19th Century Cool

“It wasn’t until the 20th century that modern-type sunglasses came to be. In 1929, Sam Foster, founder of the Foster Grant company, sold the first pair of Foster Grant sunglasses on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City, NJ. By 1930, sunglasses were all the rage.” — from ideafinder.com‘s page on sunglasses.


Robert Downey, Jr., as Sherlock Holmes — fictionally born in 1854, first appearance in an Arthur Conan Doyle story in 1887, etc. It’s fairly safe to say that shades weren’t around during Holmes’ youth or middle age. Unless, of course, Holmes invented them.

44 thoughts on “19th Century Cool

  1. I’m sure Guy Ritchie gave Holmes the glasses for the “cool effect,” but tinted glasses had been around since the 18th century, though they were used to help the eyesight instead of blocking the sun. Also, they were occasionally used for syphilis patients. So, it’s not that out of place.

  2. From Christopher Frayling’s excellent study of spaghetti westerns: “Wild Bill Hickok was shot in 1876 – shortly after plying the part of himself in a three-act entertainment entitles “Scouts of the Prairie”… Throughout the rehearsals for this play, Wild Bill insisted on wearing dark glasses – like many a Hollywood star fifty years later. But Hickok did not wear shades to promote his inscrutable star appeal: he wore them because the stage lights were too bright for him, and because he was rapidly losing his eyesight, from glaucoma.”

  3. didn’t Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) wear dark glasses, too? Technically they were glasses for the blind, but they looked like sunglasses, so…

  4. Yeah Wells, even in the article you posted, you should have been tipped off by “modern-type”. Tinted glasses existed previously. And yeah, I immediately thought of DRACULA too.

  5. Something tells me that period verisimilitude wasn’t high on Ritchie’s to-do list for this movie. Or on the list at all.

    I’m so conflicted about this movie: the idea of RDJ as Holmes gets me all excited, but then I remember that Guy Ritchie is a worthless hack whose superficially “stylish” movies are unwatchable to me. After Snyder/Watchmen, maybe we’re seeing a trend: hopelessly shallow directors tasked with adapting revered literary works. What’s next, Brett Ratner directing a film of Gravity’s Rainbow?

  6. Gaydos: No, I mean that Snyder and Ritchie make movies for 14-year-old boys and seem particularly ill-suited to tackle serious literary adaptations. There plenty of directors in that 90% of which you speak who would be better-suited, even if their style is more vanilla.

  7. I stand by my belief that SNATCH is accidentally an awesome film. Can’t get behind LOCK STOCK except for Vinnie Jones, and everything since is shit obviously.

  8. After all the bad word/press ROCKNROLLA got, I fully expected to hate it and found myself really enjoying it. Enough so that I actually ordered the Blu-Ray.

    REVOLVER, however, not so much. And I refuse to even give SWEPT AWAY a chance. The first two (LOCK, SNATCH) are awesome on purpose.

  9. didn’t Annie Sullivan (Helen Keller’s teacher) wear dark glasses, too? Technically they were glasses for the blind, but they looked like sunglasses, so…

  10. The problem is, Robert Downey is just one of those guys you can’t put in period films. He is just too modern, so the glasses aren’t helping.

    Too bad they didn’t give this to the real creative one from the first couple of films, Matthew Vaughn. Now that would have been a, uh… “Kick-Ass” Sherlock Holmes movie.

  11. It’s important to be historically accurate in memory of the living, breathing historical figure that Sherlock Holmes was.

    I was equally upset when Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan put Batman in body armor. As was clear from the historical record (Adam West/Burt Ward – 1966), Batman did not wear body armor. In fact, I don’t think Kevlar had been invented in 1940. I’m sure Bruce Wayne was rolling over in his grave.

  12. Rich beat me too it. It took 17 posts of people debating the use of tinted glasses in history before someone pointed out that Holmes was NOT REAL and the movie is NOT REAL.

    I think Bruce Wayne would probably most upset by the recently depicted Batmen putting on the Batstuit like any old jumpsuit when he’d already perfected the super-efficient pole system which, frankly, should be how we all dress these days. Even Sherlock Holmes.

  13. I will be very surprised if this is any good. Even with RDJ, who is an excellent actor. I’m not all for being slavishly faithful, or even for going for verisimilitude. But if you are going to really “adapt” the heck out of something — so much so that it barely resembles the original . . .don’t plunder a well-loved classic. Unless what you are creating anew is just great. I’ll eat my deerstalker if this is.

  14. You guys realize that this movie is based on Lionel Wingram’s comic book and not any of the original Conan Doyle’s novels?

    And if I’m not mistaken, THIS Sherlock Holmes enjoys bare knucling fist fights and he’s quite good at it…

  15. In The Adventure of the Retired Colourman there is another private detective called Mr. Barker who is described by Holmes as “A tall, dark, heavily moustached man, you say, with gray-tinted sun-glasses?”

    To which Watson replies:”Holmes, you are a wizard. I did not say so, but he had gray-tinted sun-glasses.”

    Nice try Jeff.

    Some of us have read the stories and know the character, not the caricature that Hollywood created. I’ll acknowledge that Ritchie is taking some liberties, but many of the things you’re taking issue with (prizefighting etc…) are central to the Holmes character. Furthermore, we’ve already had a near pitch perfect Holmes in Jeremy Brett (who incidentally did box onscreen), so I’m ok with a director trying something a bit different.

  16. Sorry, can’t help myself. Sherlock Holmes’ prizefighting ability is mentioned all over the Holmes canon but here is an explicit reference to his martial arts ability from The Adventure of the Empty House:

    “When I reached the end I stood at bay. He drew no weapon, but he rushed at me and threw his long arms around me. He knew that his own game was up, and was only anxious to revenge himself upon me. We tottered together upon the brink of the fall. I have some knowledge, however, of baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling, which has more than once been very useful to me. I slipped through his grip…”

    Yes, Sherlock Holmes’ primary weapon was his mind, no question, the stories are very clear on that. But he was hardly a dainty intellectual. I know it’s foolish to split hairs about a fictional character, but having read the stories many times, it’s hard to ignore assertions from someone who clearly hasn’t.

  17. Monument: There’s a difference between Japanese martial arts and kung fu/mma, which is clearly the angle they’re going for in this movie.

  18. D.Z., as I said, I realize that Ritchie is taking a few liberties, but the liberties are grounded in very real aspects of the character. We’ve already had an excellent, classic Holmes in Jeremy Brett, there’s no reason to go there again. He’s tackling a different side of the character, no big deal, if it fails it fails.

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