Sherlock Holmes (BBC-1964-1965/DVD)
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The classic BBC run of Sherlock Holmes starring Douglas Wilmer is finally available on DVD! Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective has enthralled generations since his first appearance in 1887. In 1964 BBC commissioned a series with Douglas Wilmer as Holmes and Nigel Stock as his faithful friend Dr. Watson. This DVD, never before released, includes some of the best stories from the canon. Whether it’s the horrifying case of The Speckled Band or the fascinating story behind The Red Headed League, this is a DVD must have for all Sherlock and mystery fans. Note: Of the original 13 episodes in this series, no source material exists for "The Abbey Grange" or "The Bruce-Partington Plans," so they are regrettably not included here.
The 1960s BBC series Sherlock Holmes has all the virtues of Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective--shrewd and efficient, with flashes of visual panache but never at the expense of sturdy, straightforward storytelling. The 13 episodes on this DVD set include such favorites as "The Red-Headed League" and "The Six Napoleons," as well as lesser-known stories like "The Beryl Coronet" and "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax." Douglas Wilmer plays Holmes with all the traditional accouterments: the deerstalker cap, the pipe, the aquiline nose, the obsessive and abrasive nature, the mix of haughty superiority and moral compassion. Nigel Stock is a typically affable but dense Watson. The supporting casts feature an abundance of unknown but capable character actors who bring flavor and zest to their roles. Some episodes have a hint of film noir or the pulp surrealism of Fantomas, with good use of shadows and things not quite seen. The best stories traffic in the macabre. In "The Devil's Foot," a woman dies overnight while playing cards with her brothers, who each went mad; they sit at a round table, the woman's hand covered in melted wax from the candle, the men grinning, twitching, and laughing. Holmes, of course, will suss out the truth--but the truth is less likely to stick in the mind than that weird domestic image. Sherlock Holmes walks that fine line between morbid imagination and complete faith in the power of the rational mind. --Bret Fetzer
- Aspect Ratio : 1.33:1
- Is Discontinued By Manufacturer : No
- MPAA rating : NR (Not Rated)
- Product Dimensions : 7.5 x 5.25 x 0.75 inches; 4.18 Ounces
- Item model number : 7527395
- Media Format : Multiple Formats, Black & White, Full Screen, NTSC
- Run time : 10 hours and 50 minutes
- Release date : September 14, 2010
- Actors : Douglas Wilmer, Nigel Stock, Peter Madden, Grace Arnold, Jimmy Ashton
- Subtitles: : English
- Language : English (Dolby Digital 1.0), Unqualified
- Studio : BBC Home Entertainment
- ASIN : B003NF97NA
- Number of discs : 2
- Best Sellers Rank: #85,401 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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I'm not sure if these adaptations are suited for those who've never read the original stories, but Doyle fans will find them fascinating, especially when compared with the Jeremy Brett versions produced by Granada TV.
Douglas Wilmer's Holmes is not among the most famous portrayals but should be. His aristocratic, arrogant Holmes is as vain as Doyle's and purrs like a fussy, self-satisfied cat. Nigel Stock plays a transitional Watson, situated between Nigel Bruce and Edward Burke; a frequently befuddled duffer capable of flashes of wit and insight, and occasionally able to show up Sherlock.
As for the 12 surviving episodes...
"The Speckled Band," "The Copper Breeches," and "The Man With The Twisted Lip" are faithful but stolid adaptations, while "The Six Napoleons" unforgivably throws away the emotional moment at the end of the original story. The Granada versions of these specific episodes are superior and benefit from higher budgets and lavish production values. As for "The Red Headed League," it's harmed another defect of this series: excessive padding. The pointless new scenes drag on and on.
From here on the series improves. "The Illustrious Client" is a strong version of one of the most brutal Holmes tales, featuring Peter Wyngarde as a smoothly satanic Baron Gruner (far more suitable to the role than Anthony Valentine in the Granada version). The episode is only let down by sloppy direction and blocking during the climax. "Charles Augustus Milverton" is a much closer adaptation than Granada's feature-length "The Master Blackmailer" and preserves the original story's balance of humor and melodrama. For once the padding is witty and well-placed.
