Themis-Athena | from somewhere between California and Germany | 04/10/2003
(4 out of 5 stars)
""Yes, the setting is a worthy one. If the devil did desire to have a hand in the affairs of men ..."
With these words, Sherlock Holmes comments on the mystery presented to him in "The Hound of the Baskervilles." And the "if" is a big one indeed, as he immediately makes clear: Asked by Dr. Watson whether he is inclined to place belief into the supernatural explanation of the phenomenon haunting the Baskerville family, Holmes points out that the devil's agents may well be of flesh and blood, thus instantly discounting the idea of the supernatural, and explains that there are two questions only to be resolved in this matter - whether any crime has been committed at all, and if so, what that crime is and how it was committed. Similarly, in "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire," Holmes dismisses all allegations of the work of bloodsucking fiends as "rubbish" and proceeds to prove in his seemingly effortless and strictly logical manner the perfectly natural solution to the events recounted to him by his client.
And herein lies the distinction between the movies contained in this collection and Arthur Conan Doyle's literary originals; and at the same time, the movies' overriding common element. For what is presented here is not necessarily, as in the shorter episodes of the TV series starring Jeremy Brett, a faithful rendition of Conan Doyle's originals, but rather, a set of five more or less classic gothic tales which happen to feature the famous detective from Baker Street and his companion Dr. Watson (Edward Hardwicke, who took over from David Burke after the TV series's first season).
"The Last Vampyre," based on the aforementioned Sussex Vampire short story, is in a way the most obviously problematic of these dramatizations, in that it departs from Holmes's (and Conan Doyle's) perspective on the supernatural by turning the tale into essentially an average horror story. Moreover, contrarily to the remaining feature films and the shorter episodes, the setting here is researched less faithfully and with less care for detail; and it shows. However, the movie is saved by the as always outstanding performance of Jeremy Brett, the *only* actor who ever managed to perfectly portray Holmes's imperiousness, bitingly ironic sense of humor and apparently indestructible self-control without at the same time neglecting his friendship towards Dr. Watson and the weaknesses hidden below a surface dominated by his overarching intellectual powers. And nowhere is that dichotomy clearer than in "The Last Vampyre," where Brett, himself already afflicted by the illness which would eventually kill him, reached new and never before explored depths in Holmes's soul. Although perhaps the gravest departure from Conan Doyle's literary original, noteworthy is also the performance of Roy Marsden as St. Claire Stockton, the village community's chief suspect of the alleged vampirism; a role demanding just the right degree of ambiguity in order not to lose credibility, and surely in the hands of a lesser actor the one role which would have brought the movie below the point where even Brett would no longer have been able to save it.
Conceptually equally problematic in my view is "The Eligible Bachelor," which turns a fairly simple and (as Sherlock Holmes stories go) straightforward tale of a bride disappearing on her wedding day into a confusing labyrinth of nightmares, doomed heiresses, madness and family curses; trying hard, but alas, unsuccessfully, to look like a cross between Hitchcock's "Rebecca" and an adaptation of the Brontes' "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights." Approach-wise, this is almost unpardonable, because unlike "The Adventure of the Sussex Vampyre" - which is contained in the last Holmes collection, 1927's "Casebook," and at least thematically fits in with the darker mood of those stories, driven by the psychological devastation brought about by World War I - this particular story's original version, "The Noble Bachelor," is part of 1892's "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes," and thus one of the earliest adventures which open only rare glimpses onto Holmes's personal ghosts.
"The Master Blackmailer" is based on the "Return of Sherlock Holmes" (1905) story "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton" and, while containing some narrative padding, one of the more faithful realizations here. Outstanding in particular is the performance of Robert Hardy, who has Holmes's antagonist Milverton - the master criminal specializing in blackmailing women of society with letters he has secretly obtained - down to the story's last detail, complete with his insincere, "perpetual frozen" smile and "the hard glitter of [his] restless and penetrating eyes." In the tiniest departure from Conan Doyle, Brett's Holmes displays genuine sympathy for the housemaid with whom he fakes an engagement to obtain information about Milverton's household. The story's somber climax, however, is taken directly from its literary original.
