A&E // 1968 // 296 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // January 5th, 2010
The game is afoot.
In 1964, the BBC started a Sherlock Holmes series starring Douglas Wilmer (Patton) as Holmes and Nigel Stock (Young Sherlock Holmes) as Dr. Watson. After thirteen episodes, Wilmer quit due to the rigors of a tight shooting schedule. Three years later, the BBC resurrected the show, bringing in veteran actor Peter Cushing to return to the role he had played in the 1959 feature The Hound of the Baskervilles; Nigel Stock also returned for another turn as Watson. Sixteen additional episodes were produced for the 1968 series; unfortunately, most of the twenty-nine episodes were destroyed when the BBC starting recycling videotape in the 1970s (a fate that befell a lot of the early Doctor Who episodes, and which would have claimed the entire run of Monty Python's Flying Circus, had not Terry Jones intervened at the eleventh hour and bought the tapes).
A&E now brings us The Sherlock Holmes Collection, which assembles the surviving episodes of the Cushing series:
* "The Hound of the Baskervilles," parts 1 and 2
* "A Study in Scarlet"
* "The Boscombe Valley Mystery"
* "The Sign of Four"
* "The Blue Carbuncle"
While Holmes aficionados will be pleased that these surviving episodes have at last been released, the fact is that this is not a particularly good set. When old, damaged PAL recordings get converted to NTSC and then mastered to DVD, it rarely ends well; much of the damage has been cleaned up, but the video remains weak, with soft images, muted colors, a lot of flaring, and blurred motion. The remastered stereo audio track fares better; dialogue is clear enough, though a bit thin and with echoes in spots.
The adaptations are a bit of a mixed bag. "The Hound of the Baskervilles," as a two-parter, is fairly well-developed. The other episodes, however, are crammed into a 50-minute running time. For longer stories, such as "A Study in Scarlet" and "The Sign of Four," not enough story survives. The writers chose to tweak the stories to varying degrees, most commonly by adding additional scenes with suspects and victims by themselves, to better flesh out their characters. While the move brings some variety to the episodes, and also reduces the demands on Peter Cushing, the result is that Holmes gets little chance to do anything but solve the case. Holmes is reduced to a creature of pure intellect, with few of the personality quirks that make him so memorable.
"A Study in Scarlet" is stripped of one of its more notable elements: the first meeting of Holmes and Watson. That episode might also be missing some concluding footage; as Holmes and Watson leave with the killer, the killer stumbles and begins to fall -- the image freezes on a blurred image of the fall for a split second, then we cut to credits. It's possible to infer an ending from the sequence, but in the absence of additional evidence, it's just as easy to assume that the final scene was damaged.
Acting is decent enough under the circumstances. BBC had allotted what was (for them) a generous shooting schedule, including a lot of location shooting. English weather being...well, English weather, there were massive delays in the location work, resulting in frantic shooting of the studio scenes, to the point where in at least one instance, an episode was broadcast before they had a chance to finish editing. Peter Cushing was further distracted by his wife's illness; between the schedule and worrying about his wife, he never felt that he had done right by the part. Cushing's Holmes is a bit more genial than Rathbone's, less idiosyncratic than Brett's, more condescending than outright arrogant. That is not intended as a critique, but simply a difference.
The lone extra is an episode from A&E's Biography, "Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective." The film presents a biography of Holmes as though he were a real figure. An interesting idea, but it gets tedious at times, particularly through the framing device of a dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Society in which Dr. John Watson regales the dinner party with his reminiscences. The film includes several interesting clips of Arthur Conan Doyle speaking of his most famous creation.
Ardent Holmes fans will want this set, but few others will.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 296 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Bonus Episode
* Wikipedia: Sherlock Holmes