A Ring of Thieves Versus A Poisoner: A Study in Scarlet

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A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

*Contains Spoilers*

In 1887, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous creation, Sherlock Holmes was born, his birth being A Study in Scarlet.

From there Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 3 others novels. There are over 25, 000 play, film, and TV adaptions of Sherlock Holmes and countless mysteries that are written using these characters that Doyle created.

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Background:

A Study in Scarlet is split into two parts. The first is Part I: The Reminiscences of Dr. Watson in which Dr. Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes and they begin sharing 221B Baker Street. Dr. John H. Watson notices the different people coming and going, asking Sherlock’s advice. When he questions Sherlock on it, he finds himself invited along on his newest case. A person is murdered in a locked room, who did it and how?

The second story, Part II: The Country of the Saints, is the back story into our killer. This takes us to Utah were a man, John Ferrier and his adopted daughter are at death’s door when they are saved by a group of Mormons. They are saved but forced to join the community. When Lucy grows up she wishes to marry Jefferson Hope, our killer against the Mormons’ wishes. They kill Ferrier, force Lucy to marry and she dies of a broken heart. Hope sets out to find and kill the men responsible; following them all the way to England.

This has been adapted several time, with the screenwriters focusing mostly on the first half of the story or the introductory relationship between Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes

  • In 1914, Sir Doyle authorized a silent film to be made, starring James Bragington; although since then it has been lost
  • Also in 1914, a film was made by Francis Ford, but has also been lost.
  • In 1933, a film was made starring Reginald Owen, although this differs greatly from the novel
  • In 1968, the second season of the BBC Sherlock Holmes TV Series, has Peter Cushing in the main role.
  • In 1983, there was an Australian cartoon TV series, which starred Peter O’ Toole as Sherlock Holmes
  • In 2010, TV series Sherlock‘s first episode, A Study in Pink, is based off this novel and stars Benedict Cumberbatch.
  • In 2010 it was also adopted as a graphic novel.

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As I saw the film first, we are going to review that first.

Film Synopsis:

When Hollywood wanted to purchase the film rights, it was cheaper to buy the name versus the actual story. They decided to save money and write their own story. For viewers who are Agatha Christie fans, you’ll notice that the story is very similar to her novel,  And Then There Was None. It even uses the same poem about the 10 Little Indians although in this they are 10 Little Black Boys. However, this film could not have copied Agatha Christie as her novel was published six years after this film came out!

So the film follow a group of people, who are the “Scarlet Ring”. They are awaiting the dispersal of something, and what ever money that comes in will be split between any surviving groups (and kin). However, someone is killing these members off, leaving behind a part of the rhyme 10 Little Black Boys. Sherlock Holmes is brought in the case to figure out who is this mysterious killer.

It was an okay film, although it did have a predictable ending with one knowing not only was the lawyer a part of the deal but that it had to be a member who was killing everyone off. I do admit that it was a surprise that it turned out to be the Captain Pyke; but truthfully after reading  And Then There Was None I did suspect it.

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How it Differs:

What is Alike:

There are only two things that are similar about these mysteries. 1) In the book the police come to ask Sherlock for help as they can’t figure out how the man was killed while being in a locked room. In the film they repeat the scene of asking for his assistance but don’t come until after the fourth member of the Scarlet Ring has been murdered.

2) The other thing that remained the same was the way Sherlock discusses the scene of the crime. In the book he yells as the sergeant for bringing a cart through, only to be told he hadn’t. They kept the dialogue of his other complaints about the scene of the crime.

What is Different:

So as I said before, hardly anything from this movie resembles the original source material. Instead of just meeting each other, in this film they are already roommates and best friends.

The whole circumstances of the mystery are radically different, instead being about a member of a group of smugglers wanting to get all the money, so he fakes his death and tries to kill them all off. Nothing like a man who lost his love hunting down the men that caused her death.

In the film there was also an addition of two female characters. First we have the sweet, innocent, Eileen Forrester (June Clyde),  who has inherited a membership of the Ring with the death of her father. And our second being the beautiful and villainous, Mrs. Pyke (Anna May Wong), assisting her husband in killing off all other rivals and securing the wealth.

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The Book:

So I already wrote about what the book synopsis is, so instead i’m going to write my reaction to the book. I thought the first half was amazingly written. You are immediately drawn into the novel with the stableness and observations by Watson; and can’t wait to read more of the antics, intelligence, and genius of Sherlock.

