Basil Rathbone, the American screen’s most distinguished villain was British to the core even though he was born in South Africa. He moved to Hollywood in 1924. Lean-faced, intellectual, icily commanding, he waited until sound came to give up the theatre and devote himself to films. When he did, the incisive, dismissive voice combined with his other assets to make a remarkable actor.
People remember him as a superb swashbuckling villain, (though never a heavy – in his duels with Flynn and Power he was nimble and light-footed as a cat), and as the movies’ best Sherlock Holmes, but he was much more. Outside of Holmes he never managed many lead roles but excelled when he did, his last significant role was in 1958’s The Last Hurrah for John Ford. We’ve deliberately left out the Sherlock Holmes ouvre from the list because lets face everyone of those is essential viewing and we thought we’d highlight a few of his other stand out roles so here is our pick of five of his best non Sherlock Holmes movies.
Anna Karenina (1935)
Could there be a better interpreter of Leo Tolstoy’s ill-fated heroine?one of the most-remade film stories?than Garbo? The pains of doomed love seemed oddly suited to that stoney Nordic visage. March and Rathbone are also fine, and Garbo had plenty of preparation for the role, having starred in the silent version (“Love”) with John Gilbert.
Director: Clarence Brown
Cast: Greta Garbo, Basil Rathbone, Fredric March, Freddie Bartholomew, Reginald Denny, Maureen O’Sullivan, Reginald Owen, May Robson
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
Arguably both Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone had their greatest movie roles here, this is the swashbuckling spectacle about the infamous outlaw and his band of merry men who “robbed from the rich and gave to the poor.” Robin Hood fights for justice against the evil Sir Guy of Gisbourne, while striving to win the hand of the beautiful Maid Marian. A rollicking adventure never outdone by remakes, this epic features great swordplay, music, characters, and storybook. Shot in glorious Technicolor.
Directors: Michael Curtiz, William Keighley
Cast: Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Olivia de Havilland, Patric Knowles, Claude Rains,
The Sun Never Sets (1939)
Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Rathbone star in this epic British tale about pride of both family and country. Fairbanks and Rathbone play John and Clive Randolph, brothers from a large and loving family who serve their nation by heading to the Gold Coast to stop a mad, power-hungry arms baron (Lionel Atwill). Rowland V. Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo, 1934) directs this moving story of loyalty, heroism and family history.
Cast: Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Basil Rathbone, Lionel Atwill, Melville Cooper, Virginia Field, Barbara O’Neil, Theodore von Eltz
Above Suspicion (1943)
On the eve of WWII, a newlywed couple (MacMurray and Crawford) about to embark on their honeymoon are suddenly given an important assignment by the British Secret Service. Despite a total lack of previous espionage experience, they accept a mission to obtain the top-secret plans for a magnetic mine. As they do their duty, the pair confronts shady characters, secret codes, assassins, complex clues, deadly traps?and Nazis. Rathbone is superb as the evil Gestapo Chief Count Sig von Aschenhausen. Based on the novel by Helen MacInnes.
Director: Richard Thorpe
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Joan Crawford, Reginald Owen, Basil Rathbone, Richard Ainley, Felix Bressart, Cecil Cunningham, Sara Haden, Ann Shoemaker, Conrad Veidt
The Last Hurrah (1958)
Edwin O’Connor’s colorful novel of the Boston political scene comes to life in this adaptation by Ford. Tracy revels in his role as an old-time Irish-American pol, the longtime mayor of Boston, who runs afoul of the gentry (in the form of newspaper publisher Carradine and banker Rathbone) and his idealistic nephew (Hunter), a reporter for Carradine’s paper who rejects his uncle’s rough-and-tumble backroom politicking but respects and admires his devotion to the city’s working people. The story culminates in Tracy’s last, losing campaign for office.
Director: John Ford
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien, Basil Rathbone, John Carradine, Donald Crisp, James Gleason, Jeffrey Hunter,
Kick-Ass TV Heroines: Xena – Warrior Princess
What was not to love about Xena? As Lucy Lawless says: “Xena is a bad-ass, kick-ass, pre-Mycenaean girl.” Evildoers, clearly, must stand down, but not only bad guys (and girls) have Xena-phobia. Even heroes quake when she swings her broadsword.
Originally created as a syndicated complement to Kevin Sorbo’s Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, Xena pretty much kicked Herc to the curb. It was like when the Bionic Woman made us lose interest in the Six Million Dollar Man–only more so.
Unlike Lindsay Wagner’s early half-woman, half-machine, Xena wasn’t prone to frailty. Nor did she need robot parts. In fact, the Warrior Princess never lost. If she’s down, it’s not for long.
