Sherlock Holmes: The Archive Collection Vol. 1
Deluxe Edition with Bonus Features!
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First time ever on home video! Deluxe Edition, 3-Disc Set of Sherlock Holmes content! The titles in this DVD box set have all been copied from original archival film elements, chosen for their quality and rarity.
Disc 1 includes The Sleeping Cardinal (aka Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour, 1931) with Arthur Wontner, Lost in Limehouse (a 2-reel burlesque, 1933), and The Limejuice Mystery (a British 1-reel comedy, 1930).
Disc 2 includes The Sting of Death (an episode of the TV series The Elgin Hour, 1955) starring Boris Karloff as Mr. Mycroft, The Man Who Disappeared (a British TV episode with John Longden as Holmes, 1951), and the comedy shorts A Case of Hypnosis (1952) and The Strange Case of Hennessy (1933).
Disc 3 includes The Adventure of the Speckled Band (1949, with Alan Napier as Holmes), The Copper Beeches (1912 French film with Georges Treville as Holmes), The Man with the Twisted Lip (1921, with Eille Norwood as Holmes), The Case of the Screaming Bishop (1944 Columbia cartoon), and a bonus episode of Schlitz Playhouse of Stars called The General s Boots (1954, with Basil Rathbone).
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From 1921 to 1923 Eille Norwood appeared in 47 short silent films. We are given "The Man With the Twisted Lip". It would be nice if some company would give us more, maybe a multi-DVD set, but don't hold your breath. [P.S. Does anyone know how to pronounce his first name? I've heard "Isle", "I-Lee", "Eel", "Ee-Lee", "El" and even "Ellie"].
Actually, the Norwood is not the earliest film in this collection. From the prehistoric period we are given "The Copper Beeches" (1912), one of 8 films starring French (!) actor Georges Treville. They were filmed in England, and "The Copper Beeches" makes good use of exterior photography. Georges Treville is forgettable, but this may be my favorite film of the bunch. The acting style is pure Victorian melodrama. The acting in the Norwood film from only 9 years later is much more realistic and "modern". Also, I have a major crush on the actress who plays Alice Rucastle. Do you think there's too much of a an age difference? - I'm 61 and she's 120.
Arthur Wontner appeared in five feature-length films from 1931 to 1937. The last three ("The Sign of Four", "The Triumph of Sherlock Holmes", and "Murder at the Baskervilles") are available cheaply on Alpha Video. The first two films were believed to have been lost until a single print of the first one, "Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour", was discovered about about 25 years ago. Here it is. Unfortunately, the second film, "The Missing Rembrandt" still is missing.
There are also three early Television shows starring Alan Napier (1949), John Longden (1951) and Boris Karloff (1955). Alan Napier is best remembered as Alfred the butler on the Batman TV show. John Longden appeared in several early Hitchcock films. I assume you've heard of Boris Karloff. He plays "Mr. Mycroft" in an adaptation of H.F. Heard's novel "A Taste for Honey". "Mr. Mycroft" is an alias that Sherlock used during his retirement to the Sussex Downs where he devoted his energies to bee-keeping. There is also a 1954 TV appearance by Basil Rathbone, but this is a ringer - he plays a British officer in World War II on "Schlitz Playhouse of the Stars".
The collection is padded out with five parodies and cartoons from 1930-52. Apparently our ancestors were easily amused. [One curiosity - the 1933 parody "Lost in Limehouse" stars Olaf Hytten as Sheerluck Jones. Hytten was an extra /character actor who appeared in 293 films between 1921 and 1955, including 6 of Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films (he usually played the butler). This is his only starring role.]
A strange collection, but I enjoyed it.
The Sleeping Cardinal (Sherlock Holmes' Fatal Hour, in the USA) is a movie adaptation of The Empty House and The Final Problem by Doyle and is not bad. The print quality is pretty good, better than some other copies of Sherlock films with Arthur Wontner and Ian Fleming. I would like to see all of the SH films done with Wontner restored and reissued. Belongs here.
Lost In Limehouse is a parody that is done in English Xmas play tradition, the worse the joke is, the better. Things like a Xmas carolers singing in the snow as they slowly get completely covered. Just ridiculous base humor, you may not find it funny. Could be kept on a 2 disc set if there was room.
Limejuice Mystery is done with marionettes and is not bad if you like puppetry. Could have been left off.
Sting of Death is a TV drama with Boris Karloff playing a man named Mycroft who raises bees, could this be Sherlock when he retired? Possibly but that is about as close as it gets. Should have been left off.
The Man Who Disappeared is an adaptation of The Man With the Twisted Lip, for British TV. Not bad, decent copy.
A Case Of Hypnosis is a short with chimpanzees playing Holmes and others. For some reason Chimp acts were big in the 1950s, hence this short. Should have been left off (Should be taken out and burned).
The Strange Case of Hennessy, should have been a SH Parody/Comedy (The detective wears a cape and has a Watson-like partner) but there was probably a money problem with the Conan Doyle estate so he became a Philo Vance parody. Has some rhyming dialog and songs and is not everyone's cup of tea. Decent copy. Related and could be kept on a 2 disc set if there was room.
The Speckled Band is a TV adaptation with Alan Napier (The Uninvited, Alfred in Batman TV series) sans mustache doing a cliched Holmes (LARGE Calabash pipe and hounds tooth deerstalker cap) in a fair adaptation of story. Arthur Shields (The Quiet Man) is the host introducing the drama (along with original Lucky Strike cigarette advertisements and Arthur lighting one up when he is talking). Good copy. Definitely belongs here.
The Copper Beeches is a faithful adaptation of the original story. It is a 1912 SILENT film with a new musical score that is very nice. This is one of 8 films by a French company and production was personally supervised by Arthur Conan-Doyle himself. Being 1912 the acting is OVER THE TOP. There are no real inter-title cards for dialog rather relying on pantomime and speaking right to the camera when necessary. Moviegoers in the silent era became pretty good lip readers which proved embarrassing to some studios when actors flubbed lines and let out expletives or dialog that was not part of the script. It is a really interesting look at the early days of movie making and the print is surprisingly good for its age. A definite keeper.
The Man With the Twisted Lip is an adaptation of the story of the same name and is not bad. Again it is SILENT with a new music score that again is good. It is from 1921 so it is less pantomime than the previous one and has inter-title cards for dialog. Another surprisingly good print. A keeper.
The Screaming Bishop is a B&W cartoon that is not really too good but it IS Holmes so it belongs here.
The General's Boots, except for Basil Rathbone staring in it, has NO relation to SH. It is a nice example of early TV drama with good production values and a good print but could have been dropped.
Several selections are animated shorts, which are as short on laughs as they are on connection to Holmes. One comedy short, starring Cliff Edwards and featuring that incredibly annoying gimmick of rhymed speech that came and thankfully went fairly quickly in the early 30s, isn't even about Holmes. The lead character is called Silo Dance and is thus a parody of Philo Vance, not Sherlock Holmes.
Two strange entries are a 30-minute drama starring Basil Rathbone that, aside from its star, has no connection with Holmes whatsoever. The other is a TV comedy/drama from 1955 called "Sting of Death" that stars Boris Karloff, included probably because the name of Karloff's character is Mycroft and somebody must have thought it referred to Sherlock's elder brother. It doesn't!
This is so disappointing because there must be so much more that they could have included...and certainly so much here that they shouldn't have. The stuff here that actually does relate to Holmes could have been fit onto one DVD at one third the price.
There is a second volume of this series. I shall not be suckered into buying that one.