More faithful to Conan Doyle's works, finally, are also the realizations of the two novels "The Sign of the Four" (1890) and "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1901) (with the notable exception of the first novel's end, which would have been irreconcilable with the series's premise of a shared tenancy at 221B Baker Street - a fact no longer true even at the beginning of "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes"). Both novels contain allusions to the supernatural, juxtaposed with Holmes's detached, logical analysis; and relieved of the need to add flesh to the narrative bones of the shorter tales, the movies stay the course very well and bring to life in all their horror the events unraveled by Holmes over the course of his investigations.
If I am able to enjoy even those movies which significantly depart from Conan Doyle's originals, it is because I have, over time, come to see them as entirely new entries into the Sherlock Holmes canon - validated almost singlehandedly by the stellar performance of Jeremy Brett, as well as that of Edward Hardwicke as a refreshingly unbumbling Dr. Watson; and the two unequal heroes' relationship, which Loren Estleman in his foreword to Bantam's "Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories" rightfully called literature's warmest and most symbiotic and timeless ever.
Complete Sherlock Holmes
Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Granada Television Series (12 DVD)
Sherlock Holmes: A Baker Street Dozen
Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street
Bending the Willow: Jeremy Brett As Sherlock Holmes
Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle - The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes
Murder Rooms - The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes
The Life of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Conan Doyle, Detective: The True Crimes Investigated by the Creator of Sherlock Holmes
Arthur and George"
The Closer to the Canon, the Better
John Bray | Louisiana, USA | 11/25/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In these five feature-length films, we see Holmes at his best (though the quality of the films themselves varies). With The Sign of Four, the Granada team decided to avoid the question that plauge Sherlockians 'how many wives did John Watson have?' by avoiding the subject all together. This was a risky move, but it proved to streamline this series dramatically, and ended on a most worthy note. The portrayal of Jonathan Small by Jonathan Thaw (TV's Inspector Morse) ranks as one of the best guest appearances on this series. Outside the Mary Morstan subplot with Watson, this is very faithful to the original narrative. Better than Ian Richardson, by far better than Charlton Heston's Crucible of Blood, and stronger than anything Rathbone and Bruce had to offer. Can you imagine Bruce's bumbling, mumbling Watson trying to carry a picture? Oh, that's right they tried that with their over-blown Hound.
The Hound of the Baskervilles found in this DVD set can be a bit dry, and a bit slow at times. It is obvious that Brett is in ill-health. However, his performance is solid, and the moments he interacts with Hardwicke's Watson, we see a relationship between Holmes and Watson that no other team has captured. While Holmes delights in foiling Watson, such as in the opening scene over Dr. Mortimer's stick, it is Watson who steals the show. Hardwicke plays Watson as a world-weary, older brother of Holmes who understands him, and who is much needed by the world famous sleuth. Incidentally, for those who feel this particular version is too slow, I challenge you to see what happens when one tries to make a 'hipper, darker' version of the story, such as the 2002 production with Richard (Moulin Rouge) Roxburgh. The result is a gore-fest with little of the original story left in tact.
The Master Blackmailer is my favourite of the set. Holmes has fallen in love. The inexplicable has happened. In the original Canon story, he did get engaged to Milverton's maid. However, she turned out to be the Lady Swinstead, who turned the gun on Milverton at the end. This version takes liberties with that idea, and presents us with perhaps the saddest look at Holmes; a man who does not know how to kiss, love, or be loved. I remember hearing how folks who have trouble cultivating romances watched this episode, and responded that the episode was theraputic. Brett himself in this episode appears as if his health was getting better. He has more energy, and appears younger than in Hound.
The Eligible Bachelor is loosely based on The Noble Bachelor, and here is where the series gets into some trouble. While the performances of Brett and Hardwick are amazing, the story itself gets just a little too weird, especially with Holmes Prophetic dreams and the harrowing hag-like woman who has been kept in captivity. Because of Brett's deterioration in health, it makes sense that Holmes is having a 'breakdown.' His monologue about a world without Moriarty is particularly engaging. These moments make the film. The case itself is a let-down.
