"The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge" was a rather lengthy, two=part story that was published as part of the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories collected under the title His Last Bow. The Granada TV adaptation is fairly faithful to its source material, despite having been simplified and shortened, in order to provide a bit more action and to fit into the 52-minute framework of a single episode. Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwicke are both in good form as Holmes and Watson. (Unlike a couple other episodes during this season of the series, Brett doesn't seem to display much of the effect of the medication he was taking for his bipolar disorder.)
As the plot displays very little of Holmes's usual deductive prowess, most of the value of the episode for the viewer is the interplay between Holmes and the unusually competent Inspector Baynes, portrayed with excellent comic timing by British character actor, Freddie Jones. Holmes often seems both entertained and impressed by Baynes, and Baynes appears to respect Holmes, while also competing with him in a rather congenial fashion. So although I found the plot to be just a bit confusing (much like the original story), the banter between Holmes and Baynes is pretty entertaining.
A great improvement on the original material is the removal of much of the material from the story that tends to reflect the racism of Doyle's time: all of the "voodoo" plot line is removed, and other than a couple uses of the term "mulatto," most of the racist element is considerably toned town. Those elements, while reflecting Doyle's rather typical point of view for England in the Victorian age, add little to the plot, so I found the changes to be quite appropriate for our modern sensibilities.
Overall, while it was hardly one of my favorite episodes, it was enjoyable enough to watch, and for this viewer, at least, was a bit of an improvement on its source material. A decent, if somewhat inconsequential, installment in the Granada series. You may watch the episode below...
With this post, I am resuming a series of reviews that has been on hold for far too long: a couple years ago, I began watching the entirety of the Granada TV adaptations, starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes. I have reviewed every episode up to (and including) the Granada version of The Sign of Four.
I resume the series with the next episode to air after The Sign of Four: "The Devil's Foot." This episode originally aired on April 6, 1988. It is based on the story entitled "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot," one of the stories in the collection called His Last Bow. The story was published in England in 1910, and appeared in America in 1911. Reportedly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle ranked it #9 on his list of his dozen favorite Holmes stories.
The Granada adaptation follows the story pretty closely. Viewers who are sensitive to horrific images may wish to be warned that a couple of the characters who die in the story are filmed with spooky, open eyed looks of horror on their faces, and one other character is shown foaming at the mouth. It's a pretty creepy episode overall, with the most bizarre sequence being one in which Holmes exeriments with the effects of the strange powder that he suspects led to the death of two people, as well as the lunacy of two others. In the original story, the effects of the powder are described from Watson's point of view, while in the adaptation, we are given Holmes's point of view, which includes him bleeding from the eyes as he relives his struggle with Professor Moriarty on the edge of the Reichenbach Falls. In fact, one of his hallucinations shows both him and Moriarty falling to their deaths, which never happened, of course. The sequence is a bit disturbing, and the music that accompanies it is an interesting mixture of violins, synthesizer and drums.
One interesting addition to the plot happens towards the beginning of the episode. Watson makes no reference to Holmes's famous addiction to cocaine at the beginning of the story, providing this description: "Holmes’s iron constitution showed some symptoms of giving way in the face of constant hard work of a most exacting kind, aggravated, perhaps, by occasional indiscretions of his own." However, the adaptation shows Holmes with his cocaine syringe, with some rubber tubing wrapped around his upper arm. Watson enters and Holmes immediately tries to hide the evidence of his drug use, and though the good doctor does not criticize his friend, he is clearly troubled by the knowledge that Holmes has not shaken his addiction. Later in the episode, Holmes buries his syringe in the sand on the beach, wiping away the evidence with his hand.
Even though I found Brett to be fairly compelling in his performance, it is clear that the effect from his medication for his bipolar disorder was beginning to show. He looks a bit puffy, and his focus sometimes seems to be lacking a bit. Edward Hardwicke, who played Watson (and does a fine job in this episode) was quoted long ago as saying that Brett was smoking about 60 cigarettes a day, which could hardly have helped his health at the time. Still, the quality of the episode doesn't seem to be faltering too badly at this point, and I found it to be an engaging story, for the most part. Fans of the great detective may be a bit surprised by Holmes's decision after he discovers the identity of the murderer.
While it was hardly my favorite episode of the series thus far, I still think it was well worth watching, and a faithful adaptation of its source material. You can watch the episode on YouTube below. (Which reminds me, I shall be attempting to fix some of the dead links in earlier reviews in this series. But that process will take a bit of time.)
Finally, here it is! My review of the 1987 Granada TV adaptation of The Sign of Four...enjoy!
First of all, one could give this installment in the series a two-word review: mostly faithful. That is, the adaptation follows very closely all the main plot points of its source material, with a few little tweaks here and there. I shall mention some of the most obvious changes as I go along. It may be best to begin with the title: Arthur Conan Doyle's novella was originally published in Lippincott's Monthly Magazine as The Sign of the Four (1890), but many subsequent editions omitted the second definite article and were released as The Sign of Four. Granada chose to go with the latter. In the novella, of course, Jonathan Small's calling card reads, "the sign of the four."
As I said, the adaptation is nothing if not faithful to its source. This can be a bit problematic, as it means the last twenty minutes or so of the film are told in flashback by Jonathan Small, which strikes me as a bit anticlimactic for the flow of the story. However, if one were to place the past events told in flashback at the beginning of the film, one would be faced with a Sherlock Holmes story in which the detective doesn't show up until well into the story. Either way, it's a difficult problem for the writers. Overall, I think they did a very good job, despite some of the inherent problem of somewhat slow pacing.
