MCM: Basil Rathbone


One of our dedicated readers, MoHub, recently commented asking when we will get around to doing a Basil Rathbone MCM. Well, Mo, it’s your lucky day, since June 13 is both a Monday and just happens to be his birthday!


School for Scandal (1923) – Joseph Surface

School for Scandal (1923)


David Copperfield (1935) – Mr. Murdstone

1935 David Copperfield


Anna Karenina (1935) – Karenin

Anna Karenina (1935)

No one can ever convince me that Vronsky is worth leaving this.


The Last Days of Pompeii (1935) – Pontius Pilate

The Last Days of Pompeii (1935)


A Tale of Two Cities (1935) – Marquis St. Evrémonde

1935 A Tale of Two Cities

Rocking those over-the-knee leather boots … RAR.

1935 A Tale of Two Cities


Captain Blood (1935) – Levasseur

Captain Blood (1935)


Romeo and Juliet (1936) – Tybalt

1936 Romeo and Juliet 1936 Romeo and Juliet Romeo and Juliet (1936)


The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – Sir Guy of Guisborne

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)

Deadly and debonaire. Rathbone at his best.

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)


If I Were King (1938) – King Louis XI

If I Were King (1938)

Sadly, there’s no good photos of him in this flick on the internet.


The Tower of London (1939) – Richard, Duke of Gloucester

The Tower of London (1939)


Sherlock Holmes (1939-1946) – Sherlock Holmes

Sherlock Holmes (1939-1946)

Basil Rathbone portrayed Sherlock Holmes in 14 films between 1939 and 1946, pretty much securing himself as the de facto Sherlock. Since his look didn’t change much, let’s just go with this image from the first film, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.


The Mark of Zorro (1940) – Captain Esteban Pasquale

1940 Mark of Zorro

Now kith.

1940 Mark of Zorro


Frenchman’s Creek (1944) – Lord Rockingham

Frenchman's Creek (1944)

Another film that seems to have absolutely no good photos online. This was the best I could do!


The Court Jester (1955) – Sir Ravenhurst

1955 The Court Jester


What’s your favorite Basil Rathbone historical costume movie?

27 Responses

  1. MoHub

    Thank you; thank you; thank you! You have gotten my week off to a stellar start.

    And I would definitely take Rathbone in Captain Blood as my favorite, although it was a hard choice to make and only narrowly beat out his Louis XI.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      Writing this post made me realize that I clearly need to just sit down and have a Basil Rathbone movie marathon. If only I can track down a decent copy of Frenchman’s Creek…

      • Andrew

        I’ve been wanting to get a copy of FC (1944) for some years. Its now available from Universal Vault. I’ll order it and loan it to you. We also have a copy of If I Were King.

        • Sarah Lorraine

          That would be lovely, Andrew! Or we could just come up and watch it over dinner and cocktails. :)

  2. Ivana

    Thank you!!!
    Now-I can add to my childhood favorites mr . Mudstone and Karenin! But in childhood loved captain Blood, Robin Hood and Sherlock Holmes!!

  3. Jeremy Fletcher

    One of the best fencers in Hollywood, yet playing the bad guy meant that he always had to lose. The climactic fight scene in Mark of Zorro is fabulously choreographed. (Sadly, the one in The Court Jester is terrible.)

  4. Susan Pola

    Rathbone, swashbuckling villain, but sexier than the hero. I can’t decide btw FC, Mark of Zorro, If I Were King and Court Jester. But why should I? In each role, he brought his savoir faire, swordsmanship and acting ability.
    This post gives me a very excellent reason for rewatching them. What about a mass podcast/tweet?

  5. Bea

    Rathbone WAS my Holmes until they launched the Brett series. I’d read the stories by then and the 1940s Sherlock Holmes was too sanitized for me.

    • Sarah Lorraine

      You know, all those gifs make me realize that it’s likely they based Count Rogan’s look in The Princess Bride on Rathbone’s in The Adventures of Robin Hood. Also, pretty sure this film inspired Alan Rickman’s portrayal of the Sherif of Nottingham in Prince of Thieves.

      • MoHub

        I see it in Roger Delgado’s Master in Doctor Who as well.

  6. Charity

    I made purring noises just now.

    I adore Basil Rathbone.

    I’m not a HUGE classic films fan, but friends routinely convince me to give them a go simply by adding ‘Oh… and Basil is in this…’

  7. mmcquown

    Just saw him this afternoon in “The Black Sleep,” with Karloff, Tor Johnson, Lugosi. Even in that, he brought a suavity and elegance that transcended his mad villainy.

  8. Isis

    I love him too! My childhood waves hello and says Robin Hood and The Court Jester are the best ones and who am I to argue?

  9. mmcquown

    I could have sworn one of the servants was Karloff; he might have been uncredited. He had no lines. Maybe I’m just losing it.

    • hsc

      Given that “The Black Sleep” was a relatively low-budget independent picked up by United Artists, and that Akim Tamiroff replaced Peter Lorre because Lorre wanted too much money, I can’t imagine Karloff being anywhere in this in an unbilled role.

      Bela Lugosi played Casimir, Rathbone’s mute butler (and guinea pig). Is this maybe who you’re identifying as Karloff, especially since you can’t hear the distinctive (and much-imitated) voice each actor had?

  10. Thora

    I love how gamely he played second banana to the greatest physical comedian in the business during the fencing scene from The Court Jester. He was my first Sherlock, also. But my heart is given forever to Monsieur le Capitaine Levasseur.

  11. Susan Pola

    I wonder if Basil Rathbone was the reason they cast Alan Rickman as Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood Dances with Thieves? Rickman’s hot quotient is definitely higher than Kevin Costner’s?

  12. Sarah Faltesek

    YES!!! I have been a devoted Basil Rathbone fan for years. Suave, sophisticated masculinity just poured off of him, and he brought such cunning and deliciousness to his villains that I always wanted him to win.

  13. mmcquown

    TCM seems to have had a Rathbone special yesterday. Saw him as the blackmailer in Crossroads, victimizing Wiliam Powell and Hedy Lamarr.

  14. Julia

    Oh man I love Basil Rathbone! The Court Jester has always been my go to happy movie.

  15. Caroline Macafee

    There’s a terrific 1998 version of *Frenchman’s Creek* with a wonderful score and the hero played by sexy Frenchman, Anthony Delon. It was a TV film (by Carlton), but the production values are very high nevertheless. I’d be very interested to hear your opinion of the costumes and wigs, which certainly look good to a naïve viewer like myself. There are many admirable sleeves, nice children’s costumes, female riding costume, uniforms of the Royal Netherlands East Indies Army as well as other Dutch and English soldiery, and a sort of Breton fisherman’s costume that shows off the Delon figure to particularly good effect.

    Another film with a 17th c setting that I’d love to see you review is Cocteau’s *La Belle et la Bête*, with costumes and sets inspired by Dutch genre painting.

  16. Hillary Jones

    Yay! Thank you! I needed some classic Basil Rathbone eye candy. Isn’t his nose superb? I could live on that nose.

    He was a fantastic narrator as well. I have an audiobook of Basil Rathbone and Vincent Prince reading various works by Edgar Allan Poe, and it’s awesome!

  17. mmcquown

    Recently saw “Robin Hood” again. In the big duel between Robin and Gisbourne, one of the swords bends — and stays bent through the rest of the duel. At least nobody died from “prop failure”.