Written by: Jeremy Paul, T.R. Bowen, and John Hawkesworth, based on the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle
Directed by: Tim Sullivan, Peter Hammond, and Brian Mills
Starring: Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke
Released by: MPI
Rating: NR, suitable for most audiences
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format.
My Advice: Fans of the sleuth shouldn’t miss it.
After a pair of successful TV series, the gang at Granada realized they had a certifiable phenomenon on their hands by the name of Jeremy Brett. His portrayal of Doyle‘s master sleuth was lauded by both the world of literary fans of the original work and critics of television. It seemed only natural, then, to produce a few feature-length adventures for Sherlock and his faithful sidekick Watson to undertake. Despite (or perhaps due to) Brett’s ongoing struggles with bipolar disorder, these feature performances are some of his most impressive, despite working with stories that really weren’t the strength of Doyle’s canon.
[ad#longpost]The five films contained in this set are The Eligible Bachelor, The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Last Vampyre, and The Master Blackmailer. While they range in quality from mediocre to superb, the acting is uniformly good. Brett and Hardwicke, with years of sharing screentime behind them, are as comfortable as the two legendary sleuthing partners as any two actors have ever been in the roles. There’s still a soft spot in my heart for the original Watson to Brett’s Holmes, David Burke, but Hardwicke is certainly no slouch, and spent more time as the good Doctor than Burke ever did.
The biggest complaint I have with these films is in the selection of stories used. While Hound and Sign are no-brainers, the other three are a bit more obscure, and certainly not adapted with anywhere near the frequency of the first two–and we see why. Blackmailer is pretty good stuff, though it gives us an unexpected look at Holmes playing ladies’ man, which seems a little out of keeping. It does give Brett a chance to exercise a little more range than many Holmes tales will allow, however. Bachelor is just flat-out not interesting enough to sustain two hours worth of script. Even worse, Vampyre breaks what I consider a cardinal rule of Holmes–it implies the possibility of the supernatural, which Holmes frequently had to dismiss in credulous townsfolk and superstitious investigators that he encountered. To imply that the great sleuth might have been mistaken in this particular belief really throws a monkey wrench in Doyle’s Baker Street Universe.
It’s likewise a shame that there are no features to speak of on these discs. Some of the previous MPI releases had at least a couple of little bonuses for people nuts about Holmes or Brett himself. Sadly here you’re left with nothing. The video transfer and audio are both great, though. MPI, after a few rough patches in their initial Holmes offering, has really gone to all necessary trouble to make sure that the sound and picture are as good on these discs as it was the day the features first aired. Some further information on Doyle, Holmes or the actors involved would be some nice gravy on top of all that.
If you can’t get enough Holmes, than this set will be a worthy addition. You might want to consider cherry-picking the single discs if you’re easily disappointed, though. Brett continues to give fantastic performances in this role, and these represent the final few years of his stint as Holmes prior to his untimely death. Grab this stuff today, and perhaps MPI will accelerate the release of the two remaining Brett/Holmes TV series on DVD.