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RATHBONE, BASIL
(Philip St. John Basil Rathbone 1892-1967). British actor.

IMDB credits All things considered, it did not take Hollywood long to recognize that Basil Rathbone was not a particularly talented actor. Perhaps he had done better as a prominent stage thespian in the 1920s, as his performances were regularly praised, but by the time he became a regular film performer in the 1930s he had apparently decided that he could rely exclusively on his two most distinctive traits—his great height and impeccable British accent—to garner and handle major roles, usually as a villain. His brusque, aristocratic manner at first seemed to make him an ideal Sherlock Holmes, and many have expressed great admiration for his portrayal of the famed detective. One suspects, though, that most people expressing that opinion never watched some of his later Holmes films, distinguished (if that is the word) by lower and lower budgets, lousier and lousier scripts, and Rathbone's more and more relentlessly one-note performances. A peculiarity of his approach to Holmes is that he generally seems annoyed, rather than intrigued, by the mysteries that come his way, and he is never persuasive in conveying any affection for Nigel Bruce's perpetually obtuse and bumbling Dr. Watson.

In some circles, Rathbone is regarded as an icon of the horror film because of his appearances in noted films like Son of Frankenstein (1939), Tower of London (1940), and The Mad Doctor (1940). Yet the stark absence of genuine emotion in his performance as Victor Frankenstein's son gives one a new appreciation for the acting talents of Colin CLIVE; he is effortlessly upstaged by Boris KARLOFF in Tower of London; and in the third film, his murderer is impressive solely because he is so stunningly lethargic.

Officially, Rathbone in the 1940s found himself unable to get roles in better films because he had been typecast as Holmes, and officially, his weariness with the character drove him to leave Hollywood to work as a stage and television actor in New York. Unofficially, however, film actors normally aren't cast in films because producers and directors don't think they can do a good job, and film actors normally turn to Broadway and television only because they have no other options—and this certainly seems the more likely explanation for Rathbone's career move. Certainly, none of his television work in the 1950s would make anyone long to see him again on the big screen: two more returns to Sherlock Holmes in "The Adventure of the Black Baronet," an episode of the series Suspense, and a 1954 episode of Texaco Star Theatre; an inconsequential role as a scientist in "The Stones Begin to Move" (1955), an episode of Science Fiction Theatre; and several appearances in adaptations of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol as either Marley's Ghost or Scrooge.

In the 1960s, as producers like Roger CORMAN discovered that there was money to be made from cheap horror movies featuring aged performers, Rathbone was summoned back to Hollywood: mildly animated by the tepid challenges presented by the original films Tales of Terror (1962) and The Comedy of Terrors (1963); dull, and visibly bored, in the footage added to foreign films for American audiences of Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet (1965) and Queen of Blood  (1966); and utterly embarrassing in the risible The Ghost in the Invisible Bikini (1966) and Hillbillys in a Haunted House (1967). Observing Karloff in similarly execrable films, one regrets that such a talented and sensitive performer was reduced to appearing in such dreck; but in the case of Rathbone, to be blunt, dreck may be precisely where he belongs, though he was once fortunate enough to be deemed worthy of better things.

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