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William Gillette's 'Sherlock Holmes' and a peek at 'Cthulhu by Gaslight'

Holmsian Musins and Ripping Yarns

DVD Review: William Gillette's 'Sherlock Holmes' (1916)

The recent release of the 1916 version of 'Sherlock Holmes' in a combination DVD/Blu-Ray boxed set by Flicker Alley is a boon to fans of the Great Detective and serious cinema buffs just for the presence of distinguished stage actor William Gillette in the title role. His embellishments to the part helped define the character for future generations. But how, you may ask, is the film?

La Cinematheque and the San Francisco Film Festival collaborated on the restoration of the film from a nitrate print discovered in France last year. The film, which was previously considered lost, was re-edited as a serial before it was sent to France and the release retains the chapter play structure and it adds to the charm of the film.

Like most silent films, the actors seem to speaking more lines at times than the dialogue cards would suggest. The boxed set includes a copy of the script, which is drawn from Gillette's original play but even without it the story is relatively easy to follow.

The first part of the film focuses on Holmes attempting to secure potentially embarressing correspondences between a European VIP and a woman that committed suicide. The woman's sister, Alice Faulkner (Marjorie Kay), refuses to part with the letters and in the process wins Holmes's admiration. Although this part of the film seems to draw from the short story 'A Scandal in Bohemia,' it deviates considerably from its source material -- not necessarily a bad thing, but it illustrates that Gillette intended to go his own way with the material in certain respects. He also adds villains in the form of the Larrabee gang, who are led by a husband/wife team.

But the film doesn't quite find it's core until Professor Moriarty shows up. The film sets him up as a sort of consultant to other criminals but he is never as formidable as he should seem. He comes across less as a near-equal to Holmes and more as just another in a long line of particularly dangerous criminals that Holmes typically faces.

A confrontation and rescue in the Stepney Gas Chamber seems less exciting than it should be. It does, however, feature a cute ruse involving a lit cigar.

Edward Fielding plays Dr. Watson well, but the character seems oddly unnecessary to the story. The emphasis here is squarely on Holmes and his budding romance with Alice.

Although some Holmesians may find the film a slight dissapointment, it still entertains. It is interesting to see how Gillette tried to tweak Holmes before the character's public image was completely established.

The boxed set itself is well worth the money. Extras include a booklet with details on the film's history and restoration, three silent short films related to Holmes and other goodies. There is also a filmed interview with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle discussing how he conceived Holmes and about his own intererst in spiritualism.

Q&A with Chaosium's Mike Mason on 'Cthulhu by Gaslight'

Cthulhu By Gaslight, a supplement for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game set during the Victorian era, was originally released back in 1986. Chaosium republished it in 1988 and 2012. The company is currently updating the book update to the book for the seventh edition of Call of Cthulhu, 7th edition. had a conversation with Mike Mason, the line editor for the game, regarding the future of this product. Cthulhu by Gaslight has been published in three editions with a fourth coming out next year. How has the response been for these editions?

Mike Mason: Cthulhu by Gaslight has been a firm fan favorite since it was originally released. It’s always been a popular setting. In fact, the last edition won two of the prestigious ENnie Awards in 2012 - a silver prize for best cover art, and a gold for best supplement. The awards are voted for by players across the roleplaying game spectrum, so to win clearly shows there’s a lot of love for Cthulhu by Gaslight. An article in Unspeakable Oath said it was the least supported setting but had untapped potential. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Mike Mason: Sadly, over the years, Cthulhu by Gaslight has not enjoyed quite the same number of releases as some other settings for the game. Two fine collections of scenarios, Dark Designs and Sacraments of Evil did come out though. There’s a rich vein of possibilities. You only have to look at the success of programs like Penny Dreadful and Ripper Street to know that Victorian era mysteries and horror remain as popular as ever, and something we certainly want to build upon. I’m glad to be able to say that we have plans to turn this state of affairs around, as we have begun developing new supplements for Cthulhu by Gaslight. Will Sherlock Holmes and related characters pop up in the next edition?

Mike Mason: Holmes and Watson are in the current edition and will remain for the updated edition we’ll be putting out next year. The new edition is fairly straightforward update of the book’s game mechanics to the latest Call of Cthulhu ruleset (7th edition), so it’s more of an upgrade than whole new edition in that respect. Of course, that’s the beauty of roleplaying games like Call of Cthulhu, which are set in historical periods, as they allow you to bring in characters from both fiction and history into your games, allowing players to cross paths with the likes of Holmes and Moriarty. What, in your opinion, is the appeal of that era?

Mike Mason: There’s definitely something evocative about the fog-shrouded London streets of the Victorian era that dovetails with the horrors of the Cthulhu Mythos. The classic tropes of “Gaslight” blend very well with Call of Cthulhu - investigation, mystery, secret cabals, sinister monsters, and so on. It’s a time when London was the heart of British Empire and a very cosmopolitan city, giving rise to all manner of diverse stories that can be explored through the setting and game. Each strata of Victorian society provides a wealth of material for characters, places and plots to employ in games - so you can play working class “investigators” delving into the dark dealings of their bosses, or play the gentlemen and ladies of society uncovering foul plots to undermine the Empire, and so on. The possibilities are varied and endless. What will be added to the next edition?

Mike Mason: The revised edition will include some guidance and detail on club society, suggesting that characters in the game could all belong to the same club, which provides a great resource in game for information, replacement characters, and allows plots to be more intertwined with the player characters themselves. There’s also a few minor adjustments to how the rules for communicating with those of different social class play out. With Pulp Cthulhu coming out very soon (which particularly deals with character enhancements), the old optional traits system has been removed from Gaslight - these things are still available in a slightly different format for those who want a pulpier style of game through Pulp Cthulhu (which acts as rules supplement to the differing eras of Call of Cthulhu games). We’re still tying up the final content of the new edition and I’m looking to see if we can add a new scenario to the book as well. You mentioned a forthcoming supplement for the game. Are you at liberty to give some hints on the content?

Mike Mason: One of the things missing from Cthulhu by Gaslight has been a grand campaign adventure and I’ve been keen to get one developed. So I’m pleased to say that we have a team of excellent writers currently working on a Gaslight campaign called The Curse of Seven. The campaign draws from the deep well of Victorian horror fiction, with a nod to M.R. James, and combines with Lovecraftian terrors. The first draft has been written and is currently in play testing. We hope to be able to release it later next year. In addition, we are also developing a new anthology of Gaslight adventures. We hope both books are well received as we’d like to continue the Gaslight renaissance. I notice there is a Cthulhu-themed steampunk anthology. Will any gaming supplements come out in this vein?

Mike Mason: From time to time we like to mix things up with our fiction line. Steampunk Cthulhu: Terrors in the Age of Steam is an anthology of tales with a pulpish spin, and contains some fine stories. At present, we don’t have any particular plans for game books based upon the steampunk genre - however, if you combine Cthulhu by Gaslight with Pulp Cthulhu you certainly have the tools for the job! Has Pulp Cthulhu been released? It seemed to be in limbo for a while. Mike Mason: Pulp Cthulhu was first mentioned around ten years ago and unfortunately its been in development hell for most of that. As part of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarter campaign, Pulp Cthulhu was offered as one of the stretch goals (which was met).

I took up the reins on the book and redesigned it from the ground up, writing new rules and material, commissioning some pieces, and where possible using some pieces from the original manuscript. The book has now been fully written and is currently in art direction and layout. We are aiming to have it released in 2016 to our Backers first, followed by ge

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