"The Adventure of the Crooked Man," one of the stories from The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes collection, is certainly not one of the more memorable Holmes mysteries. After all, there is precious little deduction involved in the solving of the crime (which really turns out to be no crime at all). Half of the story is Holmes narrating the basic facts of the case which he's gathered to Watson. They travel to Aldershot to interview Henry Wood (the "crooked man" of the title), he confesses exactly what happened, Holmes gives a brief Scripture reference, and that's it. (It's an analogy to the story of David and Bathsheba, found in 2 Samuel, in case anyone wants to look it up.)
So I guess it's not too surprising that the writers of this episode found it necessary to change the flow of the story rather considerably. Much of the episode is told in flashbacks, the longest of which is Henry's "confession," performed to great dramatic effect by Norman Jones. Holmes and Watson are fairly unimportant to the story. Rather than narrating much of the story to Watson at the good doctor's home late at night, the writers choose to have Watson accompany Holmes in all his investigation, a wise choice, given the nature of the story.
I found the drama of the episode engaging enough; indeed, it was far more interesting to watch than it was to read. However, considering Holmes and Watson's limited involvement in the telling of the story, it wasn't much of a "Holmes adventure." Still, there were a few little details that were enjoyable enough. The aforementioned performance by Norman Jones was quite good, and I was interested in Fiona Shaw's minor role as Miss Morrison, a friend to the unfortunate Nancy Barclay, whose husband's murder is the case under investigation. Harry Potter fans will recognize Ms. Shaw as Harry's unpleasant aunt, among a number of her other well known roles.
Jeremy Brett's performance in this episode is a little odd: his surprisingly aggressive and unusual behavior as Major Murphy gives him the basic facts of the case is...unusual, to say the least. Through much of the episode, Brett displays a bit of a manic energy that is not really explained by the circumstances of the investigation. We are treated to a little scene at the end of the episode which has been added by the writers, wherein Watson does a bit of deduction himself, and gives Holmes a humorous, "Elementary, my dear Holmes," surely intended as a nod to the fans. I also smiled at a brief exchange in the middle of the episode, in which Holmes responds to Watson's theory of Col. Barclay being engaged in some "mild adultery." He sarcastically thanks his friend for "educating me in military morality." Snarky!
While not one of the more outstanding episodes from the Granada series, I still found it an enjoyable enough watch. If I had to assign it stars on a five-star scale, I'd probably give it a three...not incredible, but not completely a waste of my time, either. I'd love to hear from other Sherlockians what they think of this installment! Feel free to leave a comment.
"The Adventure of the Speckled Band" seems to be a favorite with many readers, despite its many obvious plot holes (snakes don't drink milk or climb ropes, for example). Holmes's cool head in the face of the belligerent Grimesby Roylott's threats and the middle-of-the-night stakeout waiting for "the speckled band" to arrive are fairly dramatic and entertaining scenes, and the gothic horror of Mr. Roylott's messy end is rather gripping.
The Granada adaptation is quite well done, and it adheres very closely to the outline of its source material. There are a few changes that the viewer will notice in comparison to the original story. A few examples:
As I mentioned above, the nasty confrontation with Mr. Roylott at the Baker Street flat is one of the more enjoyable scenes in the original story, and the adaptation in the TV episode does not disappoint! The little twitchy half-grins that Jeremy Brett flashes, as the angry Grimesby delivers his monologue, are absolutely priceless. Brett's gleeful laugh in the face of the verbal onslaught is the cherry on top of the sundae. And, of course, the lovely moment when Holmes bends the poker back into shape is delightful as well.
Just a bit later in the episode, when Holmes and Watson meet up with Helen Stoner again, the writers add a funny little moment in which Watson, clearly still very impressed with his friend's handling of Mr. Roylott's bullying manners, tells Miss Stoner that "Holmes sent him off with a flea in his ear!" I'm not 100% sure what that phrase actually means, but it made me chuckle. David Burke's excellent portrayal of the faithful sidekick never ceases to impress me.