And finally, the last disc, I'm sad to say is the worst of the Brett series. I also felt it was the worst of the Canon stories. In the Canon story, when the boy is found to have tried to commit murder, Holmes recommends that he takes a few years to travel abroad. What? So, in this version, we do have a Dracula-esque human being who takes the young lad under his wing. Brett looks very run down, and older than his age in this film. And although, for the most part, the Memoirs series (which followed these films) is very good, Brett continues to look worse and worse. Does it make these later episodes unwatchable? Of course not! BRETT IS HOLMES. But we can't help but watch, with a lump in our throats, the slow deterioration of the definitive Holmes, who was in life, one of the most remarkable actors ever to grace the world."
Two Hour Holmes worth in 5 DVD's
Michael Ziegler | Philadelphia, Pa United States | 05/18/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This collection of the feature length Granada Television Sherlock Holmes stories featuring Jeremy Brett as the famous detective has a few good items in it. The best is "The Master Blackmailer" which is a build upon the original "Charles Augustus Milverton" story and is excellently done and colorful.The standout role of "Milverton" is performed by our friend from "All Creatures Great and Small" Robert Hardy, and he does a GREAT JOB! You may also notice one of the actors from "Brideshead Revisited" in this episode, look carefully! It is Nicolas Grace who gave us "Anthony Blanche" in "Brideshead".The second best is perhaps "The Sign of Four" with John Thaw as the central character to the story, Johnathan Small. Little did we know at the time that he would shortly go on to immortality as Inspector Morse. "The Hound of the Baskervilles" lacks excitement and seems drawn out and dull, and our "replacement" Watson, although good does not quite measure up to the standard that David Burke set for the role in the early 80's original and still best episodes covering most of the "Adventures". The Hammer 1959 version with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee still reigns in color drama and the '39 Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce production in B&W. "The Sussex Vampyre" is a matter of taste and "The Eligible Bachelor" is one of the last of the series that were made and is terrible due to Mr. Brett's ill health (which can be clearly seen)and ridiculous revelations by dreams leading to the solving of the crime bordering on Freudian philosophy. Overall it is satisfactory, but it is a 50-50 mix of Holmeswork, half good, half bad."
Bill Mydo | Twin Peaks, WA | 06/01/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Thanks to MPI media, the critically-acclaimed Granada Television "Sherlock Holmes" series are now ALL available on DVD!
The Feature Film Collection is not a collection of one-hour episodes, like the "Adventures," "Return," "Casebook," and "Memoirs" series. Rather, these are 5 individually-produced feature film length (roughly two hours) "movies." All excellent, two of the movies represent quite possibly the most famous Holmes stories of all: "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and "The Sign of Four."
Suffice it to say these are the finest and most authentic productions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes ever made. Most fans consider the late Jeremy Brett to be the quintessential Holmes, and Edward Hardwicke is a fine actor in his own right and a most excellent Dr. Watson.
Jeremy Brett was a gifted actor and should rightly be credited with "bringing to life" one of the 20th Century's most beloved fictional characters.
People may quibble about liberties taken here and there with the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories, but for the most part the "Feature Film" movies, like all the series, is very high quality; well-written, produced, and acted.
Again, technofiles may complain about the "transfer" as they have on other releases, but I believe MPI has done the best they can and the DVD is still FAR superior to owning these on videocassette. These DVDs are short on "frills" - meaning there's very little in the way of extras, but who cares? I'm buying these for the episodes.
Don't purchase these as an introduction to the series, start with the "Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." Then purchase other DVD packages, "Casebook," "Feature Film Collection," and "Memoirs," all of which are excellent.
Are these worth purchasing? Absolutely. High quality, intelligent, and family-friendly entertainment you can enjoy for a lifetime. Pull out every couple of years to watch them over and share with friends and family.