Sunday, August 1, 2010

Basil Rathbone

If I could write English prose like anyone in the world, it would be Ronald Knox.

If I could paint like anyone in the world, it would be Raphael.

If I could play baseball like anyone in the world, it would be Joe DiMaggio.

If I could sing like anyone in the world, it would be Enrico Caruso.

And if I could talk like anyone in the world, it would be Basil Rathbone.

Maybe I was the only little boy in the world who ever thought that Rathbone should have won at least one of those swordfights with Errol Flynn or Tyrone Power or Leslie Howard just because he sounded so good.

I mean, really now. Isn't this the human voice and the English language at their very best?

Today Turner Classic Movies was having a Basil Rathbone day, and I missed most of it. But I have many of his films on DVD, including one of my favorite Rathbone performances, as an intriguingly sympathetic Pontius Pilate in the 1935 Last Days of Pompeii. TCM also showed a Basil Rathbone movie I've never seen--The Bishop Murder Case (1930), based on a Philo Vance mystery. I'm sorry I missed it.


  1. Sounds what I imagined Chesterton or Belloc or Lewis to sound like. It was a shock hearing audio of these guys for the first time.

  2. Comparing Chesterton and Lewis, I think Lewis had the more impressive speaking voice. Good enough for radio, certainly, which is how he first came to be known by a wide audience.

    I've never heard Belloc and can't really imagine what he sounded like. In fact, I'm a little surprised that he would willingly have submitted himself to the evils of 20th-century technology long enough to have his voice recorded.

    As for Basil Rathbone, I would gladly listen to him read the phone book -- or even a John Kerry speech.

  3. Ha. Here's Belloc singing, starting at 32:19