Jeremy Brett is in excellent form throughout the film, despite the fact that he was beginning to struggle with his bipolar disorder around this same time. Perhaps this explains the unusual decision towards the beginning of the film, in which Holmes displays some rather unusual behavior as Mary Morstan tells her story. He complains of the messiness of the flat at 221B and begins to brush lint from his suit as she talks. His reaction ends up coming off as boorish and eccentric. Holmes in the book shows no such odd behavior. Still, Brett is mostly excellent in the adaptation, and Edward Hardwicke had clearly become quite comfortable in the role by this time, so the chemistry between Holmes and Watson works quite well.
I'm afraid Jenny Seagrove's portrayal of Mary Morstan struck me as a bit bland and uninteresting. I was at a loss to understand exactly why Watson seemed so charmed by her (apart from the fact that it's a fairly major subplot point in the book). She's adequate in the role, but I found her quite unimpressive. In contrast, I thought Ronald Lacey (better known as the creepy Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark) was delightful as Thaddeus and Bartholomew Sholto. He's eccentric, funny, and just a bit unsettling at times. Really, an almost perfect portrayal of the unusual character. Emrys James as Inspector Athelney Jones was also quite entertaining, serving as a pompous, comical foil to Holmes's far more intelligent investigation. Brett and James do a fabulous job in the scene in which Jones is presenting his theory of the murder of Bartholomew Sholto, with Holmes wryly responding, "On which the dead man very considerately got up and locked the door on the inside." (A marvelous line, straight from the original novella.)
As often happens in some of the Granada adaptations, the director makes several unusual visual choices, displaying a fondness for shots that show Holmes in mirrors or shots that are obscured by objects in the foreground. A few of those choices work fairly well, though. A couple that I thought were interesting: shortly after Holmes climbs down from the roof of Pondicherry Lodge, there's a brief segment of dialogue in which the camera focuses on the characters' shadows on the brick wall; a particularly effective shot is when Holmes is reading about "the aborigines of the Andaman Islands," and the camera slowly zooms in on him as he smokes, surrounded by stacks of books. Less successful were several shots during the river chase scene, where the view of the steamboats was obscured by various objects in the foreground. Very odd.
Of course, what would a Sherlock Holmes adaptation be without at least one scene where Holmes remains in disguise just to mess with Watson? Jeremy Brett always seemed to take a special delight in such scenes, as displayed in this film, when he shows up at 221B dressed as an old mariner and completely fools both Watson and Inspector Jones. It does require a bit of suspension of disbelief to accept that neither man would see through such an obvious disguise. Still, it's quite entertaining.
One unpleasant detail that I can't help finding cringe-inducing is, of course, the portrayal of Tonga. There's really no way to get around the inherent racism of Doyle's portrayal of other races, which was not at all unusual for the late 19th century English culture. But it is particularly uncomfortable in this day and age to see the obvious blackface makeup applied to actor Kiran Shah, who would later do quite notable work in The Lord of the Rings and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. And the prosthetic teeth are just badly done. It also doesn't help that, right towards the end of the film, we're given a really tacky shot of Tonga sinking into the Thames as gold coins splash around him (another Jonathan Small flashback, telling how he disposed of the Agra treasure).
A good decision made by the writers was the decision to move the revelation of the empty treasure box to occur after Jonathan Small's story has been told. I've always been confused by Doyle's decision to have that moment (as well as Watson's profession of love to Mary) happen before Small is allowed to recount his entire story. I still find myself wondering, however, how no one who lugged that treasure chest all the way across town (to Mary's employer's house in the book, and to 221B in the film) could tell that it was empty! I imagine many viewers have been disappointed that Watson's declaration of love and his subsequent proposal to Mary have been omitted. I can only guess that the writers for the Granada series were not interested in having Mary become a recurring character, and that they preferred to keep Watson and Holmes a couple of bachelors. Thus, we are only given a few longing looks from Watson as Mary goes her merry way. (See what I did there?)
I mustn't forget one of the most enjoyable moments in the film: the appearance of the famous Baker Street Irregulars. Although these little ragamuffins don't appear all that often in the canon, they certainly have earned the affection of Sherlock Holmes fans that probably ranks right up there with Sherlockians' fascination with Irene Adler (another fairly minor character who has achieved great fame). The scene where the Irregulars arrive at 221B, much to Mrs. Hudson's consternation, is done perfectly, and Jeremy Brett seems to be having a lot of fun at this point.
I have to say, overall, I enjoyed this particular adaptation of The Sign of Four. I found it engaging, despite just a bit of slow pacing here and there. Faithful to its source material, the film is a credit to its production team and cast. Brett and Hardwicke were quite comfortable in their roles, and the level of production value was still quite high at this point in the Granada series. As their first attempt at more long-form storytelling, it seems to have been a success, one that was not repeated with their adaptation of the most popular Holmes tale, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Ah, but that's a story for another time...
Well, I was disappointed (but not 100% surprised) to discover this weekend that the YouTube playlist I'd been watching of the entire Granada series is no longer on YouTube. I realized all along that YouTube could pull it, as it is copyrighted material. But I had hoped maybe I would get through the series before it happened. I have DVDs of The Return of Sherlock Holmes somewhere, so I will try to locate them, and maybe continue the reviews soon. But beyond that series, I don't know what I shall do. Perhaps my local public library has other installments of the series.
Anyway, if you've been following the review series, I apologize for this break in the action, and that you can no longer watch the episodes to which I've provided links. I'll see what I can do to continue with the series, but for the time being, we are in a bit of a holding pattern. Thanks for reading!
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.