From John Steed to Sherlock Holmes

The lives and careers of Patrick Macnee and Christopher Lee possess some remarkable parallels. Both were born in 1922, both were contemporaries at Summerfields preparatory school where they first performed on stage together, they both fought in World War II, they died 18 days apart, and they both played Sherlock Holmes.

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In both Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady (1991) and Incident at Victoria Falls (1992), Patrick Macnee played Dr. Watson to Christopher Lee’s Sherlock Holmes, but the following year with The Hound of London (1993) Macnee took on the lead role himself. All three movies were made for television and portray the aging Holmes and Watson under the banner Sherlock Holmes the Golden Years. Prior to the Macnee and Lee series of TV movies, Macnee also played Dr. Watson to Roger Moore’s Sherlock Holmes in Sherlock Holmes in New York (1976); Moore and Macnee would later be paired in the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985).

In Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady Mycroft Holmes asks his brother Sherlock & Dr. Watson to travel to Vienna and find the stolen plans & prototype for an electro-magnetic bomb detonator. Once there, they are reunited with Irene Adler, who has once more taken up her former profession as an opera singer. The film also features a number of historical characters involved in the plot including Eliot Ness and Sigmund Freud. The site Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 3.1/5 based, but an overall score of 29%.

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Watson, Adler, and Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady was shot back to back with Incident at Victoria Falls. In the second story, Holmes is about to retire to Sussex and keep bees when the king sends him on a mission to South Africa to retrieve the Star of Africa diamond. Complications arise and Holmes meets several historical characters including ex-President Theodore Roosevelt, portrayed by Claude Akins, and Lillie Langtry, played by Jenny Seagrove. He also encounters the fictional character A. J. RafflesSoon the fabled jewel is stolen and several people end up being murdered. As Dr. Watson, Patrick McNee returns to the “comic relief” mode established in the 1940s by Nigel Bruce, albeit with less empty-headedness than was customary with Bruce. The plot concerns the safe passage of a valuable South African diamond, and the multitude of robberies, recoveries and major and minor intrigues the transpire before the denouement at the titular falls.

The Hound of London

Macnee as Sherlock Holmes.

In The Hound of London, John Scott-Paget replaced Macnee as Dr. Watson and Macnee stepped up to play Sherlock Holmes. This film made Macnee only the fourth actor to have played both Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, joining Reginald Owen (Watson in the 1932 film Sherlock Holmes, and then Holmes in 1933’s A Study in Scarlet), Jeremy Brett (Watson on stage in The Crucifer of Blood and Holmes on television in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) and Carleton Hobbs (who played both roles in British radio adaptations).

The film was not as well received as the previous two TV movies. IMDB users have given the film 3.4 stars out of a possible 10. Author Alan Bates claimed the film was “Cheap, nasty and painful to watch”, and he described Macnee’s Holmes as “a truly dreadful Holmes, wheezing out every line while resembling nothing less than an unshelled tortoise poured into a monkey suit.” Apparently Macnee made a better Watson than a Holmes . . . perhaps Macnee’s characteristic Bowler hat from Steed was far more effective on him than a Deer Stalker. 

If you wish to check out these films, The Hound of London seems like it is only available on various DVD collections of other low budget Holmes movies, but Sherlock Holmes and the Leading Lady and Incident at Victoria Falls are both available for streaming via Hulu.


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