From old books to big bucks: 8 vintage heroes who deserve a modern revival

From Den of Geek:

With the next Sherlock Holmes movie on the horizon, David looks at a few other literary heroes that deserve a fresh chance on the big screen…

Classic suspense heroes are getting a lot of Hollywood attention at the moment. Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows will be released in December, and Robert Downey Jr wants to similarly reinvent Perry Mason, while Miss Marple will apparently turn into Jennifer Garner.

Meanwhile, The Saint, as played by James Purefoy, will return to the small-screen in a TV movie called The Saint In New Orleans. With this in mind, here are a few other classic characters that could be similarly adapted.

Sexton Blake

Originally a Holmes pretender, this character evolved into a hybrid of Holmes, James Bond and Indiana Jones, going on to become the most documented fictional character in the history of the English language, with over two thousand stories and novels published. Ostensibly a private detective, with adolescent Tinker and greyhound Pedro as sidekicks, and whizzing around in a Rolls Royce dubbed The Grey Panther, Blake’s adventures took him everywhere, from the bustle of London to the farthest reaches of Africa.

He faced villains every bit as fantastic as Spider-Man, including Mr Mist (who, after being disfigured, discovers the secret of invisibility), Waldo the Wonder-Man (who cannot feel pain, heat or cold), Miss Death (who, with only six months to live, dons a mask and goes on a killing spree), The Black Eagle (incarcerated on Devil’s Island for 20 years for a crime he didn’t commit, but finally escapes – with a grudge), George Marsden Plummer (a Scotland Yard detective who doubles as a criminal mastermind), and many more.

The stories were just as action-oriented as any other contemporary cinematic adventure, as Blake was customarily knocked on the head, shot at, poisoned, drowned, gassed, knifed, ejected from planes, hurled over cliffs, pushed in front of trains and, on one occasion, almost rocketed to the moon.

Three movies were made in the 30s, and there were two TV series in the late 60s and 70s. After that, the character who had risen to folk hero status, who had been read in magazines, newspapers and novels, heard on countless radio programs and seen in endless comic strips over a period of 80 years, sadly disappeared.


Created by Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, EW Hornung, AJ Raffles was an ‘amateur cracksman’, a cricket-loving crook who robbed from the rich, aided by his sidekick and batsman from the Boer War, Bunny Manders, who narrated the stories and was forever suffering from a heavy conscience during their adventures.

Six films were made, the first as early as 1905, and the last in 1939, with David Niven in the role. Anthony Valentine played him in a 70s TV series, with Nigel Havers taking the part for the series The Gentleman Thief in 2001, with Michael French co-starring.

TV shows like Hustle (in Britain) and Leverage (in America) owe a lot to this character. And what with the Ocean’s trilogy still in recent memory, there’s obviously an appetite for Robin Hood-type thieves.

Bulldog Drummond

One of Ian Fleming’s influences for Bond, these novels by HC McNeile, known under his pseudonym, Sapper, featured Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond, who after the First World War, gets bored with civilian life and advertises himself as a kind of trouble shooter. His arch-enemy was Carl Peterson, a Blofeld-style megalomaniac intent on causing world havoc.

Twenty-five films were made from 1923 to 1968, and Drummond was played by, among others, Ralph Richardson, Ronald Colman and Ray Milland.

The Toff

Created by John Creasey, who is often touted as the most prolific mystery-adventure writer ever, The Toff was the Rt Honourable Richard Rollison, similar to The Saint, who helped out the little man, saved damsels in distress and got the bad girls. At the scene of a victory, he would leave a calling card, a handkerchief with a drawing of a match-stick man with a top hat and stick. Nearly 70 books were published in Creasey’s lifetime. He also created many other characters, including the hero-crook The Baron, who got his own TV series in the 60s.

Richard Hannay

Hannay is the main character in The Thirty-Nine Steps, a novel which is the template for countless action films and adventure novels, and often cited as the very first espionage novel.

John Buchan’s character also appeared in four sequels, although it is the first book, written in 1915, which has been indefatigably adapted for both the small and big screens. A television series with Robert Powell (who played the role in the 1978 remake) acted as a precursor to the book, but as of yet, the four sequels have not been adapted.

Modesty Blaise

A former crime boss turned secret agent, Modesty was like a female James Bond. Originally written for a comic strip, the character became so successful that a film was made in 1966, from which was spawned a popular series of novels. Quentin Tarantino held the rights for a while, and the film was to star Reece Witherspoon, but faced with the prospect of losing the rights to the character, Tarantino’s production company was obliged to knock out a quick straight-to-DVD release in 2004 called My Name Is Modesty, an origin story set during the heroin’s crime years.

If future films stay true to the stories – which had action aplenty – and keep the sidekick of Willie Garvin and the M-like boss Sir Gerald Tarrant, there could be a franchise here.

Philip Marlowe

The most iconic and laconic private detective in all fiction, Raymond Chandler’s signature character has been played by Humphrey Bogart, Robert Mitchum and others in the past. In 2007, it was reported that Clive Owen was planning on playing the character in the Chandler title Trouble Is My Business, which would be apparently set in the original 1940s setting. A series could certainly be built around this character, but Marlowe shouldn’t be made to do too much action: less was always more with this character.

Nick and Nora Charles

Dashiell Hammett’s characters from his novel The Thin Man were later spun off into six tremendously successful films, a radio and television series and a Broadway play. They’re a married couple who exchange witty barbs while tracking down murderers. Get Bradley Cooper and Katherine Heigl on this and – bang! – gentlemen, you have a franchise.

Which other vintage characters do you think should go to the big screen? Add your suggestions in the comments below…

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