Before Holmes and Watson encounter the deadly snake face-to-face, there is an intense monologue from Jeremy Brett that is very effective in setting up the scene to come, as he meditates aloud on the dangerous nature of the evil Grimesby Roylott, a doctor gone wrong. The monologue is very nearly word-for-word from Doyle's orginal:
When a doctor does go wrong he is the first of criminals. He has nerve and he has knowledge. Palmer and Pritchard were among the heads of their profession. This man strikes even deeper...
My only real quibble with this particular adaptation is the scene that comes after Mr. Roylott meets his demise. After the horror of the snake, Holmes's brief explanation of how he put together the last few details seems just a bit anti-climactic. His somewhat emotionless statement that the death of Grimesby Roylott does not weigh heavily on his conscience, followed by the whistle of the train, is a bit too abrupt an ending for the episode. Overall, though, I found the episode a very engaging one, and quite a bit more interesting than the previous episode, "The Naval Treaty." A faithful adaptation and well worth my time.
I may have to check this out. It looks like they're doing with Arsène Lupin something rather similar to what Sherlock and Elementary did with Sherlock Holmes. This article from Forbes gives a bit of detail about the series, and the reviewer seems to find it an enjoyable time. As far as I can tell from the trailer, it looks like the series was in French originally, but has been dubbed in English. I'm not generally in favor of watching a dubbed show, but I may watch at least one episode anyways. We'll see...
I would like to start this review off by stating (again) how much I love David Burke's portrayal of Watson in this first season of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes! Right at the beginning, when he says, "You're interested!" the playful smile on his face makes me think that he has perfectly captured the excitement that makes Watson want to be Holmes's biographer. I was also pleased that the writers of the episode managed to keep some snippets from Watson's delightful introduction to the case:
...it seemed rather a piquant thing to us to chevy him about the playground and hit him over the shins with a wicket.
In the original story, this is a humorous line that Watson writes, but does not say out loud to Holmes. It made me smile to read it, and it made me smile even more to hear Watson say it. But I digress...
Another one of my favorite moments in the story is when Holmes and Watson meet Mr. Joseph Harrison. When Holmes deduces (without being told his name) that Mr. Harrison is not a member of the family, Harrison figures out immediately that Holmes had caught a glimpse of his JH monogram. Harrison, unlike most characters in the canon who are witness to the detective's ability to instantly make surprising deductions, is particularly unimpressed, remarking, "For a moment I thought you had done something clever." In the adaptation, Jeremy Brett responds to this criticism with the slightest raise of an eyebrow. It's a tiny detail, but I love it.
I'm afraid I can't help but be a bit entertained, reading the original story and watching this adaptation, by Percy Phelps's case of the good ol' Victorian plot device of "brain fever." I understand having a nervous breakdown because of an enormous setback in one's government job, but the sight of this posh British chap in his dressing gown succumbing to an attack of "the vapors" (as his fiancée dabs his brow) is more than a little comical. After all, the event had taken place two months ago, and the guy has been an invalid the whole time! Meanwhile, Holmes just looks on, almost completely unsympathetic.
Holmes's "flower monologue," after he has heard the details of Percy's case is an odd thing to read, but even more odd to see on screen. (The "flower cam" that show the flower from Holmes's point of view is unintentionally hilarious.) Miss Harrison is clearly not at all pleased with the great detective's seeming lack of interest in the case, a displeasure which is conveyed very clearly in the set of the actress's jaw. One can hardly blame her, I suppose...
The "flower cam" is not the only unusual shot in the episode. I was struck by the composition of this shot of Holmes and Watson discussing the case after leaving poor Percy.
