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Case Number 20450: Small Claims Court

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Great Detectives Anthology

Sherlock Holmes
1965 // 296 Minutes // Not Rated
Agatha Christie's Marple
1984 // 949 Minutes // Not Rated
Poirot
1989 // 476 Minutes // Not Rated
Released by A&E
Reviewed by Judge Maurice Cobbs (Retired) // January 6th, 2011

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All Rise...

But if you want to know who killed Mr. Boddy, Judge Maurice Cobbs did it. In the hall. With the revolver.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 4 (published July 22nd, 2009), Agatha Christie's Marple: Series 5 (published August 19th, 2010), Agatha Christie's Marple: The Pale Horse (published June 1st, 2011), Agatha Christie's Miss Marple: Classic Mysteries Collection (published April 7th, 2006), Agatha Christie's Poirot: Classic Crimes Collection (published June 12th, 2006), Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Definitive Collection (published November 3rd, 2008), Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 5 (published July 21st, 2010), Agatha Christie's Poirot: The Movie Collection, Set 6 (published June 24th, 2011), Poirot: Death On The Nile (published January 3rd, 2005), Poirot: Murder On The Orient Express (Blu-Ray) (published October 26th, 2010), Poirot: Series 12 (published June 10th, 2014), Poirot: Series 2 (Blu-ray) (published February 16th, 2012), Poirot: Series 4 (published April 16th, 2012), Poirot: Series 6 (published October 4th, 2012), Poirot: Series 1 (Blu-ray) (published January 5th, 2012), Sherlock Holmes (published March 30th, 2010), and Sherlock Holmes (Blu-Ray) (published March 26th, 2010) are also available.

The Charge

There's a murderer on the moors. Terror on the train. Villains in the village! Only the world's greatest deductive minds can save the day.

The Case

"Dashiell Hammett," Raymond Chandler once said, "took murder out of the drawing room and put it back in the gutter where it belonged." Fair enough. British drawing room mysteries can certainly seem rather unlikely, with elegant, big-brained amateur sleuths tripping over cartloads of corpses at every dinner party and weekend getaway they attend. I can't help but think that there was some element of wishful thinking in the practice, in fiction, of fatally bipping the hapless upper middle class over the beezer, or poisoning them with some rare and almost undetectable toxin from the West Indies, or providing a gentle shove to ensure that they accidentally perish in a fall from the North Wing Tower. The ordinary police simply aren't equipped to deal with these kinds of patrician misdeeds, being notoriously thick-headed and prone to arrest completely innocent stableboys and dim-witted nephews of the victims and such, and so it must fall to the Talented Amateur to uncover secrets, expose lies, and reveal murderers. After elevenses, of course; no reason we can't be civilized about all this. Would you mind passing the cucumber sandwiches? No, no, the ones without the arsenic, if you please. Thank you. Now, where were we?

Ah yes, the fine art of civilized murder. Those hardboiled American fellows tend to be rather sordid, with all that racing around in back alleys and dodging machine gun fire from irate gangsters, with the big shot's freshly seduced gun moll in tow. None of that nonsense in A&E's Great Detectives Anthology. Granted, Sherlock Holmes did his fair share of poking around the mean streets of London, but he managed to divide it rather nicely with some top-notch drawing room detection. Holmes is brought to life brilliantly by Peter Cushing (Dr. Who and the Daleks) in the superb two-part adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which makes up the Sherlockian portion of the collection along with four other classic Holmes whodunnits: "A Study In Scarlet," "The Boscombe Valley Mystery," "The Sign of Four," and "The Blue Carbuncle." These episodes are from the late 1960s BBC Sherlock Holmes TV series, which also starred Nigel Stock as Dr. Watson; Cushing stepped into the role in the show's second series, when Douglas Wilmer bowed out after the first. Cushing plays the part rather broadly, and lends the whole thing the general air of a stage production. Which is awesome, don't get me wrong, but it might not quite be the thing for fans weaned on Jeremy Brett's definitive portrayal or Guy Ritchie's high octane spin on the character. Unfortunately, these episodes are all that remain from Cushing's stint as Holmes on TV, and the video and sound quality are less than pristine, though it is far from unwatchable and it's clear that every effort was made to make these to DVD look as well as the source material would allow. I say, what are you doing with that blowgun and poisoned dart?

