that they were ever presented as a "Sherlock Holmes Theater," though one of the most wonderful parts of the whole Sunday night ritual was how the films were introduced. Each movie was preceded by an apparently station-produced bit of black-and-white 16mm film showing a man in a smoking jacket, seated in a comfortable overstuffed armchair, possibly smoking a pipe but certainly looking pensive as he cast about for something to do with his empty evening. He suddenly he stood and, walking around his chair, turned to a well-stocked book case built into the wall. After running his index finger across a series of leather-bound thrillers, he pulled one down one from a long line of individually bound Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Having made his selection, he returned to his chair and began reading - fade down to movie. It really set the mood. Local stations cared more in those days.

Here are the dates of these 1968 syndication broadcasts and the order of the films in which they appeared. The parenthetical numbers reflect the order in which they were first released:  

6/02 – PURSUIT TO ALGIERS (10)

6/09 – THE SPIDER WOMAN (5)

6/16 – TERROR BY NIGHT (11)

6/23 – SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE VOICE OF TERROR (1)

6/30 – SHERLOCK HOLMES FACES DEATH (4)

7/07 – SHERLOCK HOLMES IN WASHINGTON (3)

7/14 – SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE SECRET WEAPON (2)*

7/21 – DRESSED TO KILL (12)

7/28 – THE HOUSE OF FEAR (8)

8/04 – THE PEARL OF DEATH (7)

8/11 – THE SCARLET CLAW (6)

8/18 – THE WOMAN IN GREEN (9)*

The two asterisked (*) titles are conspicuous in their absence from the ENQUIRER listings, and the movies scheduled in these respective time slots went unreported. Therefore, it's elementary: whatever did play in these time slots was very likely one or the other. 

On 8/25, THE BIG SHOW resumed its usual Sunday night offerings with INDISCRETION OF AN AMERICAN WIFE.

In August 1971, Cincinnati's independent station WXIX-TV, Channel 19, acquired the Universal film syndication packages, including the studio's classic horror films (which were booked on Saturday night's SCREAM-IN broadcast starring Dick Von Hoene's Cool Ghoul) and the Holmes series, which settled into a Saturday afternoon time block from 1:00-3:00pm. They ran the films well into the early 1980s (during which time I practically memorized them), until June 1994 when WAII-TV, Channel 25, acquired them.

 (c) 2018 by Tim Lucas. All rights reserved.


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