"Hey, I've got an idea! Let's shoot the actors through a window, with two candle holders in the foreground. Won't that look great?" (Hint: it doesn't.) And that's not the only bizarre camera work in the episode: when Holmes and Watson are interviewing Lord Holdhurst, the camera inexplicably pans to a point of view where the actor is almost completely hidden by the chandelier. Later in the episode, Holmes's violent encounter with the villainous Mr. Harrison is filmed in a rather strange sort of slow-motion sequence. (Interestingly, Holmes can be seen to carry a sword concealed in his walking stick.) Very bizarre direction...
Still, despite some of the odd camera work, and some rather slow pacing, I am still incredibly impressed by how good Jeremy Brett and David Burke are in their roles. The camaraderie between the two characters, the little details each actor inserts into his portrayal, it all adds up to a delightful presentation of one of literature's most famous friendships. As usual for the Granada series, the costumes are top-notch, as are the overall production values.
Overall, it's not my favorite episode, but it was mostly enjoyable to watch. It's a decent adaptation of a lengthy story with a surprisingly anti-climactic ending. While it can't compare to a more exciting adventure (such as, say, "The Dancing Men"), it is still well worth watching, mostly in order to see Brett and Burke at the top of their game.
I was pleased to see this little Holmes reference on Merriam-Webster Dictionary's site.
Sherlock Holmes - The Knife of Vengeance aired on 1/10/1949
SHERLOCK HOLMES: John Stanley
DR. WATSON: Wendell Holmes
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"The Adventure of the Dancing Men" is possibly the very first Holmes story I can remember reading and enjoying as a child. It was one of the stories in a paperback anthology that I was given when I was about ten years old. (I've tried numerous times to find the anthology online, with no luck. I simply don't remember enough about it.) I remember finding the idea of the code of the dancing men fascinating, and it is still one of my favorite Sherlock Holmes adventures. I am happy to report that the Granada adaptation of the tale is excellent. After the scene setting of "Scandal in Bohemia," this one really gets into the meat of what makes Holmes stories so entertaining: a code to decipher, deductions that are constantly one step ahead of everyone else, a murder, an attempted suicide, a mysterious figure from America...the works.
Unlike "A Scandal in Bohemia," which was the first story in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "The Dancing Men" comes much later in the canon, having been one of the cases published in the collection entitled The Return of Sherlock Holmes. Perhaps that's why the story is so good: it was written later, but not so late that the writing has become tired or a repetition of the earlier stories. Quite simply, this story is Arthur Conan Doyle at his best. And the Granada adaptation certainly reflects the excellence of the original story.
Jeremy Brett is delightful from top to bottom in the episode: his witty, playful banter at the beginning, as he amazes Watson with his deductive train of thought, is a treat to behold. David Burke's reactions, as Watson realizes how "absurdly simple" (a phrase which recurs in the episode) the whole thing was, is marvelous as well. The dramatic elements throughout the episode are very well done. The opening sequence, before the case comes to Holmes, is admirably brief, but sets up the mystery quite efficiently.
As a musician, I was especially struck by the sophistication of the score underlying the scene: the music sounds a bit like an early American folk song, and as Elsie first sees the code of the dancing men (which the camera does not show initially) the music comes to a sudden stop. The use of the minor third every in the theme that plays underneath Elsie's and Hilton's scenes together gives the music an ever so slight impression of a style no unlike American jazz, which works perfectly for Elsie, who we come to find out is from America.
The actors who play Elsie (Betsy Brantley) and Hilton (Tenniel Evans) are perfect in their roles: I found their tragic relationship emotionally engaging. The sets and costumes are, as usual for this first season of the series, extremely sumptuous. The Baker Street lodgings, of which we get a slightly better view than in the first episode, seem as if they were lifted straight out of the pages of the canon. Meanwhile, we get a bit of a view of the period English countryside, and perhaps most importantly for Holmes fans, our first glimpse of Holmes in the famous deerstalker cap (though not the Inverness cape).
