Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Nigel Bruce

Let's take a quick look at Nigel Bruce (1895 - 1953) today.  No need for introductions to classic film fans, Bruce IS Dr. Watson in the popular Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone (1892 - 1967).

Bruce was actually born in Mexico, while his father was working there.  Royal blood flows (flowed) in his veins, and he was probably not acting very much in many of his roles, just being himself. 

Bruce started acting in films in a Mae Marsh (1894 - 1968) silent called Flames of Passion (1922).  It was a very small role, but he kept at it.  A few more silents, and a good bit of stage work, and he starts moving up the cast list in the 1930s. 

Look for him in the 1934 classic, Treasure Island, starring Wallace Beery and Jackie Cooper.  He then plays royalty (The Prince of Wales, no less) in The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934) starring Leslie Howard.

Bruce works with Fred MacMurray and Henry Fonda in The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), and the same year with Errol Flynn in The Charge of the Light Brigade

In 1939, his two most famous films were released by Twentieth Century Fox, The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  He set the standard for Dr. Watson, just as Rathbone did for Holmes.  Sadly, the other twelve Holmes/Watson films, made for Universal in the 1940s, didn't maintain the quality.  They are still worth watching, though, and if you haven't seen them all, the mysteries are a lot of fun to see for the very first time.

Bruce and Rathbone also made Crazy House (1943) and Frenchman's Creek (1944) together.  I haven't seen either.

Bruce was in four films that included some Alfred Hitchcock work, but only in two that Hitch directed.  Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941).  The other two were Lord Chamber's Ladies (1932) produced but not directed by Hitch, and Forever and a Day (1943) which had Hitch on the writing staff.

In 1943 and 1945 Nigel played a part in Lassie Come Home and Son of Lassie, respectively.  And in 1952 he appears as the Impresario in Charlie Chaplin's final big film, Limelight

That is quite a career for a chap who basically played the same type-cast Brit.  He started in silent films and ended making a film with the biggest silent star who ever lived. 

Nigel Bruce has 79 titles listed on IMDb, with only one appearance on television.  I can't name all of his work here, but let me know which were your favorites.  In my book, he will always be Dr. Watson.  I bet I'm not alone.


  1. There are some fascinating insights to be found in Nigel Bruce's unpublished autobiography, some of which is posted here: http://scarletstreet.yuku.com/topic/1101/Games-Gossip-and-Greasepaint-Nigel-Bruce-s-Autobiography#.Te5keFs4cUM

  2. One of my favorites of Nigel Bruce's role is Lord Esketh in "The Rains Came" - a not at all lovable character who meets a bad end. He was very good in "Rebecca" and "Suspicion," too - but, as you say, is synonymous with Dr. Watson for those of us who love the classics. I was surprised to learn Nigel Bruce didn't do much television, but then realized he passed away in its early days.

  3. Thanks for that link, Caftan. I started reading it and realized I am at work and should wait until I get home.

    I wish that book could be released.

  4. Thanks, Eve. So many movies...so little time! I wonder if Bruce ever had to hide his British accent? Or if he could!


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