Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Conan Doyle, king of the pre-movie movie trope

I've always been both charmed and fascinated by what I call "trigger lines," that movie convention of the hero saying something clever just before pulled the trigger, setting off an explosion, or punching someone in the face. And I also loved the fact that Conan Doyle knew how to pull them off long before movies did, as he displayed in "Solitary Cyclist."
"You're too late. She's my wife!""No, she's your widow!"The revolver cracked . . .
But the pithy, pre-shot comment isn't the only trope Doyle liked that would later come back, again and again in movies. Take the cat scare, or as Roger Ebert called it, "the spring loaded cat."

Cats have been jumping out of cabinets, from behind curtains, and from other rooms since sound came to motion pictures in the 1940s. No doubt at least one cat jumps out in a Basil Rathbone movie. But, if indeed that did happen, it wouldn't be the first time Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson got scared by a cat. That happened in 1902.

In "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton," Holmes and Watson are creeping though the dark parts of Milverton's house when what should happen?

“Something rushed out at us and my heart sprang into my mouth, but I could have laughed when I realized that it was the cat.”

Yes, there's a cliche cat scare in a classic Sherlock Holmes tale.

Doyle couldn't have been the first author to pull that stunt in a suspenseful narrative. And it certainly goes to show that cats scaring unsuspecting humans is a part of life a lot of folks are familiar with. (I could tell you my own tale of a young cat of mine jumping on the shoulders of an unsuspecting realtor after he'd gotten used to doing the trick with me. Oh, wait . . . I guess that was the whole tale.)

But it might make you forgive the next movie that pulls that age-old trick out of its movie hat. Because even though it's no "dog in the night-time," those jumping cats are just as much a part of the Sherlock Holmes canon as that quiet pooch. And they should be enjoyed as such.

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