Mr. Athole Stewart continues the list of single appearance Dr. Watsons. His single outing, however, is really quite notable. The movie was “The Speckled Band”. The year was 1931 and the talking pictures were still in their infancy, especially in England. One can see the characteristic silent era over-dramatization in the physical acting, that is, except for Stewart and Raymond Massey who played Sherlock Holmes. Lyn Harding played Dr. Rylot. Harding, of course, would play Professor Moriarty in two future films: Silver Blaze and Murder at the Baskervilles. This version of “The Speckled Band” was taken from the play as opposed to the story and added some modern touches such as a swift sports car. They also give Holmes an office complete with secretary, wire recorder and a punch card sorter. It is really interesting. Stewart neither over nor underplays his part. He is Watson as he should be.
The movie is available for viewing on-line at Archive.org/details/SpeckledBand in its Canadian release format of 49 minutes. Originally the film had been released in the UK at 90 minutes and in the US at 66 minutes. Anyone who is remotely familiar with the story can figure out the parts that have been left out.
In spite of the cuts and the issue of print quality the movie is well worth watching. Massey, Harding and Stewart make a good team and turn out a laudable performance. One thing I particularly noticed though was the lack of a musical score. Not unusual for the day, but a story like The Speckled Band is enhanced by a dramatic musical score. Just ask Hitchcock. (Well, if you could.)
Athole Stewart was born in London, UK on 25 June 1879.His work as an actor was limited to the stage (where he was well thought of) and does not appear in film until 1929 with the advent of the talking picture. His delivery is precise and his articulation made him invaluable for the early talkies with less than perfect sound quality. From 1929 to 1940 he appeared in 40 films and like many other “Watsons” he seems to have been continually cast as senior officers and English lords. Mr. Stewart died on 22 October 1940 in Bedfordshire, UK.