Two episodes are actually better than the Granada versions. In "The Devil's Foot," which benefits from impressive outdoors locations, Holmes's experiment with the lamp is closer to Doyle: the close-ups of Stock and Wilmer's horrified faces are more dramatically effective than Granada's silly hallucinations. "The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax" was heavily reworked (and padded) by Granada and lost much of the humor from its first half. Here the original is closely followed and the result is better paced.
But the best reason to get this set are two episodes based on stories that have never been visually adapted before or since. David Burke, (Jeremy Brett's first Watson!) plays the villain in "The Beryl Coronet" and gives a suitably rakish performance. "The Retired Colourman" is one of the more obscure stories from the final collection of Holmes tales--the plot is somewhat implausible, but there's plenty of humor at Watson's expense and grotesqueness (courtesy of the mystery villain); this moody adaptation preserves those aspects.
Since these episodes survived only as kinescopes, their visual quality is not good and this barebones release shows no signs of restoration. It's a good thing these episodes are in black and white--during the 60s the BBC was still shooting exteriors on film and interiors on video tape. In color that combination was jarring and made the sets look cheap. This low-budget series also had cheap sets, but in black and white they look more substantial. At its best this series rose above its limitations; that makes it required viewing for anyone who loves the Sherlock Holmes stories.
True, the miniseries is in Black and White, but that color scheme is consistent with the noir themes in the stories. Some have discussed that the video quality is mediocre - true - and that Watson is almost irrelevant - also true. But if you want to experience Holmes, I think you cannot do better than this
velvet cloaked actor in his deer stalker hat. I love the way he commands a scene and is perfectly comfortable lying on a sofa thinking of a solution or berating Watson for missing all the important facts.
Douglas Wilmer is a star...and this seriies proves it
Those episodes are the exception, though. Nearly all the rest have become definitive adaptations for me, not only due to their (for the most part) faithfulness to the stories, but there is something intangible about Wilmer's Holmes that I had never before seen translated from the page to screen. It's the very subtle nuances of his temperament, but more so than that, Wilmer brings across Holmes sense of humour so startlingly well, at times he gives a more faithful portrayal than even the great Jeremy Brett. Certainly, it would have been nice if the budget used to produce this series was cushier, yet personally speaking, that all became background to the unfolding of the plot and Wilmer's uncanny performance.
Nigel Stock as Dr. Watson was not so nuanced as other greats in the role, and I am loathe to say there were a few odd occasions - though it was not characteristic of the role - where he was just a bit dumbed down. Despite this, Stock gives a strong performance that very much reminded me of Doyle's Watson. His fierce loyalty, obliging nature, and yes, on the whole his intelligence shone through brilliantly. Save for a few small nitpicks, I can see him being ranked along side the likes of David Burke and Martin Freeman.
Some of my favourite stories were adapted here, and so I went into them with very high expectations. I was not disappointed in the least. In fact, I'm prepared to say The Devil's Foot went above and beyond even the Granada episode, the latter paling dreadfully in comparison to this. So for all the minor imperfections in the DVDs and a few of the scripts, this is a definitive series and well worth every penny.
Top reviews from other countries
They are pretty true to the original short stories but extended quite sympathetically to fit the one-hour length. I used to read them on a half-hour trolleybus ride! in my view. Douglas Wilmer's Holmes is excellent, rather more good humoured than in most more modern interpretations without being in any way a send-up.
But it is annoying that we have to import them, all the more so because they have the scandalous regional coding which means that they won't play on most DVD players outside North America. They will play on computers (use the free VLC Media Player, or Media Player Classic, as they don't want to know where you live). They will also play with DVD recorders or players that can be made region free. But when I used one of the latter the format kept switching between the traditional 5x4 of these programmes and the slot-shaped format of modern TV programmes. I didn't get this problem on the computer and it may have been the new Panasonic TV - but I've not had the problem before. I should add that region-free North American NTSC format DVDs usually play fine on my UK equipment.
This is the first DVD I've had with no programme listing! Many thanks to Allan Broadfield for giving us one. It's also a shame there are no notes on the series - we expect them with reissues.
Anyway, at least we can now see these programmes again.
But when we see Rupert Davies's Maigret?