Plus, she was in touch with the dark side: This big-boned bruiser had definite moments of blood lust, as well as lust of some other varieties. Garbed in a leather miniskirt and armed with her trademark razor-edged, boomerang-action chakram, we watched Xena single-leggedly kick down entire platoons of Roman soldiers.
Sure, there were murmurings about Xena and her softer female sidekick, Gabrielle (actress Renée O’Connor). So what if they liked to conserve bathwater by doubling up? And what’s wrong with close friends frenching once in a while?
Then again, maybe it was true–and there’s anything wrong with that.
Actress: Lucy Lawless
Show: Xena: Warrior Princess
Classic TV Revisited: McMillan And Wife
Starring Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James, McMillan and Wife was a super cute crime-solving saga from the 1970s made for the NBC’s Mystery Movie series.
Who were they?
Hubby was the debonair San Francisco police commissioner Stewart McMillan.
Sally was a foxy, rather scatterbrained dame with a knack for finding corpses.
Worked down the morgue did she?
Hardly. Sally’s finds were usually in some glitzy mansion which the couple were frequenting for a weekend cocktail party. She also had a habit of getting her life threatened or being kidnapped.
Who was in it?
Tragic Hollywood star Rock Hudson no less. He took on Stewart McMillan in his first TV role, after years as a matinee idol with movies such as Giant.
Fans of the lantern-jawed star were dismayed when he went public about having Aids. He had long kept his homosexuality secret. He carried on working in ’80s glam drama Dynasty, but make-up could not disguise the deterioration of this once-statuesque man. He died in 1985, aged 59.
What about Sally?
That role fell to raven-locked Susan Saint James. The Ali MacGraw lookalike was previously in shows such as Alias Smith And Jones and The Name of the Game.
A vital ingredient to McMillan And Wife was sharp-tongued housekeeper Mildred, played by Nancy Walker. Somebody needed to keep the place tidy while they gallivanted about solving crime.
Famous guest stars?
The couple’s conception?
Like Hart To Hart, the idea was borrowed from Dashiell Hammett’s Thin Man books of the ’30s.
Gritty crime drama?
Hardly. These were cosy whodunnit cases, where the brutality of murder was never portrayed. The show was more about the interplay between McMillan and Sally.
Had viewers arrested?
Certainly in the US. It was the fifth highest-rated show in 1972 and 1973.
Fate of the golden couple?
Susan Saint James quit in 1976 over a contractual dispute. Nancy Walker also packed away her duster as housekeeper Mildred.
The dame’s exit was a fatal blow?
Certainly for the character of Sally – she was killed off in a plane crash. But Rock soldiered on with new assistant Sgt Steve DiMaggio (Richard Gilliland). The show became McMillan.
Audiences dwindled and the plug was pulled.
Cosy pillow talk, cocktail parties, Rock Hudson, pyjamas and numerous corpses.
Let’s go to bed. Turn the light out, darling.
Must you eat toast in bed, darling. Apologies, but I’ve got terrible flatulence. Separate bedrooms.
Not to be confused with
My Wife Next Door, Harold Macmillan, The Merry Wives Of Windsor and Mr And Mrs.
Classic TV Revisited: The Royal
The Royal was an ITV drama commission and was inspired by its sister programme Heartbeat.
The lowdown: This nostalgic family drama is set in the swinging 1960s and centres on the staff of a cottage hospital in Yorkshire. Newly qualified doctor David Cheriton (Julian Ovenden) is determined to make a difference to the world and arrives at St Aidan’s Royal Free Hospital in Elinsby full of big ideas. But he clashes with the hospital’s secretary TJ Middleditch (Ian Carmichael) who is determined to run things his way. Then there is the Matron (Wendy Craig) who rules her nurses with a rod of iron and tries in vain to stop them being distracted by the handsome arrival.
Memorable moments: Watch out for former Heartbeat favourite Bill Maynard who crosses dramas and continents as Claude Jeremiah Greengrass. Greengrass has returned from a Caribbean holiday with a mystery illness but that doesn’t stop him trying to earn a fast buck. It doesn’t take long before Claude attracts Matron’s ire.
Trivia: The Royal is a family affair for real life husband and wife Robert Daws (Ormerod) and Amy Robbins (Weatherill). No fewer than seven members of their clan have appeared in the series including their daughters and stepson.
Michelle Hardwick, who played receptionist Lizzie, says her favourite moment in the whole series didn’t come on screen but in the actors’ green room. She says: “I was sitting in there with Wendy Craig and Honor Blackman and we were having a lovely conversation. I sat back and thought ‘Wow, this is great, I can’t wait to tell my gran’.”
A modern day set version called The Royal Today aired 7 January – 14 March 2008.
First broadcast: 2003
Starred: Wendy Craig, Ian Carmichael, Michael Starke, Robert Daws and Julian Ovenden
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