The pacing of the episode is exceptionally tight, with an excellent balance between the more reflective moments of deduction, and the moments of Holmes and Watson springing into action (albeit too late to save the unfortunate Mr. Cubitt). I especially enjoyed the moment, after Holmes and Watson run out of the room suddenly, and the camera pans around to show the final message: "Elsie, prepare to meet thy God." Beautifully done!
In the original story, Sherlock Holmes presents a rather lengthy description of how he solved the code of the dancing men. I thought the adaptation was especially deft at handling this bit dramatically: first, they shorten the sequence immensely, and second, they give most of the explanation to Watson. I thought this worked rather well, especially considering that, if they had been slavish to the original, the dramatic action would have ground to a halt at this point!
Watching this episode was a particularly enjoyable nostalgia trip for me, and overall just a marvelous viewing experience. I can't find a thing about the episode that I would have changed. It was extremely faithful to the source material, while still being as entertaining an adventure as you could wish to see on the small screen. The video of the episode is below...enjoy!
Welcome to my newest project here on Baker Street Babble: reviews of all 41 episodes of Granada TV’s Sherlock Holmes series, which ran on the ITV network in Great Britain, as well as PBS in America, from 1984 to 1994. This first review may run a bit longer than subsequent reviews, as I shall attempt to “set the scene,” as it were, and give some background on the series and its cast. The Granada series starred Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, and Brett’s performance was hailed by many as the quintessential Holmes of his generation, and perhaps of all time.
Before the Granada series began, many fans of Sherlock Holmes had considered Basil Rathbone’s portrayal of the great detective to be the most iconic in film history. Certainly Nigel Bruce’s Dr. Watson was a bit less popular with many Sherlockians, as many of them objected to Bruce’s portrayal of Watson as a buffoonish, bumbling sidekick. Also, despite the two films Rathbone and Bruce did for 20th Century Fox being presented in a Victorian setting, the rest of the Rathbone/Bruce films had been set in the 20th century. One of the aims of the Granada series clearly was to return Holmes and Watson to an authentic Victorian setting. Beyond simply returning the duo to the late 19th century, there was clearly a desire to be as faithful to the original stories, as well as the Sidney Paget illustrations that had accompanied them. To a very great degree, the series was successful in this mission.
Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes was, by all reports, obsessed with making his performance as close to the original canon as possible. David Burke, who was the first actor to play Watson in the Granada series, was a very different character from Nigel Bruce’s bumbler. Burke’s Watson was far closer to the Watson we read about in ACD’s original stories: a Victorian gentleman, intelligent and loyal to a fault.
As I review each episode in the series, I shall share my thoughts as to how the adaptation compares to the original story, as well as my opinions as to how successful each episode is, not only as an adaptation, but as visual storytelling in its own right. I shall provide links to YouTube video of each episode and to an online version of each story, so the reader may access both story and adaptation. My thoughts and opinions are my own, and I fully expect some Sherlockians (and non-Sherlockians who may read the reviews) to have differing opinions. So without further ado, let us proceed with the first episode, “A Scandal in Bohemia.”
“A Scandal in Bohemia” was the very first Sherlock Holmes short story to be published in The Strand Magazine in 1891. Arthur Conan Doyle had published two Holmes novels before the short stories began to appear: A Study in Scarlet (1887) and The Sign of the Four (1890). Neither novel was particularly successful to begin with. But the scene had been set: a brilliant detective and his loyal partner. “A Scandal in Bohemia” as a story begins with words that immediately capture the reader’s attention: “To Sherlock Holmes she is always the woman.” Thus are we introduced to Irene Adler, a fairly minor character in the Sherlock Holmes canon, but nonetheless one whose presence in Holmes pastiches and film/TV adaptations has been immense.