Perhaps we'd better move on to that grand dame of British detective fiction, Agatha Christie. Two of her immortal sleuths are represented in this collection: the neat little Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and everybody's favorite antediluvian snoop Miss Jane Marple. Like Holmes, these two have been adapted to stage and screen countless times in movies, TV shows and even Japanese animation (in a surprisingly good series called Agatha Christie's Great Detectives Poirot and Marple; it bears investigation if mystery is your bag) but nowhere have these characters been portrayed more definitively than in their respective BBC productions. For over twenty years, David Suchet has elegantly portrayed the diminutive sleuth in Agatha Christie's Poirot; this collection offers up five stellar feature-length selections from that impressive run: "Cards On The Table," "Taken At The Flood," "After The Funeral," The Mystery of the Blue Train," and "Death on the Nile." Video quality is less than impressive, with noticeable grain and that vaguely not-quite-right look that all PAL to NTSC conversions seem to have. Not that any of this detracts from the viewing experience—and neither does the rather bland 2.0 stereo mix. No matter; the dialogue is what matters here, and it comes through strong and clear. Oh, and could you move over just a bit? You've got your dagger accidentally poking in my ribs. There's a good chap.

Rounding out this hefty set is the late Joan Hickson, whose portrayal of Miss Marple was so impressive that she was awarded the Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth herself, who remarked, "You play the part just as one envisages it." One would be hard-pressed to disagree—Hickson's Miss Marple is easily the most faithful rendition of Agatha Christie's spinster sleuth to date. Depending on your disposition, this could be a good or a bad thing—the Miss Marple mysteries move at a languid pace that perfectly captures the feel of Christie's novels but might be a little off-putting to viewers conditioned to more, ah, energetic fare. Personally, I found the Miss Marple features a delightfully cozy diversion for a lazy, rainy Sunday afternoon—nothing like a cup of tea and a bit of genteel English countryside murder to help you unwind on a weekend. Eight of the twelve Miss Marple adaptations are presented here: "The Moving Finger," "At Bertrams Hotel," "Murder at the Vicarage," "Nemesis," "A Caribbean Mystery," "The Mirror Crackd from Side to Side," "Sleeping Murder," and "4:50 from Paddington." The video and sound quality are comparable to the Poirot discs—nothing spectacular, but well good enough to enjoy the presentation. Hmmm, would you look at that? That chandelier cord seems to be a bit frayed. Almost as if it had been cut. Isn't that odd?

Anyway, despite the rather average video and uninspiring audio, and the lame selection of special features, this set would be a great way to get started on a collection of some of the best British TV has to offer. Granted, it's an odd set—both Miss Marple and Poirot have been made available several times before, and the versions here seem to be the same as from those previous releases. Likewise, the surviving episodes of the Cushing Sherlock Holmes have been previously released in their own smartly-packaged set, and the lone documentary feature on this anthology, "Sherlock Holmes: The Great Detective," is recycled from that collection. With this in mind, it's better to think of this as a starter set, rather than an addition to a collection—after all, the avid fan of this type of program will likely already have some or all of these from previous releases. So really, if I have a complaint about this set at all, it's just that A&E seems to have an exasperatingly endless variety of ways to repackage and reissue the same content over and over and over again, without offering anything new in improved transfers or remastered sound, or even fresh, expanded features. How about it guys? Can we expect newer, better editions of these fantastic shows, or will you continue to recycle them ad infinitum? Say, ah, what are you doing with that bottle of curare?

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Genres

• Crime
• Drama
• Foreign
• Mystery
• Television

Scales of Justice, Sherlock Holmes

Judgment: 80

Perp Profile, Sherlock Holmes

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 296 Minutes
Release Year: 1965
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Sherlock Holmes

• Documentary

Scales of Justice, Agatha Christie's Marple

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Agatha Christie's Marple

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 949 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Agatha Christie's Marple

• Biography
• Story Index

Scales of Justice, Poirot

Judgment: 85

Perp Profile, Poirot

Studio: A&E
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Subtitles:
• None
Running Time: 476 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Poirot

• Biography
• Story Index








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