When they brought in the story of the locked room, I already knew how it would end due to A Study in Pink: Sherlock, but that didn’t matter. Reading it made the story come alive, and even knowing he outcome did not make it any less suspenseful or interesting.

The second half of the book is, for lack of a better word, boring. I didn’t like the long, dramatic story about the horrible Mormons.  It felt like a completely different story and didn’t really belong. The book would be stronger without that backstory, or with something different, although revenge is always one of the strongest motives.

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Characters: Who Was Best?

Jefferson Hope Vs. John Stanford (John Warburton) & Captain Pyke (Wyndham Standing)

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Book- Jefferson Hope was a silver prospector who comes into the path of Lucy, when he goes to see his father’s old friend, and Lucy’s adopted father, John Ferrier. He and Lucy fall in love, but the Mormons want to keep her there and marry one of their own. Jefferson tries to escape with the Ferriers, but is taken out, and while he suffers, Lucy is forced to marry another and dies; and John dies as well. He then searches everywhere following the men responsible from Utah, across the United States, and all the way to London to murder them.

Film- The villains are split,  between two people, (I guess you could also argue threefold counting Captain Pyke’s wife).  The main villain is lawyer John Stanford. He is someone that Sherlock has met before and has apparently done vile things, but one of the problems with this film is that we don’t get any other information other than Sherlock hates him. What has he done before? What run-ins have the two have? If you are trying to create a “nemesis” then you need to give us a reason for him being a dastardly fellow. How else are we supposed to be excited for Sherlock finally capturing him when we have no idea why this was such a long, brutal, path.

Captain Pyke  is the other villain, pretending to be dead and then killing off his “friends”, with the aid of his wife. He apparently had always been a “bad one”, as said by the people in his home community, and is committing these crimes as to help their lack of finances and save their home from foreclosure.

Winner: Jefferson Hope

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Dr. Watson Vs. Warburton Gamble

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Book- When we are first introduced to Dr. Watson he is recovering from a bad wound in the war, and a horrible disease. He is depressed, broke, and unhappy. He becomes interested in his roommates activities as he finds his powers of deduction amazing. In a way Sherlock saves him, as his invitation to the case (of this and others) brings him out of his funk and depression.

Dr. Watson in a sense takes the place of the reader. Like us, he is an average man wowed by the observations of Sherlock. He is our narrator and gives us the information and happenings of every case.

Film- In the movie Dr. Watson is a healthy, rotund man. He and Sherlock have been friends for years rather than just met. I didn’t enjoy Warburton Gamble’s portryal of Watson as he played him kind of dumb. Instead of an educated man fascinated with the going ons and relating it to others, he is instead regulated to being a Costello-type  person.

Winner: Dr. Watson

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Sherlock Holmes Vs. Reginald Owen

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Sherlock is the cornerstone of the story. He has to be great or else the rest of the story falls flat.

Book- Sherlock is described as a tall man, over six feet, and extremely lean. He had sharp and piercing eyes, with a hawkish nose, and strong square chin. Always observant of everything going on.

He at times can be a bit rude, but it is because his mind is several steps ahead of others and finds it tedious to explain everything for their catching up. Watson of course is an exception. Sherlock is also humble, finding nothing extraordinary about his skills; yet at the same tiume has a large ego in his culpability to solve crimes.

Film- Owen as Sherlock is one of the few actors to portray a different type of Sherlock. While he was 6’1, he was a bit rounder, having played Watson in an earlier film. He was an okay Sherlock Holmes, but FAR too wooden for me. There was also no sense  of spirit, making him a very dull character.

Winner: Sherlock Holmes

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Conclusion:

It may be unfair to the writers, but I didn’t care for the film as I thought Agatha Christie did a much more intriguing  way of writing a story of a person murdering others one by one.

I also thought Doyle’s writing was phenomenal, sucking me in and just being wowed by his language and  characters. Although I didn’t like the second part of that story, when we reveal the killer’s reasoning.

So the winner is…

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Book

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The book’s story was just so much better, even with evil Mormons and dying travelers. I could read that first part of the story again and again.

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For more mystery reviews, go to Four Women Versus Two: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

For more reviews, go to Horror Story Versus a Memoir: The Visitation

From Print to Screen

So I love books and movies, in fact these two are practically all I think about.

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Yeah, that’s not happening.

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And of course loving both I am bombarded with this question:

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So that is what this blog is all about. Who did it better? Book?

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Or the film?

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I’ll also be comparing retellings to the original version of the story. Stay tuned for some great books & films.