This episode first aired on April 24, 1984. Readers who are familiar with the original story will notice the difference in the visual storytelling that opens the adaptation immediately. Instead of Watson’s narration beginning the episode, we are given a short introductory scene in which some thugs are ransacking Irene’s home. The plucky woman catches them in the act and calmly holds them at gunpoint. As the camera zooms in on the woman’s face, we hear Watson’s familiar narration begin. (Perhaps the tiniest bit unfamiliar to an American viewer, when Watson pronounces Irene’s name as “Ee-ray-na” rather than “Eye-reen.”) The scene then shifts to Watson arriving at the iconic lodgings at 221B Baker Street, where a sizable number of scenes throughout the series will take place.
There are some changes made to the opening scene between Holmes and Watson, where we are first introduced to the famous duo, that are not different enough from the original story to be distracting, but are certainly interesting to readers of the stories. Right off the bat, the observant reader will notice that, instead of stopping by the old flat after having been separated from Holmes due to his recent marriage, as he is in the story, Watson’s voice-over in the episode informs the viewer that he and Holmes still share a flat together at the time of the story, but that the doctor’s medical practice has called him away to the country for several days. So at the beginning of the series, gone is the married Dr. Watson visiting his friend and former roommate, to be replaced by a bachelor who still resides at 221B Baker Street. The iconic partnership is unbroken.
The episode then replaces the banter about marriage and medical practice with a sequence that was originally from the opening of The Sign of the Four, wherein Dr. Watson criticizes his friend for his drug use, the famous “seven-per-cent solution” of cocaine. The scene closely mirrors this passage from The Sign of the Four:
I suddenly felt that I could hold out no longer.
Although it is quite different from the beginning of the original story, it is quite effective at setting the scene. And I was impressed by how intelligent David Burke’s Watson is, especially when compared to the old Nigel Bruce model. When Holmes asks him to examine the letter he has received, Watson is more than capable of some pretty nifty deduction of his own. But, of course, one of the more striking elements right away is Jeremy Brett.
Brett is a marvel: every mannerism, every gesture, every word creates a version of Holmes that, at the time the episode aired, had rarely been seen its match in the faithfulness to Doyle’s character. I remember thinking, when I first saw some of the Granada episodes when they first aired on PBS during my teen years, “This is it! This is how Holmes is supposed to look and sound.” Indeed, throughout this first episode, the production values, the costumes, the sets, all reflect to a remarkable degree the nuances of Sidney Paget’s original illustrations.
It’s all extremely well done. For the reader of the original stories, the attention to detail, the fidelity to the original, the acting and the writing, are all top notch. That’s not to say that this is the perfect opening to a Sherlock Holmes series. To begin with, “A Scandal in Bohemia” is kind of an unusual Holmes story: there is no real mystery to be solved, and despite a little bit of deductive prowess towards the beginning of the episode (figuring out where the letter had come from before his client arrives, that sort of thing), there’s not a whole lot of the deductive prowess one expects from the legendary detective. In fact, even in the original story, one may come to the conclusion that Holmes is working for the wrong side. Irene is clearly the wronged party, and the King of Bohemia is not a very nice guy. By the end, Irene has tricked Holmes rather nicely. But his delight at having been tricked (by a woman, of all people!) is delightful to read, and it’s delightful to watch in the episode.
Meanwhile, we are also treated to Jeremy Brett as Holmes showing his talent in disguise, as he portrays a stable groom and an elderly clergyman. The actress who plays Irene (Gayle Hunnicutt) is quite good, a real Victorian heroine. The only thing I find puzzling is that she speaks with a British accent, even though Irene is clearly described as an American from New Jersey, and the actress was from Fort Worth, TX! Why not let her do an American accent? Still, watching the episode for the first time in a couple years, I was pretty impressed by how this one sets the scene. We know right off the bat that this series will set a very high bar as far as its faithfulness to its source material. The acting and the writing is all top-notch.
Even though I think there are more exciting episodes to come, I find “A Scandal in Bohemia” to be a very fine opening to an excellent series. Very high marks in every respect.
I'm a stay-at-home dad, and Director of Music Ministries at a United Methodist Church in Mt. Juliet, TN, and a longtime fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes.