On June 13, 1946, the film actor Basil Rathbone took to the Lobero stage in the US premiere of the romantic thriller “Obsession”.
But audience members could be forgiven if they’d bought tickets for another reason – for everyone in attendance, Basil Rathbone was famous for one role and one role only – Sherlock Holmes.
Born in South Africa in 1892, Philip St. John Basil Rathbone began his acting career as a Shakespearean stage performer. He shifted to film in the 30s, and starred in several notable films, including 1938’s “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn. In 1939, he landed his breakout role as Sherlock Holmes in the film “The Hound of the Baskervilles”. From that moment forward, Rathbone was a cultural icon.
The following seven years kept Rathbone extremely busy, as he starred in fourteen Sherlock Holmes films. The actor is widely regarded as one of the best Sherlocks in cinematic history, bringing panache, charisma, and warmth to the character. In a ranking of the best actors to portray Holmes, the film critique website Screenrant slotted Basil Rathbone in third place, and nicknames him the “doyen of the detective melodrama”.
The very week Basil Rathbone appeared at the Lobero, his final film portrayal of Sherlock – “Dressed to Kill” – was opening on screens nationwide. “Obsession” had premiered in London in early summer, and then moved to Santa Barbara in June, where it began its U.S. run. In October, the play debuted on Broadway.
Reviews for “Obsession” were mixed – with most praising the acting but critiquing the writing. According to the San Francisco Chronicle,
“Obsession is frankly a tour de force – an elaborate piece of theatrical machinery that enables its two characters to run up and down the emotional gamuts… The play is a study in how jealousy can become a mania. Obsession is never a believable play. It is melodramatic duologue, created fully out of technique and never warmed by real emotion.”
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