Friday, June 10, 2016


Wait a minute . . . do you remember one of the cases that was completely cut from Billy Wilder's The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, where Watson and Lestrade faked an entire mystery by nailing the furniture of a room to the ceiling to keep Holmes distracted and off drugs? Or more currently, that fake Ripper murder scene created by Anderson to lure Holmes out of hiding in "The Empty Hearse?"

Let's step back and take a look at that very silly plot of "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" again. And consider who might have been the object of the prank this time.

There are some very odd facts about this case, even if you ignore the magical serum that makes a college professor take on an ape's personality. Such as:

a.) Sherlock Holmes really wants Watson to publish his write-up of this case.

b.) "We have at last obtained permission to ventilate the facts . . ." The "we" seems to imply Watson didn't get the word personally, probably meaning he got it from Holmes.

c.) Sherlock Holmes summons Watson to Baker Street with a false sense of urgency. He makes Watson wait in silence, then when the client suddenly shows up, says he wished he had time to explain the case, but, oh, darn, he just can't. The "client" even checks to see if Holmes has explained anything to Watson.

d.) Rather than let the "client" tell the full tale, Sherlock Holmes makes an excuse to explain the main details of the case and let the "client" fill in later details -- details which Holmes still has to prompt him on along the way.

e.) The "client's girlfriend" comes bursting into the room at just the right point in the story, to add her part to the drama.

f.) Mercer, Holmes's "general utility man who looks up routine business," apparently hired on after twenty years without the need of a general utility man.

g.) The strange dog attack, both called off by Bennett and wound partially dressed by Bennett, who just happened to have medical training. And that same Bennett then tells Watson a surgeon isn't necessary, and Holmes fervently agrees.

h.) Holmes says he'll deal with the business by writing a letter once they hurry back to London. No police. No surgeons. No fuss. No muss.

Sherlockians have always found the solution to "The Adventure of the Creeping Man" a bit far-fetched -- no serum concocted from any part of an animal is going to make a human being act like that animal. It casts a certain questionable haze on the story as a whole. But there is one perspective that suddenly makes this whole tale utterly down-to-earth realistic . . . that perspective?

That the entire investigation was a con perpetrated upon Dr. Watson. Hardly any actors required --  not nearly as big as that theatrical troupe Holmes rounded up for the street scene in "A Scandal in Bohemia." The trickiest part is getting the professor's fake throat wound past the good doctor, but let's recall how well Holmes fooled the doctor in "The Dying Detective." Why would Holmes do such a thing?

Simply a second attempt to draw the straying Watson back into his sphere of influence. His first attempt was surely writing up an entirely medical-based case called "The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier" and sending it to Watson, trying to interest Watson both with the medical curiosity and making him want to go back to writing to show Holmes how it was done. When that didn't draw any response from Watson, flat out commanding him to show up and presenting as weird a case as Holmes could concoct . . . with that whole date-based solution that just seems like something an orderly mind like Holmes's would come up with . . . would be a logical next step.

But a little time in Camford with Holmes was, alas, apparently not enough to pull Watson away from a wife and a busy practice. (At least until World War 1 itself provided ample motivation.) That separation between the two friends still makes this "Creeping" tale a little hard to bear, even when one dials down the fantastically silly notes in it.

Which is perhaps one of the reasons Vincent Starrett preferred it to be "always 1895."

1902 was just trouble.

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