Before the End

The penultimate entry in the Granada Holmes series, The Case-book of Sherlock Holmes, isn’t half bad, actually. I recalled it being far worse.

The tricky thing is that by now they’re starting to run out of really meaty stories. I hesitate to call the remaining stories weak, but the incontestable fact is – by this time they’ve pretty much done the scorchers and are left with the more challenging stories.

In some of the stories there is no crime. This, obviously, makes it jolly difficult to structure them dramatically. Inevitably the viewer must feel at least slightly cheated by the anticlimax.

In these stories the script is crucial. Not to mention the directing and the acting. Mood and atmosphere may prevail where plot is absent. Fortunately Brett is still quite good, though some signs of strain are visible.

The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax is the archetype of a Holmes story: a damsel in distress and the villain trying to get at her money. The atypical feature of the story is that the villain is in no way a member of the family, nor does he attempt to marry Lady Frances.

The Thor Bridge is slightly more difficult. No crime, well none that can be prosecuted, so the story requires a bit of padding. The result is quite good, all things considered. There is melodrama but it is kept under control. There is no crime in Shoscombe Old Place either. Here too some considerable padding is required. So what the director does is that he shows a lot of the old lady in her veil. Which is a mistake. Put a veil on a young man and he still moves like an young man. This works admirably in a text, not so much when it is filmed.

The same applies to The Creeping Man. Here too we don’t really have a crime; it’s just the old professor taking simian hormones for purposes of rejuvenation. But when we see this old professor, actually see him, acting like an ape and swinging from trees from the effect of the hormones, it doesn’t work at all. The more we see the less we believe. Mere glimpses work, an old man beating his chest and running on all four simply makes one smile wryly, or erhaps wince. Otherwise the episode is very good. Pity that Doyle didn’t write more stories with natural science like this in them – this one has almost a feel of science fiction.

The Illustrious Client is, once again, archetypical Doyle: a lethal villain preying on a lady of means an entrapping her into a disastrous and ominous marriage. Quite splendid, especially the villain who’s played by the absolutely marvellous Anthony Valentine: a fellow who simply can’t help being delightfully shifty and untrustworthy, but in a quite delightfully gentlemanly and urbane manner. Valentine, by the way, also played Raffles in the 70s series about the gentleman thief and master cricketer. A couple of days before the Brett version I happened to watch the 60s version with Douglas Wilmer. In this one Baron Gruner was played by Peter Wyngarde, and in such a chilling fashion that one sincerely fears for Holmes’s life. Ripping stuff. Otherwise I have to say the newer version is superior. They had a lot more money to burn and it shows.

The Boscombe Valley Mystery is the only proper mystery of the lot, a hideous murder and a classic tale of Sherlockian detection. Peter Vaugh is a superb villain, a murderer for whom one almost feels sorry. The script is solid. It’s by John Hawkesworth and it shows. If only he could have scripted more episodes.

In all the aforementioned episodes Brett is still quite excellent, keeping his mannerisms under control delivering a solid and well crafted performance. Sometimes he may seem a tad too eager but probably the scripts are to blame for that. Having to pad they tend to overuse Holmes. So often Brett has nothing to do, only to emote. That’s never good.

The Case-book is concluded by three feature length episodes: The Master Blackmailer, The Eligible Bachelor and The Last Vampyre. They are not on the double DVD I just purchased and I can’t say I’m too distraught by the fact. These episodes mark, very clearly, the end of the series. They’re padded, punched up and perverted beyond belief. The first has certain qualities, the other two are just silly and have nothing to do with Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes.

After this – destruction. But even the next instalment has some remarkably good episodes, erratic in the extreme as the rest may be.

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