The Greatest Sherlock Holmes becomes Feature Length
What happened when Jeremy Brett made his first feature-length episode? A lot of good and bad. When Brett finished his work on The Return of Sherlock Holmes, he was admitted to the hospital and spent ten weeks there for his severe, manic depression, which delayed filming of The Sign of Four in 1987, the first feature-length Holmes episode. The whole thing just feels disjointed, uneven, and the pace is way off.
The Sign of Four is a strange story and I’ve never found it that good, to be honest. It is just average. There are actually a couple of things at once, which may account for the feeling of unevenness. However, the talented John Hawkesworth does his best to pick up the drama and the action in his script, which I think works in spots, but not that often.
Watson also gets the shaft in this Granada production. His wife Mary Morstan and his character development are completely dropped, in favor of keeping the Holmes-Watson dynamic strong. That was the thought, apparently. It is funny how the Benedict Cumberbatch TV show Sherlock has done the complete opposite, nearly making Mary a central character. Both work in some ways, but the Granada choices seem to hurt Watson’s character overall, and Edward Hardwicke feels like a glorified sidekick in some parts of this adaptation.
The opening to this episode was filmed in Allerton Park, England. It is located in North Yorkshire, near Leeds and York. Most of the locations used in this episode are pretty good, and make the episode feel more authentic, to the extreme.
Jenny Seagrove plays Mary Morston, who appears at Baker Street to open this episode. She has a meeting with Holmes and drolls out some backstory for us to follow. Most of her work has been in television, and she fits in quite well with everyone else. Unfortunately, most of the momentum built up by character in this episode is wasted, and she even snubs Watson, in favor of taking a walk by herself. She never turns up again. Ever.
Robin Hunter plays Major Shalto and drives the next part of the story, which he does with much melodramatic nonsense. He narrates a flashback, and guides Holmes and Watson through the middle part of the story. The sets are as lavish as possible, crowded with plants, shiny objects, mirrors, and a mess load of furniture. The frame seems jammed packed with layers and layers of different things, annoying objects even squeezed into the foreground. If the whole thing wasn’t jammed packed enough of all that, there is a flashback within a flashback, as the narration continues.
Finally, there is some investigating of a crime. Emrys James as the inspector competes for one of the most the over-the-top performances ever and his character completely misses every single thing significant about the case. The idiot disguised as a copy arrests Shalto for the murder of his brother. I could swear James was playing the role for laughs. He’s so melodramatic and over-the-top through the whole thing. The scene with Holmes and the inspector is just silly.
Holmes needs a dog for the next part of the story. Holmes and Watson literally chase the dog around London after he tugs free of his leash, and I’m not sure if that’s a comedy bit or what. The whole thing feels rushed and off. Shalto is not touched on ever again, the police characters are dropped, and it’s just Holmes and Watson walking around. I’m not sure what happened, but with more time and money, the production feels crammed with all the crap these guys could think of. Still, Jeremy Brett does his best to hold this messy script together.
The ending is an action climax, or at least an attempt at one. The police characters turn up again, joined by Holmes, and they all churn down the river in a digney, going 10mph the whole way, as they try to chase down another boat. The ending concludes with a lengthy speech and yet another flashback. Fortunately, the Sign of Four does have a little bit of everything, so it does have a lot to offer. I actually like the ending, because it tries to pick up the pace and actually do something dramatic for once. Where’d the dog go?
Overall, this is a pretty good first attempt at a feature length Sherlock Holmes movie for Granada. It has some problems, certainly, but it has bright spots too. Unfortunately, by the time the production got to this point, they already put a majority of the best Holmes stories to film. Maybe they should have quit. I guess it could have been a challenge, but there actually are a few good episodes in the Return of Sherlock Holmes, the final Holmes episodes made by Granada.